Repeat after me: NATO is the most important defensive alliance in history.
Keep repeating it, lest you gain the undying enmity of the Davoise. In fact, repeat the mantra at all times, like some Gregorian Monk who endlessly chants incantations to the Lord.
NATO is the most important defensive alliance in history.
Or, is it?
From Each According to His Ability, To Each According to His Needs?
As of 2017, according to Ken Chamberlain of the Navy Times, the United States spends about 3.5 percent of its GDP on NATO. The United Kingdom spends around 2.6 percent. Only Estonia, Greece, Poland, and Romania spend around two percent of their GDP on NATO. All other members are woefully underperforming in their support for the alliance. Keep in mind that NATO requires its members to pay a minimum of two percent of their national GDP on the alliance.
According to Chamberlain, Germany spent 1.22 percent of its GDP on NATO in 2017. Since 2010, Berlin has contributed an average of 1.98 percent of its GDP to NATO. For the record, Germany is the fourth-largest economy in the world, according to nominal GDP figures from 2017 and it is the fifth-largest in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). It also has an educated, skilled population of about 82 million people. It is the most economically powerful country in Europe (accounting for 28 percent of the Euro Area’s GDP).
Yet, its military is in shambles.
Things are so bad right now that the German Navy’s entire submarine fleet is out of commission; recently one of its only frigates, the Sachsen, nearly blew itself up when one of its missiles failed to launch, and burned out on the launcher. The German Defense Ministry recently released a controversial assessment of German military capabilities which claimed that “less than a third of German military assets are operational.”
Reports have surfaced that the German Army has been underfunded for so long that its tank force — once a potent element of the German military during the Cold War — has mostly dilapidated tanks, and there are so few weapons available to German soldiers that most have to train with broomsticks!
Compare that to a country like Romania.
Here is a state that was laid low by communism during the Cold War. Upon its liberation in 1989, according to the CIA World Factbook, the Communists left the country with “a largely obsolete industrial base and a pattern of output unsuited to the country’s needs. Romania’s macroeconomic gains have only recently started to spur creation of a middle class and to address Romania’s widespread poverty. Corruption and red tape continue to permeate the business environment.”
As of 2017, Romania’s GDP was $211.8 billion. And, in terms of PPP, the country ranks as the 43rd largest economy in the world. Despite this, from 2010 to 2017, Romania spent an average of 1.6 percent of its GDP on defense. While Germany has outspent Romania on its defense, it hasn’t been by much — and Romania has an excuse: it has a $211.8 billion GDP compared to Germany’s $3.46 trillion economy!
Article Three of the much-ballyhooed NATO Charter reads:
In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.
Certain key members of the NATO alliance are not upholding their obligations — and have not been for some time. Like today, NATO during the Cold War was certainly fraught with its internal divisions. However, when the scourge of Soviet irredentism hung over Western Europe like a Damocles’ sword, NATO was adequately funded. The members had a common purpose. Today, no such shared mission exists — no matter how hard the Davoise wish for Russia to return to its Cold War role of nuclear antagonist in Europe.
Whose Mission Is It Anyway?
Herein lies another quandary for the world: what is NATO’s mission?
Advocates insist that NATO is designed to defend Europe (and, by extension, the United States and Canada) from attack. Indeed, during the Cold War, NATO did just that — and it defended the “Free World” fairly well. Yet, the Cold War ended some time ago.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has become a sclerotic madhouse in terminal decline. Despite its delusions of grandeur, Moscow cannot achieve even a fraction of its geostrategic ambitions — meaning the threat Russia poses to the West is largely imagined (though not entirely nonexistent).
In fact, the moment the Cold War ended, and NATO began expanding eastward, the great defensive military alliance became a highly offensive force (at least, in the eyes of the Russians). I know: The Eastern Europeans (who had suffered greatly under Russian occupation) wanted to ensure their security and freedom from Russia by becoming a part of NATO. That’s totally understandable. But, Washington’s concerns for Estonia or Romania (and the other Eastern European states) can — and should— only go so far.
Unfortunately, we are all prisoners of geography.
If America’s Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party insists on the United States remaining an integral member of the “world’s most important defensive alliance in history,” then President Trump is apt in his insistence that the Europeans live up to their obligations as NATO members (rather than leaning on American largesse).
Russian concerns needed to be addressed far better than they have been during the post-Cold War period. Unlike these other states, Russia has the world’s largest nuclear weapons stockpile and has exhibited an increasing level of aggression directed against its neighbors. In 2008, the Russians invaded Georgia and effectively partitioned that country; in 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine, cleaved Crimea away from that country and continues fighting in eastern Ukraine. Similarly, in 2015, Russian military units began operating in support of the besieged Syrian strongman, Bashar al-Assad, in the hellish Syrian Civil War.
Much of what Moscow has done, though, has not been because Vladimir Putin awoke one day and decided to wage war upon his neighbors. The Russian actions over the last few years were, in fact, reactions to what Moscow viewed as an unwarranted encroachment and encirclement by hostile Western powers in the form of NATO and European Union “double expansion.” Whether this was the intent of the Western powers or not, this was how the actions have been perceived in the Kremlin.
At the NATO conference, Trump claimed that Russia “owned” Germany because Germany disproportionately relies on Russian-produced natural gas. While Germany (and other European states) continues arguing that Russia is a clear-and-present danger to Europe, Trump demanded to know why Germany insisted on purchasing such large amounts of natural gas from that enemy (especially when other sources, such as those from the United States and elsewhere, are readily available). It’s because Russia owns the German political and business elite. Also, if Russia is so threatening to Europe, why do the Germans and French insist on increasing ties with Moscow?
Meanwhile, another major threat comes from Islamic extremism. Yet, NATO’s participation in the Global War on Terror has, at best, been haphazard and on the margins. This is somewhat understandable: as a North Atlantic defensive alliance, it is difficult for NATO to stretch its capabilities to the Mideast and South Asia. When it has, NATO has had marginal success. Besides, the true threat of terrorism emanates from within Europe at this point, as the continent has taken in an abundance of refugees fleeing from the instability of Muslim world. This is an internal European security matter. America can assist, but this requires the lead and focus of European states, not the United States — and it certainly doesn’t require the level of funds America contributes to NATO.
Thus, NATO’s post-Cold War mission is confusing and pointless. Moreover, support for NATO from its own members is pathetic. And, Europe’s behavior toward the United States regarding Washington’s disproportionate support for NATO is both unfair and unethical. This is especially true, when NATO’s own policies are creating the very threats it claims to be defending against!
But, hey, NATO is the most important defensive military alliance in history. Keep repeating the lie until you believe it. Until Europe takes the alliance more seriously, we shouldn’t.