The Atlantic Alliance Must Undergo a Paradigm Shift for Survival
NATO must reinvent its mission in order to thrive in the twenty-first century. The rise of economic malaise threatens the financial goals of the Atlantic Alliance. In turn, a paradigm shift is necessitated to continue the existence of Europe's security apparatus.
The idealistic harmony envisioned by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Defense Planning Process has manifested itself in the internal strife and conflict amongst members of the Atlantic Alliance. The pledge made by the Alliance's heads of state and government at the 2014 NATO summit in Newport, Wales to spend 2 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) towards NATO's collective defense has proven nothing more than wishful thinking. The absence of the materialization of the NDPP has shown that NATO's ambitions of reaching certain military capabilities to face down potential threats cannot be reached.
NATO presently has 28 members, yet only five met the 2 percent target last year - the United States, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Poland, and Greece. Equally as alarming, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, NATO's 14 European members in 1990 spent $314 billion towards military defense. A quarter of a century later, however, NATO's 26 European members spent approximately $227 billion on defense altogether.
Incredulously, as European military defense spending has fallen, the dependence on the world's remaining superpower, the United States, has exacerbated since the fall of the Soviet Union. While European spending, as a percentage of GDP, has declined by about 2 percent in 1995-1999 to 1.5 percent in 2014, the United States' expenditures rose from 3.1 percent to 3.4 percent simultaneously. Additionally, the International Institute for Strategic Studies has shown that Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy have seen their defense spending fall by 4.3 percent, 9.1 percent, and 21 percent respectively.
Furthermore, this only becomes more surprising once one realizes that the twenty-seven other members of NATO's GDP adds up to $20 trillion, nearly $4 trillion more than the United States' GDP. Of the many issues revolving around American foreign affairs, the one point of agreement both President Obama and Mr. Donald J. Trump share is that the United States financially supports "free rider" NATO allies who benefit from our military spending. It is unfair to the American people and unbecoming of our European allies to allow this trend to continue.
Ultimately, the failure of Europe to meet the spending obligations, albeit not legally bound, indicates that a paradigm shift is desperately needed. We cannot walk down the same path the European Union is walking on as sovereignty trumps international unity. What is needed is a thorough overhaul of the way NATO carries out its mission and operations. It's clear that a rise in global income inequality and general economic malaise has prevented the called upon shared sacrifice of nations to meet NATO's spending goals. In turn, NATO must reinvent itself to continue its survival and to avoid the self-interest of nations undermining the strength of the Alliance.
The contemporary era has witnessed a rise of nationalism across not only Europe, but also in Asia and North America. People across the world are displaying their frustrations at international institutions, organizations and schemes towards the supposed betterments of their lives because of the failure, and perceived failure, to accomplish these goals. The American presidential election with the Republican nominee specifically criticizing globalization, including NATO's defense spending in particular, has brought about a criticism dormant within the collective unconscious of many Americans. The recent referendum vote by the United Kingdom has shown that the citizenry of Great Britain are fed up with the overwhelming bureaucracy and perceived incompetence and domineering nature of the European Union.
The list is endless, though it doesn't have to be. Nevertheless, if NATO fails to transform itself, it runs the risk of facing a backlash that it may not be able to mitigate effectively. As a result, I strongly believe that NATO must undergo a transformation of its mission and the obligations it puts forth to its members in order to continue its existence and survival as we know it for the safety and security of millions of people.
I propose a mechanism whereby existing plans expire and new ones are allowed to develop and come to fruition must be made in order to ensure fairness and equality across NATO members to ease the financial burden of those who provide for nations who are not meeting the 2 percent target. A sunset clause is needed to ensure that NATO serves as a beacon of light, security and hope for the European continent. There needs to be an open dialogue across the Atlantic Alliance's members as to why financial obligations are not being met, and what needs to be done to either fix the problem, or change the plans of NATO forevermore to adapt to a changing economic landscape and military mission. The fate of Europe's continental security and united military prowess hangs in the balance.
John Guarco is a student at Duke University with a deep interest in the interplay of economics and foreign affairs.
This article has been submitted for category C "Getting Defense Planning on Track" of the competition "Shaping Our NATO: Young Voices on the NATO Summit". 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.
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