Global Insights: NATO Spending, Capabilities Gaps Continue to Grow

Global Insights: NATO Spending, Capabilities Gaps Continue to Grow

In his second annual report on the state of the NATO alliance, released at the end of January, and in his Feb. 2 speech to the 2013 Munich Security Conference, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen laid out a very ambitious current and future security agenda for the alliance, while stressing the need for NATO governments to sustain adequate defense spending to develop the capabilities needed to achieve the alliance’s goals.

In this regard, Rasmussen identified four gaps where spending levels are producing capabilities deficits. The first is the traditional trans-Atlantic gap between the United States and its European allies, which has been widening. According to the “Secretary-General's Annual Report 2012,” defense spending by NATO allies other than the U.S. has declined steadily since 2008, when the financial crisis began. Besides the United States, only three other NATO members met their 2006 commitment to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense. Only four other NATO members met their obligation to invest in critical future capabilities and spend at least one-fifth of their defense budget on major defense equipment. During the past decade, the gap in this modernization spending between the United States and other NATO members has widened.

Although U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told the Munich conference that the United States wants to pivot to Asia with Europe, rather than from Europe, the trans-Atlantic gap could make it harder for the Europeans to support U.S. global initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region or elsewhere. The gap and its effects could also reduce European influence in Washington, to the detriment of both pillars of the trans-Atlantic alliance. Europeans could also find it increasingly difficult to conduct major military operations independent of the United States.

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