In-Depth: Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) re introduced this bill from the 115th Congress to require the Dept. of Defense (DOD) to resume submitting an extensive report that includes the common defense contributions of NATO countries and other defense partners, including GCC countries, Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines, and signatories of the Rio Treaty:
“NATO and other mutual defense agreements have a purpose, but the United States cannot and should not bear the greatest brunt of the financial burden in global alliances and defense partnerships. The information included in this report would be instrumental in informing Congress’ oversight of our own military and defense spending and would help educate lawmakers on the return on investment we receive in exchange for our contributions and commitments. For security alliances and partnerships to be most effective, all parties must pull their weight.”
When he introduced this bill in the 115th Congress, Rep. Lee said:
“NATO and other mutual defense agreements have a purpose, but until we no longer bear the greatest brunt of the financial burden, we cannot and should not consider expanding these commitments. The information included in this report would be instrumental in informing Congress’ oversight of our own military and defense spending and would help educate lawmakers on the return on investment we receive in exchange for our involvement in global alliances.”
President Trump has made U.S. contributions to mutual defense agreements, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in particular, an important issue in his administration’s foreign policy agenda. Ahead of NATO’s July 2018 summit in Brussels, President Trump tweeted twice on this issue:
“The United States is spending far more on NATO than any other Country. This is not fair, nor is it acceptable. While these countries have been increasing their contributions since I took office, they must do much more. Germany is at 1%, the U.S. is at 4%, and NATO benefits Europe far more than it does the U.S. By some accounts, the U.S. is paying for 90% of NATO, with many countries nowhere close to their 2% commitment. On top of this the European Union has a Trade Surplus of $151 Million with the U.S., with big Trade Barriers on U.S. goods. NO!”
President Trump also wrote letters to some NATO members ahead of the Brussels summit, stating that Americans were tired of funding Europe’s defense and wanted to see other NATO members carrying more of the load:
““[It is] increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries do not share NATO’s collective security… I, therefore, expect to see a strong recommitment by [country] to meet the goals to which we all agreed.”
Reportedly, the letter sent to Germany contained some of the harshest language.
Then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis supported President Trump’s position, telling NATO allies to meet their budget targets, or “see America moderate its commitment to this alliance.”
After the 2018 Brussels summit, NATO members’ heads of state released a joint formal statement pledging an “unwavering commitment” to meeting defense spending targets:
“We reaffirm our unwavering commitment to all aspects of the Defence Investment Pledge agreed at the 2014 Wales Summit, and to submit credible national plans on its implementation, including the spending guidelines for 2024, planned capabilities, and contributions. Fair burden sharing underpins the Alliance’s cohesion, solidarity, credibility, and ability to fulfil our Article 3 and Article 5 commitments. We welcome the considerable progress made since the Wales Summit with four consecutive years of real growth in non-US defence expenditure. All Allies have started to increase the amount they spend on defence in real terms and some two-thirds of Allies have national plans in place to spend 2% of their Gross Domestic Product on defence by 2024. More than half of Allies are spending more than 20% of their defence expenditures on major equipment, including related research and development, and, according to their national plans, 24 Allies will meet the 20% guideline by 2024. Allies are delivering more of the heavier, high-end capabilities we require and are improving the readiness, deployability, sustainability, and interoperability of their forces. The number of activities in which we are engaged has increased, and Allies continue to make valuable force and capability contributions that benefit the security of the Euro-Atlantic area through NATO’s operations, missions, and other activities, as well as through the operations and missions conducted under national authority and the authority of other organisations. As we take stock of the national plans that exist today, we appreciate the unprecedented progress and recognise that much work still remains. We are committed to improving the balance of sharing the costs and responsibilities of Alliance membership.”
Johannese Thimm, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, argues that U.S. military dominance makes asymmetry in NATO contributions between the U.S. and Europe is inevitable:
“First, even if NATO is viewed in purely transactional terms… it is a good deal for Washington. Americans calling for more equal burden-sharing, including Trump himself, suggest that the US supports NATO mostly for altruistic reasons. In other words[,] that America is doing Europe a favor. But this picture is incomplete. For the US military, NATO is a force multiplier, providing legitimacy to American power. European allies are engaged in numerous missions like Afghanistan, while the United States mostly calls the shots. US bases in Europe not only protect European allies, but serve as logistics hubs to project power into the Middle East. These are assets the US military would not want to give up. Second, the US defense budget does not depend on Europe’s military spending. It is misleading to argue that Europe must spend more so that the United States can spend less. The Pentagon’s budget is determined by Washington’s assessment of the capabilities necessary to maintain US strategic dominance – on its own, not through any alliance… [Finally, the] US nuclear umbrella is the core of NATO, which was deliberately designed that way. The principle of collective security under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty ultimately depends on nuclear deterrence, which is mainly American. The idea is that everybody, including the Russian government, is aware that an attack on a NATO member could trigger a nuclear war, and thus is deterred from trying it. American taxpayers bear considerable costs to maintain the US nuclear arsenal. But on the one hand no-one in the United States would be prepared to give up US nuclear superiority, and on the other the guarantee of protection discourages other countries from striving for nuclear status themselves (the same logic applies to the US alliances with Japan and South Korea).”
This bill has two Republican Senate cosponsors in the 116th Congress. A House version, sponsored by Rep. Mark Green (R-TN), has one Republican House cosponsor, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), in the current Congress.
In the 115th Congress, this bill had the support of two Republican Senate cosponsors and didn't see committee action.
Of Note: NATO has an official goal that all members spend 2% of their GDP on their armed forces. Currently, the U.S. spends 3.5% of its GDP on defense, while the United Kingdom, Poland, Estonia, Greece, Romania, Lithuania, and Latvia are also expected to meet the 2% goal in 2018.
Since NATO’s founding, U.S. presidents have pressed their European allies to increase defense spending in support of the shared NATO mission. Most recently, both the Obama and Bush administration pressed allies to increase their investments to support NATO operations. President Bush made his plea at the Bucharest Summit in 2006. President Obama called on allies to meet their spending commitments to 2% of GDP on defense and 20% of defense spending on equipment in 2014.
NATO already compiles its countries' defense expenditures in its annual secretary-general report. In the late 1990s, the Pentagon produced its own similar report, but hasn't produced one in recent years.
Media:Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Lanier)