Moving Towards Common Spending, NATO Would Increase Efficiency
In increasing NATO's total defense expenditures, its members should move towards granting the organization the capability to independently decide its spending. By funding NATO directly and increasing multilateral cooperation in military research and organization, NATO's capabilities can be strengthened, while its cost efficiency could increase the public's opinion.
Recently, defense spending in Europe's countries has decreased, with some countries having hit a situation that either does not allow them to keep up with their requirements or renders their equipment impossible to be used. Germany's inability to keep military airplanes maintained corresponds with a military spending level that is roughly equivalent to 1.4% of the country's GDP. And while Germany increased its defense expenditures between 2014 and 2015, this change appears insufficient to eradicate flaws that have developed over time, and that made the Parliamentary Commissioner for the German Armed Forces refer to the Bundeswehr as an army that "lacks everything".
In general, European median defense expenditures remain far below NATO's requirements. These requirements state that 2% of a member country's GDP should be spent on defense and out of this amount, at least 20% should be used for equipment expenditures – applicable percentages are 1.18% and 14.6% each, even though the United States' expenditures are included in these numbers. While defense policy might not be favored by the public unless NATO countries improve public relations, public disapproval shall never lead to a situation in which armed forces are actually unable to defend their country's territory.
The missing response to a decrease in NATO's public approval is a topic of its own that, however, led to this development. One of the cornerstones of improving NATO's approval might, besides showing its necessity, be the ability to emphasize its potential cost efficiency. NATO does not directly receive funds from its member states by being assigned a fraction of annual defense expenditures, therefore it is hard to prove current cost efficiency. But what about its potential to reduce expenditures necessary to reach the same extent of defensive capabilities?
Such potential might arise from, for example, an increase of technical standardization. While NATO's member countries have agreed on certain types and sizes of ammunition – even on food rations to be provided while armed forces are participating in maneuvers – usage of technology that has been developed together might prove more useful when it comes to increasing efficiency and effectivity. Political reasons set aside, one of the main reasons that led to the development of the Eurofighter jet by a multinational group of engineers was that by assembling Europe's most talented defense engineers, the result of their consultations might be better than a team from just one country. Other examples include bilateral cooperation that resulted in the development of missiles or vehicles.
While using different platforms and systems might be advantageous in certain situations, this is not a valid argument to be brought forward against increased research cooperation. In addition, such cooperation might prove beneficial for political cooperation – an aspect that deserves increased attention with regard to the current state of the EU.
Not just research cooperation is necessary. Another way to increase efficiency is to allocate certain roles which might be borne by a number of countries – the German proposal to team up its air force with neighboring countries' air forces leads the way. Intensified cooperation should involve parts of national defense budgets to be directly assigned to NATO. By enabling NATO and its military officials – for example, a board of generals and defense experts with the ability to confer with think tanks – to determine their needs and to make decisions aimed at meeting these needs, NATO would move away from being a structure that is only assigned manpower and strength to an extent nations desire and instead would turn into a defense organization with its own body and forces, assembled following their discretion.
States must be ready to give up their power regarding certain parts of their national defenses. By increasing the number of reservists and keeping the power to decide on this number within states, national defense could already be secured at low costs. Assuming that such expenses would be equal to 1.5% of the respective GDP, there would still be 0.5% of the GDP that should be assigned to NATO. Such a low percentage spent on common defense would amount to USD 81.5 billion only in Europe. This amount could be spent in creating multinational forces that are aimed at not just defending a certain geographical area, but instead could be the beginning of a real multi-national armed force.
But what should make a country provide NATO with funds to establish this common defense? Besides traditional advantages that have partially been listed above, smaller countries would be able to increase their research efforts by cooperating with larger powers: with regards to Greece and Turkey, they would furthermore not need their geographical direct neighbors to collaborate with them but can expect the whole defense organization to work with them. Larger powers would be able to increase their foreign influence by becoming a strong part of NATO deployments. Both large and small powers would profit from a more efficient and effective allocation of funds, which could in turn be used to show the public that defense spending does not need to be inefficient.
History shows us that real defense cooperation requires a lot of effort, but it certainly pays off. The recent German-French military cooperation resulted in low cost technological advances and helped two countries strengthen their bonds. By allowing NATO to decide by itself what is necessary, misspending can be avoided and 2% in defense spending would no longer be an objective unreached, but instead a cost-efficient consequence supported by politics and voters.
Lukas Posch is a law student at Bucerius Law School in Hamburg, Germany. He is engaged in U.S.-German relations as a member of the "Young Transatlantic Initiative".
This article has been submitted outside of the "Shaping Our NATO: Young Voices on the NATO Summit" competition. However, it looks to answer the questions set out in category C "Getting Defense Planning on Track", so comments are most appreciated. You can also read the other articles in this category. Learn more about this competition and how you can submit your own text or video for category D.
- Atlantic-Community.org in Transition
- Towards a More Inclusive Transatlantic Partnership: Update on the 2nd Atlantic Expedition
- Topic of the Month: The Future of Health Care
- Do We Need Data Donations?
- eHealth - Tele-Monitoring and Tele-Medicine - Digital Innovation in the Life Science Sector in Germany