Increasing NATO’s Spending Requirements won’t do the Job
More defense spending by NATO members will not make us safer. A new NATO security agenda will.
by Magnus Roar Bech and Alexander Medgett
Asking the European NATO members to pay their dues entrenched the identity crisis of the Alliance. What remains unspoken in the debate of defense spending is that today’s security agenda requires a more multidimensional approach. In other words, the sole requirement of increasing spending reflects the organization’s ill targeted efforts towards responding to today’s contemporary and diverse threats.
While it is true that traditional security threats such as Russian aggression remain a priority for NATO, increasing the defense spending alone will not improve its members’ security.
Today’s threats require a multidimensional approach. NATO needs to adjust its policies to tackle terrorism, cyber attacks and humanitarian challenges. These have emerged as the predominant threats for most member states and cannot be solved with an arbitrary increase in defense spending. Cyber-attacks are increasingly at the epicenter of modern warfare, as we saw from the alleged Russian interference in the domestic politics in the US and the proven interference in Estonia. With limited means to track down and prosecute perpetrators, there is a need for innovative partnerships with IT specialists in retaliating against cyber-crime.
As dangerous as cyber attacks are, the threat of terrorism remains a bigger priority. In the last year, atrocities were committed by terrorists from Canada to Turkey. Initiatives to strengthen grass-root resilience against extremist ideologies and targeted deradicalization schemes are needed to combat the roots of the terrorist threat.
Furthermore, the need for rapid cross-border intelligence sharing and better police cooperation became apparent when the infamous Molenbeek ISIS cell managed to plan and execute attacks in Paris and Brussels despite being known to security services.
NATO’s focus on defense spending could have negative implications as well. Putting pressure on the budgets of European nations could dangerously shift the power-balance between Europe and Russia. Specifically, increasing budgets in Germany to fit NATO’s requirements would see Berlin dedicate more than EUR 60 million to defense - a figure above that of Moscow’s 2015 defense budget. Were Berlin to meet the 2 percent requirement in seven years, Moscow could interpret it as an intimidation tactic. If defense spending of Europe’s NATO members is going to increase at a proportional and measured rate, according to NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, the German case highlights why the outdated 2 percent requirement must be reevaluated.
The cold war reminds us that more arms do not always equal more peace, and the multidimensional security threats we face today expose the need for a security agenda that goes beyond hard power. NATO has long been, and still is, an essential contributor to global security - whether through training forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, disrupting piracy in the Gulf of Aden or providing logistical support following humanitarian disasters. However, there clearly must be limits on its non-military mandate.
In post-conflict areas like Iraq and Afghanistan where ISIS and Al-Qaeda recruiters flourish - peacekeepers, civil-military assistance and DDR programs are imperative to engage and rebuild local communities, reintegrate combatants and stop the spread of terrorist push-factors. Additionally, private/public partnerships with financial institutions, effective information sharing and cooperation between police and judicial authorities are essential to detect terrorist financing, disrupt plots at home, and prosecute perpetrators. It would be naive to think NATO on its own can serve as a major allied force against international terrorism, as postulated by SG Stoltenberg and US Defense Secretary Mattis. The major obstacle is not merely insufficient capabilities but also the lack of effective cooperation.
Ensuring western security against international terrorism as well as other threats is not only a question of increasing NATO capabilities proportionally but also determining how far NATO’s parameters stretch beyond the military and into intelligence and humanitarian support. It is also a question of developing cooperation mechanisms with partners like the United Nations and the European Union, which have proven to be effective at times. To guarantee a secure alliance, it is therefore time for NATO officials to discuss the alliance’s exact role in ensuring security, how to better respond to today’s diverse security threats, and how to cooperate with complementary partners. Reassessing the 2 percent requirement is a first step in the right direction.
About the Authors
Magnus Roar Bech is a freelance writer and security specialist. He holds an MSc Security Studies and a BA European Studies, with focus on counter-terrorism, peace-building and EU foreign policy. His professional work has focused primarily on counter-extremism and counter-terrorism in the UK and Europe, following work with European energy law and international relations. He has been cited by national and international media mainly on security and counter-terrorism.
Alexander Medgett a Master of Public Policy candidate at the Sciences Po Paris. Currently, he is finishing his graduate studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. His academic focus is on economics, European governance and international relations. Alexander also co-founded CampusEurope, a pan European media outlet that publishes news and opinions on European affairs.