*The July NATO summit in Warsaw, offers an opportunity for the alliance. Building on commitments of the 2014 summit in Wales regarding defense spending and increased military capability. As an ally that has prioritized defense spending, Poland is a fitting host for the 2016 NATO summit. The U.S. should reverse its own defense cuts and find creative ways to press its allies to invest more in defense.
Actions for the Warsaw Summit
A strong commitment to increased defense spending at the Warsaw summit will send a clear message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that NATO is strong and committed to its collective security guarantee. In order to encourage NATO members to live up to their Article 3 obligations the U.S. must:
- Lead by example. The U.S. military budget has been cut by 25 percent in the past five years in inflation-adjusted dollars. Budget cuts have had a deleterious impact on readiness and the U.S. military’s ability to fight and win wars. Many Europeans use defense cuts in the U.S. as justification for their own cuts. The U.S. should lead by example in the alliance and reverse defense budget cuts.
- Get finance ministers involved. There should be a special session for finance ministers (or their equivalent) at the Warsaw summit. In many parliamentary democracies, the finance minister controls public spending. Educating the finance ministers on the importance of military investment might help secure more defense spending in the long term.
- Reiterate America’s commitment to Europe. U.S. leaders should reiterate that it is in America’s best interests to remain actively engaged in NATO. A peaceful, stable Europe has led to economic, cultural, and military dividends that are magnitudes more than the U.S. spends on military personnel and basing on the continent. American leaders must make a clear case that the U.S. remain in Europe and a leader inside the alliance because it is in the national interest to do so.
- Press allies on defense spending. President Obama should address this directly with his European counterparts leading up to and during the NATO summit. European leaders should not take public support for NATO membership for granted. Instead, governments should strongly and consistently make the case for NATO and the importance of robust defense spending.
- Encourage European allies to make the case to their citizenries. Many people do not understand how NATO is still relevant today. Since 2009, public support for NATO has declined in many European nations, including France, Germany, Spain, and the U.K. This unhealthy trend must be stopped.
- Set a concrete timeline for achieving NATO benchmarks. While many member states make vague promises about attaining the 2 percent of GDP benchmark in the future, few have followed through. The U.S. should encourage NATO members to embed defense spending commitments and timelines in legislation. This will help to increase transparency and political accountability.
The reality is that there is very little that the U.S. can say or do to force Europeans to spend more on defense, especially at a time when America is cutting its own budget. Remaining silent on the matter offers implicit approval, however. Weak defense spending by European NATO members threatens to undermine the collective security guarantee and play into Putin’s hands. The Warsaw summit is a vital time for NATO members to recommit themselves to their treaty obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty, and to meet the challenge of Russian aggression head on with real capabilities, providing lasting deterrence.
—Daniel Kochis is a Research Associate in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation. Luke Coffey is Director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy, of the Davis Institute.
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