Defence spending is declining across the Alliance due to the economic crisis. Yet freedom, security and stability do not come for free. In fact, investing in defence underpins the stability needed for sustainable economic growth. In an uncertain security environment, NATO must have the right forces and capabilities needed to deter and defend against any threat, as well as to play an influential role in international developments. Only in this way can it continue to protect its members’ vital security interests, as well as promote and defend the values that are at the core of our Alliance.
“The economic crisis has hit our defence spending hard,” said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, addressing a meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Prague, the Czech Republic, on 12 November. “Compared to 2009, total Allied defence expenditure last year declined by over 56 billion US dollars in real terms.”
It was inevitable that the deepening economic crisis would impact on defence spending – governments faced with slow or non-existent growth, rising unemployment and increasing debt burdens have had many competing priorities. With the prospect of NATO’s military operation in Afghanistan transitioning towards a training mission at the end of 2014, there is an added risk that attention and resources will continue to be diverted away from sustained investment in defence. Mr Fogh Rasmussen emphasized the need to start investing in defence again, once conditions permit: “We need an economic recovery. And based on that, we need a defence recovery.”
Security: a prerequisite for stability and growth
For more than 60 years, NATO has been a pillar of stability and security. After the Second World War and during the Cold War, the Allies’ commitment to collective defence helped to maintain a secure environment and create the conditions necessary for the development of economic growth.
At the end of the Cold War, NATO’s security umbrella was further opened. Participation in the Partnership for Peace and the prospect of NATO membership helped strengthen regional security in Central and Eastern Europe. This contributed to creating a climate in which economic openness and cooperation could flourish, promoting growth and stability in economies in transition.
Security and economic wellbeing are indivisible. Investing in defence protects critical insfrastructure and economic lifelines of commerce, trade and investment. It assures the passage of vital energy and other resources, as well as indispensable economic and strategic communications. It is therefore crucial that Europe, together with the United States and Canada, continue to invest in the hard security that will ensure stability and growth in the future.
Being present and prepared
No one can take security for granted. Twenty-first century security threats, such as the spread of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, regional conflict, failed states, and cyber-attacks, can only be addressed through cohesive and coordinated action.
Given the pressure on resources, multinational approaches to developing the necessary capabilities and forces will be essential if NATO is to maintain its edge.
NATO has already made a good start in this direction. The Smart Defence initiative is looking at generating the modern defence capabilities the Alliance needs through multinational cooperation emphasising pooling and sharing, prioritisation and specialisation. The Connected Forces Initiative is focusing on developing the operational effectiveness of forces by further promoting multinational approaches to training, education and exercises.
“At our Summit in Chicago in May, we set ourselves the goal of ‘NATO Forces 2020’ – forces that are more capable, more compatible, and more complementary. And we can get there through Smart Defence and the Connected Forces Initiative – if we back them up with the necessary political willpower,” said NATO’s Secretary General.
Sharing the burden
Beyond the overall decline in defence spending, a particular concern is the current asymmetries in defence spending and military capacity among European Allies as well as between European Allies and the United States.
“ Among the European Allies, only two devoted more than 2 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product to defence last year. Four devoted less than 1 per cent,” explained Mr Fogh Rasmussen. “This is worrying. And the statistics reveal another worrying trend. Since 1991, the non-US share of NATO’s defence spending has fallen from 35 per cent to 23 per cent today.”
“This growing transatlantic gap is unsustainable,” he emphasized. “It undermines the Alliance principle of solidarity. NATO is about sharing. Allies share the risks and the responsibilities, just as they share the security benefits.”
Meanwhile, defence investment by recovering and emerging big powers is on the rise. “By 2015, China will outspend the eight major NATO European Allies combined. And Russia intends to double its defence budget from 3 per cent to 6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product within the next 10 years, ” the Secretary General pointed out. While these powers may not pose a direct threat to NATO, Allies will see their influence on the world stage diminish if they continue to reduce their investment in defence.
“Our Alliance has stood the test of time. Both in good times, and bad,” said the Secretary General. “Despite the current economic difficulties, it continues to provide the framework that enables Allies to achieve greater security together than they could ever achieve on their own. That’s why we need to keep our Alliance strong.”