ASCF Report | 8.4.16
By Alan W. Dowd
During the Cold War, the U.S.
accounted for 50 percent of NATO military spending; today, the U.S. accounts
for more than 75 percent.If we
remove U.S. defense spending from the picture, NATO members spend, on average, just
1.3 percent of GDP on their armed forces. In fact, at last month’s NATO summit
in Warsaw, the alliance bluntly noted that only five of NATO’s 28 members “meet the NATOguideline to spend a minimum of 2 percent of their gross domestic
product on defense.”With Moscow menacing Europe and starting Cold War 2.0, this has to change.
There has always been a capabilities gap between the
U.S. and its NATO allies. But there can no longer be a commitment gap. As the
Warsaw Summit communiqueconcluded, “Our overall security and defense depend
both on how much we spend and how we spend it.”
President Reagan called NATO “a
living commitment of the nations of the West to the defense of democracy and
individual liberty” and the guarantor of “the
longest period of peace and prosperity in modern history.”
Indeed, since its founding, NATO has been an insurance policy against
worst-case scenarios. For the United States, NATO serves as a hedge against
disaster and diminishes the likelihood of the very worst of the worst-case
scenarios: another European conflict triggering another global war. For NATO’s
other members, NATO is a security guarantee backed by the United States.
Without that guarantee, there is no security, as history has a way of reminding
those on the outside looking in, from Cold War Hungary to post-Cold War
NATO’s insurance policy
depends on credibility, which depends on military muscle. Regrettably, NATO
has allowed its muscles to atrophy in recent years.
Turkey invested 5 percent of GDP on defense in 2001, but
just 1.56 percent today; France 2.5 percent in 2001, 1.78 percent today; Italy
2 percent in 2001, 1 percent today; Germany 1.4 percent in 2009, 1.1 percent
today; Canada 1.4 percent in 2009, 0.9 percent today. Britain is using accounting tricks to remain above the 2-percent threshold. U.S. defense spending has
tumbled from 4.6 percent of GDP in 2009 to 3.1 percent today.
These years of underfunding have led
to “alarming deficiencies in the state of NATO preparedness,” according to
the British government. For example:
- Post-recession austerity measures have reduced the
Royal Navy from 89 ships to 65. Britain had two aircraft carriers in 2008 but
none today. Britain’s combat-aircraft fleet has shrunk from 189 warplanes to
149; the Joint Helicopter Command had 257 aircraft in 2008 but just 164 today.
- Only 42
of Germany’s 109 top-of-the-line Eurofighters are in flying condition. At the height of the Cold War,
West Germany had 2,125 Leopard II tanks. Today, the German army has 225. The Washington Post reports that just 70 of Germany’s 180 armored vehicles are capable of deployment,
and only seven of the German navy’s 43 helicopters are flight-ready.
- The French military eliminated 8,000 personnel in
2014, mothballed 19 warships between
2009 and 2012, and slashed the size of its air fleet by 30 percent between
2008 and 2013, as AEI details.
- The U.S. Army had 570,000 active-duty troops in
2012, 490,000 in 2015, and by 2018 just 450,000. The Army has around 26,000 troops in Europe today, down from 40,000
in 2012, down from 300,000 at the height of the Cold War. As a
consequence, Army commanders are trying “to make 30,000 [troops] look and feel
like 300,000,” Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army-Europe, explains.
“In more peaceful times, it
was right to reduce defense spending,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
soberly observes. “But we do not live in peaceful times.”
revive the common defense, each NATO member must lift its defense budget to
NATO’s 2-percent standard by a date certain; each member should invest in such
a way that serves the most urgent needs of the alliance; and Washington should lead from the
front by reversing sequestration’s devastating cuts.
If that’s the bad news, the good news is that NATO is rising to the challenge.
Sixteen NATO members increased defense spending in
2015. European defense spending is up 8.3 percentin 2016. Washington has quadrupled U.S. military spending earmarked for
Europe—from $789 million to $3.4 billion.Germany, for the first time in 25 years, will expand
its military endstrength by 14,300 personnel. Norway increased defense spending
9.8 percent this year. The Czech Republic plans to increase the size of its
military 63 percent by 2025.After
years of waning commitment, the U.S. Army is increasing its deterrent strength
in Europe by permanently basing three fully-manned brigades on the continent. And importantly, NATO’s new
military commander, U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, comes to Europe not from
the counterinsurgency campaigns of the Middle East, or the nation-building
mission in Afghanistan, or the shadow wars against ISIS and al Qaeda, but from the 38th Parallel, where U.S. troops
serve as a 24/7 deterrent against North Korean invasion.
NATO’s new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force is up and running,
with seven allies committed to rapid-reaction deployments within 48 hours of
getting the call. Britain is leading a Joint Expeditionary Force, comprised of
“high readiness” units from several NATO allies. The alliance has stood up two
multinational headquarters—one in Poland and another in Romania. NATO has
returned to a routine and robust schedule of high-intensity, full-spectrum exercises—300
in 2015 alone.And most important of all, the alliance authorized during its
Warsaw Summit an “enhanced forward presence” in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and
Poland “to unambiguously demonstrate” its determination to defend these
easternmost members of NATO.
The forward presence in the Balts and Poland will feature four
battalion-sized battlegroups—one each in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and
Poland—spearheaded by the U.S., Canada, Germany and Britain.
Why is all this necessary?
The answer is found in Moscow.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia has lopped off part
of Georgia, annexed Crimea and occupied eastern
Ukraine, waged cyberwar against the Baltics, threatened Poland with nuclear attack, massed troops on the
borders of NATO’s newest members, flouted arms treaties, and revived the
dangerous Cold War-era practice of conducting mock bombing runs, buzzing NATO
warships and testing NATO air defenses. There were 160 Russian incursions into
Baltic airspace in 2015.
Another 2015 data point: Putin unveiled a new
military doctrine focused
on confronting NATO and pledging the use of Russia’s armed forces “to ensure
the protection of its citizens outside the Russian Federation.” Given that
there are five million Russians in Ukraine and a million in the Baltics—and
that Putin has reserved for himself the right to determine when, where and
whether they need to be protected—this is a recipe for something much more
complicated than a new cold war. As if to underscore
his intentions, Putin recently reactivated the 1st Guards Tank Army, a large armored
force based in western Russia equipped with some 500 T-72 and T-80 main battle
Between 2004 and 2013, Moscow increased military
spending 108 percent. Russia’s 2015 military outlays were 26-percent larger
than in 2014.
NATO notes that, thanks to
Moscow’s behavior, the security situation in the Baltic Sea region and Black
Sea region has “deteriorated”; that “Russia’s
aggressive actions…military activities in the periphery of NATO territory and
its demonstrated willingness to attain political goals by the threat and use of
force…fundamentally challenge the alliance”; that Russia’s lunge into Syria
poses “risks and challenges for the security of allies”; and that Russia’s
military activity “continues to undermine peace, security and stability across
“The forces in Europe over
the past twenty years have been sized for a situation where we were looking at
Russia as a partner,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. Phillip Breedlove in
2015, when he served as NATO commander. “What we see now, of course, is Russia
has demonstrated it is not a partner.”
To be sure,
Putin’s military is a shell of the Red Army. But Putin has the advantage of
proximity; his asymmetric, anonymous brand of “hybrid warfare” has proven
effective; he possesses a massive nuclear arsenal; and his army retains enough
punch to reincorporate Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine, Moldova and
Georgia. It’s not unthinkable that the Baltics could be next. As Putin himself boasts, “If
I wanted, Russian troops could not only be in Kiev in two days, but in Riga,
Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw or Bucharest, too.”
Putin rationalizes his
belligerence by arguing that NATO started it. Russia’s recently-released
national security strategy blames tensions in Europe on “expansion of the
alliance.” This echoes Putin’s assertion that NATO violated agreements at the
end of the Cold War not
to move eastward. The problem with Putin’s narrative is that it doesn’t
correspond with reality. As the Brookings Institution’s Steven Pifer details,
Mikhail Gorbachev “made clear there was no
promise regarding broader enlargement.” Gorbachev himself concedes, “The topic of NATO expansion was not discussed at all.”
But Putin won’t
be confused by the facts. He seems intent
on changing the settled outcomes (and borders) of the Cold War, which makes
NATO’s renewed cohesion and revived capabilities so important.
As President Reagan observed during another time marred by Moscow’s aggression,
“The NATO allies must show they have the will and capacity to deter any
conventional attack or any attempt to intimidate us.”