The leaders of the Northern Alliance Treaty Organization (NATO) hope to renew their commitment to increase military spending at the Madrid summit next week, given the need to remain competitive against powers such as China or the direct threat posed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the gates of the Alliance.
“It is time to keep the momentum going. So that we can continue to preserve peace, prevent conflicts and protect our peoples”NATO Secretary General said, Jens Stoltenbergon the occasion of the meeting of allied defense ministers last week.
That meeting served to test the will of the NATO countries to expand their military budgets before the summit, almost eight years after the summit in Wales (United Kingdom) in 2014, in which the leaders of the Alliance promised to invest 2% of your Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in defense in ten years at a time when Russia began a first stage of aggression against Ukraine with the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
Since then, European allies and Canada have halted cuts prompted by the international financial and economic crisis and tied seven years of increases, new contributions to NATO deployments (which countries fund), and further investment in high-level capabilities.
According to the latest estimates of the Defense Spending Alliance in 2021, the European allies and Canada have invested 1.69% of their GDP, a slight decline compared to the 1.72% they spent in 2020 and still far from the goal of 2% set for 2024.
Thus, only eight of the thirty allies already meet this objective, although NATO has highlighted that military spending has increased in real terms by 3.1% since 2014, which has translated into an additional US$ 270,000 million.
From the United States, successive administrations have increased pressure on Europe and Canada to “Share the burdens more” and don’t trust everything to American investment.
Republican Donald Trump did not mince words when demanding more efforts from his partners, especially from Germany, Europe’s economic locomotive, which according to the latest figures only invests 1.49% of its GDP in defense, but practically the same firmness had been shown by his predecessor, the Democrat Barack Obama.
And the current tenant of the White House, Joe Biden – who was Obama’s vice president – maintains a commitment to increase military spending that European allies and Canada are willing to continue at the Madrid summit, according to allied sources, confirming new budget and innovation commitments, perhaps out of necessity with a war at the gates of the Alliance and with China having dramatically increased its investment in defense with a view to completing the modernization of its Armed Forces by 2035.
United States, leading the way
According to the latest NATO data, in absolute terms, the United States is the country that invests the most funds in military spending: in 2021, it allocated more than US$ 811,000 million to this item, although it was the second nation behind Greece if takes into account the percentage of their GDP that goes to defense, 3.57%.
For fiscal year 2023, the Joe Biden Administration has presented a defense budget of US$813 billion, which represents an increase of 4% compared to 2022, in response to the war in Ukraine and the Chinese threat.
The expert William Hartungfrom the laboratory of ideas Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraftconsidered that in the United States “It has been exaggerated a lot” the Chinese threat when it comes to justifying the increase in the budget.
In his view, the growth in Pentagon spending is actually motivated by “The US strategy of seeking global military dominance, along with the might of the military-industrial complex, lobbying for more and more spending each year”.
The RAND think tank analyst Stephen Flanaganwho was a special assistant to the president and worked on the National Security Council during Obama’s term, predicts that the upward trend in the defense budget will continue in the future.
Flanagan pointed out that much of that growth will serve to “modernize the capabilities to counter major threats from China and Russia in all domains, sea, land, space and air”.
The RAND expert recalled that, based on the current defense plan, which is valid for five years, the United States is expected to increase its annual military spending until 2027; although everything will depend on factors such as the country and the rest of the world avoiding a recession, the development of the war in Ukraine and the evolution of competition with China.
In this context, Hartung stated that, like most US governments, the Biden Administration would like to see a greater contribution from NATO allies, “although very pleased with the recent announcements by Germany and other key states that they will substantially increase their defense budgets in response to the invasion of Ukraine”.
In this sense, the professor of International Relations at the West Point Military Academy, Lieutenant Colonel jordan beckerdoes not believe that there will be big announcements during the NATO summit in Madrid of an increase in military spending by the allies at the individual level, “although it is possible”.
In his opinion, “The alliance will collectively seek to retain what allies see useful from the 2014 Wales Pledge (when they pledged to spend 2% of their GDP on defence), while updating metrics in ways that are politically acceptable enough for the whole world in order to obtain a consensus..