February 04, 2020

Who’s Paying Their Share in NATO?

by John A. Tirpak

In his last speech to NATO before stepping down as US Defense Secretary in 2011, Robert M. Gates offered an exasperated and dark warning to his fellow defense ministers: Spend more on your own security, or the American taxpayer may lose patience with paying for European defense. At the time, the US accounted for 75 percent of all NATO defense spending, up from 50 percent only a few years earlier.

Flash forward eight years. Celebrating the 70th anniversary of NATO in London in December, alliance leaders proudly touted the fact that, today, eight countries are meeting NATO’s stated goal to invest 2 percent of Gross Domestic Profit in defense, up from only three nations when Gates issued his warning. Indeed, virtually every one of NATO’s 28 members has boosted defense spending. The alliance is back on track. Or is it?

French President Emmanuel Macron wondered on the eve of the summit if NATO had lost its way. “What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” he declared in an interview with The Economist. Europe, he added, must “wake up” to the notion that it is on “the edge of a precipice,” and European nations must view themselves strategically not as members of an alliance dominated by the United States, but rather as part of Europe and a geostrategic entity unto themselves. Otherwise, he said, Europeans will “no longer be in control of our destiny.”

Asked whether he believed in NATO’s Article 5—which states that every NATO member will come to the aid of any member should it be attacked, he answered, “I don’t know.”