NATO’s Pointless Burden Sharing Debates: The Need to Replace a Mathematically Ridiculous 2% of GDP Goal with Real Force Planning
(Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies; issued Feb 21, 2019)
By Anthony H. Cordesman
NATO has started 2019 with yet another round of growing divisions between the U.S. and Europe over what are meaningless arguments about burdening sharing. It is time to put an end to one of the most pointlessly divisive debates in NATO's history, and focus on what is really needed to deter Russia and deal effectively with the key threat to Western security.

The United States and its European allies have fixated on one of the most meaningless and truly stupid strategic debates in modern history: the extent to which given NATO countries spend 2% of their GDP on defense by 2024.

NATO needs to scrap this goal, and the equally meaningless goal of spending 20% of its defense budgets on equipment, and focus on developing an effective strategy to deter Russia, and national force plans that will implement this strategy, create more effective forces, and reinforce its deterrence and defense capabilities in all the areas now under pressure from Russia.

It needs to fully examine how to better use defense spending levels that already vastly exceed those of Russia, and focus on how to best adjust the radically different levels of national effort to make each country's forces more effective, rather than set some fixed spending goal for every country. Instead of dividing, it needs to recognize that that NATO Europe alone is already spending far more than Russia, and that the real challenge is for NATO to use it resources as wisely as possible rather than simply call for more spending.

CSIS has prepared a summary analysis of the problems in NATO’s current force goals, the extent to which the present 2% of GDP goal is a meaningless goal for meeting the challenges post by Russia, the gross difference in current levels of spending by NATO country, and the extent to which current NATO (and NATO European) defense spending vastly exceeds that of Russia. It is supported with charts and tables showing the latest data provided by NATO.

The analysis is entitled NATO’s Pointless Burden Sharing Debates: The Need to Replace a Mathematically Ridiculous 2% of GDP Goal with Real Force Planning.

The analysis makes it all too clear that NATO's current goals of 2% of GDP, and 20% of military spending equipment by 2024 – and the U.S. versus European burden-sharing debate over the levels of effort involved – border on the theater of the absurd.

The 2% goal in 2014 cannot correct for years of grossly different levels of effort from country to country. Even more significantly, it does not address the key problems caused by the lack of a detailed strategy and set of force plans that can make county-by-country efforts more effective.


Click here for the full report (12 PDF pages) on the CSIS website.

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