Cop­ing with NATO free­loaders

Euro­peans yearn­ing for self-re­liance can start by fund­ing their own de­fense obli­ga­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Fred Gedrich Fred Gedrich is a for­eign pol­icy and na­tional se­cu­rity an­a­lyst. He served in the de­part­ments of State and De­fense.

In a re­cent gath­er­ing of NATO mem­ber coun­try lead­ers at their Brus­sels head­quar­ters, Pres­i­dent Trump for­mally asked those whose gov­ern­ments aren’t ful­fill­ing their treaty de­fense fund­ing obli­ga­tions to pay up. His re­quest for pay­ment is ap­pro­pri­ate, and was met with scorn and snick­ers by some Euro­pean lead­ers, who seem­ingly would much rather in­vest their na­tions’ valu­able re­sources on mat­ters like climate change rather than their col­lec­tive and na­tional de­fense.

NATO’s pur­pose is to guar­an­tee the free­dom and se­cu­rity of its mem­bers through po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary means. The United States, Canada and sev­eral Western Euro­pean na­tions cre­ated the or­ga­ni­za­tion in 1949 to pro­vide col­lec­tive se­cu­rity against the Soviet Union. It sub­se­quently ex­panded to 28 mem­ber na­tions and changed its mis­sion af­ter the 1991 Soviet col­lapse.

More than 10 years ago, all NATO mem­bers agreed to spend at least 2 per­cent of their gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP) on de­fense spend­ing to en­sure all of them are at a sat­is­fac­tory de­fense readi­ness level. In 2017, only five of 28 mem­bers are meet­ing their de­fense fund­ing com­mit­ments. As a re­sult, U.S. tax­pay­ers are shoul­der­ing the bur­den of build­ing up the U.S. mil­i­tary to com­pen­sate for other mem­ber short­falls. If NATO is to carry out its mis­sion ef­fec­tively, each mem­ber must in­vest in its mil­i­tary at the pre­scribed lev­els to en­sure each can re­spond to con­tem­po­rary threats in Europe like Rus­sian ag­gres­sion and rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ism.

Those threats are very real. In re­cent years Vladimir Putin’s Rus­sia seized parts of Ukraine and Geor­gia, and is in­tim­i­dat­ing some other Euro­pean neigh­bors as well with its mil­i­tary and hefty nu­clear ar­se­nal. And who can for­get re­cent, wan­ton slaugh­ter of in­no­cent civil­ians in NATO coun­try ur­ban ar­eas by rad­i­cal

Is­lamic ter­ror­ists, such as oc­curred in Bel­gium, France, Ger­many, Turkey the United King­dom, and the United States?

How does the NATO fund­ing scheme work? Its most im­por­tant el­e­ment is mem­ber coun­try readi­ness, achieved through de­fense spend­ing of at least 2 per­cent of each na­tion’s GDP. The col­lec­tive GDP for the 28 NATO mem­ber na­tions in 2016 was $38.4 tril­lion. If all mem­bers in­vested 2 per­cent of their GDP on de­fense spend­ing then about $768 bil­lion would be avail­able for the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s com­mon de­fense.

How­ever, de­spite re­peated at­tempts by two pre­vi­ous U.S. pres­i­dents, Ge­orge W. Bush and Barack Obama, only a hand­ful of NATO mem­bers have met or ex­ceeded their fi­nan­cial de­fense spend­ing com­mit­ments. In fact, as of 2016 only the United States, United King­dom, Poland, Es­to­nia and Greece have done so.

The fail­ure of 23 NATO mem­bers to meet their de­fense fund­ing com­mit­ments means that those delin­quent na­tions may not be able to meet the min­i­mum man­power, equip­ment and sup­port ex­pected of NATO mem­bers in the event of a se­cu­rity emer­gency, which could be dev­as­tat­ing for the coun­tries and the al­liance. It also means there is a col­lec­tive de­fense fund­ing short­fall of $134 bil­lion among those na­tions.

Who are the free­loaders? The 23 in­clude nearly all of the rich­est Western Euro­pean na­tions. Ger­many — Europe’s wealth­i­est NATO mem­ber with a $4 tril­lion GDP — is $38.2 bil­lion short on its $80 bil­lion spend­ing bill by only in­vest­ing 1.18 per­cent of its GDP on de­fense. Italy is $23.1 bil­lion short; Spain is $18.8 bil­lion short; Canada is $16.7 bil­lion short; NATO host Bel­gium is $5.6 bil­lion short; France is $5.5 bil­lion short; and Lux­em­bourg — which has Europe’s great­est av­er­age an­nual in­come per per­son at $102,000, con­tributed less than 0.5 per­cent of its GDP for de­fense. There may be an ex­cuse for the new­est mem­bers from Eastern Europe with de­vel­op­ing economies for not be­ing able to meet th­ese fund­ing lev­els, but there is no ex­cuse for the wealthy na­tions.

How does NATO make up the de­fense fund­ing short­fall? Like it al­ways does — delin­quent mem­ber coun­tries rely on the United States to make up the dif­fer­ence. Since the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s found­ing, the United States has served as its chief bene­fac­tor. In 2016, the U.S. in­vested $672 bil­lion in de­fense spend­ing, $300 bil­lion more than the al­liance re­quired, and sup­ply­ing about 68 per­cent of NATO’s to­tal re­sources.

Af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump’s pay­ment de­mand, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel stated, “We Euro­peans must re­ally take our fate into our own hands.” She might in­stead con­sider tak­ing some of the other cur­rent Euro­pean lead­ers for a trip down mem­ory lane to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the sac­ri­fices in blood and trea­sure Amer­i­cans have made for Euro­pean na­tions dur­ing the 20th cen­tury. Here are a few things for them to con­sider:

• 521, 925 Amer­i­cans died lib­er­at­ing Europe dur­ing World War I and II.

• 874,848 Amer­i­cans were wounded in Europe dur­ing World War I and II.

• 104,366 Amer­i­cans never re­turned home dur­ing World War I and II and are buried in Euro­pean ceme­ter­ies.

• The United States spent about $130 bil­lion cur­rent-year dol­lars re­build­ing Europe af­ter World War II through the Mar­shall Plan.

It is largely be­cause of U.S. ef­forts and Amer­i­can good­will that Western Euro­peans sur­vived Ger­man tyranny dur­ing World War I and II and pro­tected Western Euro­peans, in­clud­ing West Ger­many, from Soviet Union dom­i­na­tion dur­ing the Cold War. In ad­di­tion, it also al­lowed Mrs. Merkel’s coun­try to even­tu­ally over­come its Nazi and com­mu­nist (East Ger­many) past and evolve into a free, self-gov­ern­ing uni­fied coun­try that many cur­rently con­sider Western Europe’s leader.

If Mrs. Merkel and other dis­en­chanted Euro­pean lead­ers truly want to take their fate into their own hands, they might want to first con­sider meet­ing their NATO de­fense spend­ing obli­ga­tions, be­cause it would en­hance their own na­tional se­cu­rity as well as the al­liance’s — giv­ing Euro­peans a path­way for their own self-re­liance rather than con­tin­ued U.S. se­cu­rity de­pen­dence. And it would surely please U.S. tax­pay­ers and Pres­i­dent Trump if they did.

Europe’s wealth­i­est NATO mem­ber with a $4 tril­lion GDP — is $38.2 bil­lion short on its $80 bil­lion spend­ing bill by only in­vest­ing 1.18 per­cent of its GDP on de­fense.

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