For NATO Allies, an investment and capabilities pledge for collective defense

People sitting around large conference table (NATO)
Defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels (NATO)

Since 1949, the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have been “resolved to unite their efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security.” NATO today includes 29 Allies — Montenegro became NATO’s newest member on June 5 — all committed to the principle that an attack against one is an attack against all.

To effectively meet this mission of collective defense, Allies need both investment and capabilities. This means investment in their own national defense and continued efforts to strengthen their defensive capabilities. When all Allies meet this goal, we are all stronger and safer together.

A common pledge

When President Donald J. Trump met with his NATO counterparts in Brussels in May 2017, top of the agenda was ensuring Allies more equitably invest in defense.

NATO Allies have already pledged to do so. In 2006, Allies agreed to invest 2 percent of GDP on defense. But investment is only part of the picture. That is why in 2014 at the Wales Summit, Allies pledged to aim to move toward spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense, with 20 percent of that expended on purchasing major equipment, by 2024. Purchasing major equipment, including related research and development, is what builds NATO’s capabilities.

Today, only five countries meet the 2 percent pledge — the United States, Estonia, Greece, Poland, and the United Kingdom. Allies recognize the need to do more in order to meet the demands of a changed security environment. Romania, Latvia, and Lithuania are all on track to meet 2 percent by the end of 2018.

U.S. officials — the President, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis — all have emphasized the ironclad U.S. commitment to NATO and collective defense, but they stress that Allies must demonstrate a similar commitment to meeting the Wales pledge.

A collective defense

NATO relies on Allies’ voluntarily contributing troops or equipment to military operations and collectively bearing costs that serve the interests of all. They are able to contribute these resources when they have sufficiently invested in their national defense.

Pie chart showing GDP share of United States and other NATO members, and their Alliance defense expenditures (State Dept./Doug Thompson; source: NATO)
(State Dept./Doug Thompson; source: NATO)

NATO contributions are only part of a member’s defense effort, but they provide the means for NATO to guard Alliance territory, support the fight against terrorism, and conduct disaster relief and other humanitarian missions.

The United States is committed to a strong and capable NATO. President Trump, after meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in April 2017, said if Allies contribute “their fair share … we will all be much more secure and our partnership will be made that much stronger.”

Stoltenberg told the President, “We are already seeing the effect of your strong focus on the importance of burden-sharing in the Alliance.”

“We have now turned a corner,” he added. “In 2016, for the first time in many years, we saw an increase in defense spending across European allies and Canada — a real increase of 3.8 percent, or $10 billion more, for our defense.”

An earlier version of this story was published May 22, 2017.