Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Trans-Atlantic Defense Spending Gap in NATO

On the eve of NATO’s Wales Sumit on 4 and 5 September, the Wall Street Journal showed critical tables ("As Russian Threat in Ukraine Grows, NATO Faces Thorny Spending Questions"; Wall Street Journal; August 29, 2014). Though the size of the economy of the United States and the European Union, most of which are NATO members, is roughly the same, Europeans spend considerably less amount of money on defense than the United States. Agendas at the Wales summit include the Ukrainian crisis, post ISAF Afghanistan, burden sharing, and so forth. Issues like collective security are supposed to be an exemplary model for Japan that is currently turning toward proactive pacifism. However, stark gaps in defense commitment erode NATO’s role model credential among democratic allies.

Let me talk about the two tables. In terms of defense spending share by member state, the portion of the United States rose from 68% in 2007 to 73% in 2013. Currently, sequestration has drastically cut American defense budget, and policymakers are making every effort to revert negative impacts of it to refinance the spending. Despite that, the European share in the NATO defense spending declined. In view of the rise of diversified security challenges, not just increasingly nationalist Russia and widespread Islamic extremism, it is quite strange why Europeans spend so little on defense. As Robert Kagan argues, the gap between American Mars and European Venus is obvious. See the table above.

For further understanding, I would like to mention the other table as shown below, which shows defense expenditure share in GDP of each member state. While NATO recommends 2% for defense, at least, only four countries, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Estonia, meet this. Some of them, including Canada, Spain, and so forth, spend 1% or less for defense, which is the same level as that spent by old passive pacifist Japan. Startlingly, Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania spend only 0.9% and 0.8% respectively. Both of them are front line nations against Russia, and NATO sends air squadrons there, as tensions over Ukraine grow. Some people argue Europeans need to sustain their welfare states, and they cannot pay for defense so much. That is no excuse. They spent 4 to 5% of GDP for defense during the Cold War, while maintaining the standard of social security.

Whatever the strategies are, and however well-designed they are, none of them can be implemented without sufficient size and quality of defense. In the name of a global NATO as seen in operations in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, the alliance downsized its military power since the fall of the Soviet Union. Now, NATO is pivoting to Europe, because Russia reemerges a critical threat as seen in the Ukrainian crisis. However, none of the threats, whether regional or global, can be managed by poor defense.

Remember that Pax Americana is based on the alliance of the willing, whether in a unipolar, multipolar, or even non-polar world. The trans-Atlantic alliance is the keystone of it. A split NATO, leads to a weaker alliance and weaker democracy around the world, and in the end, that will give re-rise to the Dark Age, dominated by autocratic great powers and medieval religious fanaticism. Ask what makes the alliance viable. That is a universal question.