Guidelines for NATO Spending: Inputs, not Outputs or Outcomes

I tend to complain a lot about the NATO 2% expectation – that members are supposed to spend 2% of their GDP on defense stuff, which probably makes more Canadian than anything else I do (I don’t skate or watch hockey much).  This is aspirational and countries are supposed to reach it by 2024.  I have written much about why this is problematic (it tends to make Greece look good, which is a clue; doing is more important than spending, etc), but today I want to focus on the heart of the matter: 2% is a measure of input and nothing else.

The basic idea is if we all spend a significant hunk of money, we will get more defense than if we spend somewhat less money.  But spending more money on defense may not improve NATO’s ability to field effective armies, navies and air forces.  For many members, spending more could simply mean spending more on personnel, which might lead to a more capable force or it might not.  There are additional NATO goals which get far less coverage, which are aimed at persuading members to spend significant hunks of cash on capital–building ships, planes, tanks and other equipment.  Again, this is a focus on input.  Spending more on equipment does not necessarily mean getting better or more equipment.  It could simply mean more waste.

The funny thing is that the US is pushing Belgium to buy the F35, suggesting that this would help them get to 2%.  Buying a super-expensive plane may or may not improve Belgian military performance, but it might get Belgium off of the free-rider list?  I am trying to remember a similar example of being so focused on inputs that they become more important than outcomes, but can’t at the moment.*

Sure, we tend to focus on inputs or even outputs because they are easier to measure, and in NATO dynamics, are things about which it is easier to come to a consensus.  It is hard to measure outcomes like readiness and effectiveness.  Also, big numbers are not secret whereas actual military capability–what can a country really do–might have to be covered in secret sauce.  But what really matters is whether NATO can fight better (against others, not against each other) or not.  Spending more might help, but it might not, depending on where the money goes.  When countries underperform, is it because they underspend or because they have restrictive rules or because they have lousy strategies (who could that be?) or because their procurement processes are busted (hello Canada!) or because the adversary gets a vote?

One last semi-related point: asking the Western democracies to spend more on defense after encouraging austerity post-2008 is a hard sell, and, yes, domestic politics is a thing.  After years of saying that spending must be cut on social programs because debt is the supreme evil, saying that the first priority now must be defense is just not going to fly, especially with all of the complex coalitions that are barely governing so many members of the alliance.

So, as we keep invoking 2%, let’s keep in mind that many countries will never reach it, as it would require more than a few to increase defense spending by 50-100% AND it allows us to ignore the bigger challenges of how to foster greater effectiveness and readiness.

* The only thing I can come up with would be examples from the Soviet Union of meeting five year plan targets by building huge non-usable things that helped reach the goals measured by weight like one really ball-bearing or something like that.


NATO Spark Notes for President Trump

by Stephen Saideman

Dear President Trump,

I see that you are still confused about how NATO works.  While there is, indeed, some money that goes to keep the lights on at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Mons, and elsewhere, and there are a few key NATO military units (early warning planes, some drones, a few other bits and pieces), the burden-sharing problem is not about that.

In your meeting with Chancellor Merkel, you said:

I reiterated to Chancellor Merkel my strong support for NATO, as well as the need for our NATO allies to pay their fair share for the cost of defense. Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years and it is very unfair to the United States. These nations must pay what they owe.

No, that is not how it works.  The burden-sharing problem that has been the subject of many NATO meetings, including the Wales Summit, is about each country paying enough (the 2% of GDP aspiration) for their own defense.  It is not about Germany or France or Estonia giving money to Brussels or to the US, but about Germany spending enough on new tanks, planes, ships and enough on a large enough armed forces and enough on fuel and all the rest.  The idea is not that the US is getting ripped off, that somehow countries owe the US money, but that the alliance would be better off if all the allies spent more on their armed forces.  The past shortfalls do not mean that countries are in debt to the US or to NATO–it just means that their militaries are not in as good shape as we would like.  It means that they don’t have as many tanks or planes or whatever or that their personnel are not as well trained.  The underspending over the years is problematic, but these countries do not owe any debts from the past to catch up in their accounts at NATO HQ.  Again, this is not how it works.

So, next time you complain about burden-sharing, don’t suggest that the US is owed money.  Because it is simply wrong.


Provoking or Tempting the Bear

by Steve Saideman

I wrote a piece in the Globe and Mail where I advocate Canada take a significant role in NATO’s new “persistent presence” mission on the Eastern Front (the Baltics plus Poland).  I didn’t spend much time arguing for the NATO mission itself, as it is a done deal to be announced at the Warsaw Summit in July.  Instead, I argued for Canada’s participation, which is really the decision up for grabs this week.

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The Most Important Corpses

By Steve Saideman

I was on twitter talking with some folks about what Canada might promise at the Warsaw Summit, with the focus on who is going to provide the troops for the four battalions that will be based in the Baltics and Poland.  The conversation went into a bunch of directions, so I had an epiphany while shopping–it is not about proximity or folks who have ties to the Baltics–it is about whose corpses would have the greatest international political relevance.

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Why invite Montenegro into NATO? It’s all about Russia

By Steve Saideman

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) announced this week that it is inviting Montenegro to join the alliance.  The essential meaning of this is that once it is a member, Montenegro will be committed to participate in the defense of NATO members if anyone is attacked AND the alliance will be committed to defend Montenegro if it is attacked (Article V of the NATO treaty).  To be clear, this commitment is not as ironclad as people believe, but still has much political weight.

To borrow from Bill Simmons, when considering membership in NATO, the question to ask is: How much does potential member X bring to the table versus take off of the table?  What kinds of contributions to NATO capabilities/geographic position/whatever does a country bring?  What kinds of problems, such as domestic conflicts, extending NATO credibility too far, risk of international adventures, does the potential member bring?

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NATO 101 Again

By Steve Saideman

Lots of folks are asking about NATO Article V in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.  So, let’s run through the basics, FAQ-style.

What is Article V?  The heart of the NATO treaty–that an attack upon one is equal to an attack upon all.
Is it automatic?  No.  NATO representatives have to meet and reach consensus.
What is consensus?  Does every member have a veto?  Yes/no.  While an individual country could block it, the more likely outcome is for less enthusiastic members to choose not to “break silence”, which is the NATO term for sticking one’s hand up and asking for modifications or refusing to go along.

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Crimea Is Not Kosovo, Kosovo Is Not Crimea

The standard line for Putin apologists and Russophiles is that Crimea is just Kosovo but a bit to the east.  This is lousy comparative politics, so let’s list how they are different:

  • The US and its friends took a decade to intervene in Kosovo (one can start the clock anytime, but I choose to start the revocation of Kosovo’s autonomy within Serbia) after years of both massacres and negotiations.  Crimea happened immediately after Russia’s stooge fled Kiev.  Russia moved before any effort could be made to bargain, to send a peace keeping mission or preventative mission.  this really is the key
  • US and its friends did not conquer Kosovo and annex it.  Russia did hold a sham referendum and annexed Crimea.
  • Oh yeah, we could compare how the decisions were made.  Kosovo’s parliament voted for independence years after the local populace demanded it.  Crimea’s referendum happened shortly after Russia de facto occupied Crimea, the opponents were roughed up and/or arrested, and it is pretty clear that the results were just a bit fraudulent.
  • Kosovo was after … Bosnia, where the west had dithered while genocide happened.  Oh, and Kosovo was also after Transnistria, where a Russian military unit essentially seceded from Moldova and after Russia’s support for Armenian irredentism, and other Russian efforts in the former Soviet Union.  Crimea was after … Georgia where Russia did a nice job of playing Georgia and then created not one but two de facto independent states/failed states from territory carved out of Georgia.
  • US and its friends did not use nuclear threats during the crisis or afterwards, although SACEUR Gen. Wesley Clark was determined to confront Russia’s moves to Pristina.  Russia has been making nuclear threats in many directions.
  • The aftermath of American and Russian intervention tends to create failed states.  In the former, this is mostly not intentional.  In the latter, it is entirely intentional.
  • After Kosovo, the US and its allies stopped.  There was no more armed intervention in the Balkans but the US (ok, one minor effort to stop Macedonia from imploding in 2001).  After Crimea, Russia launched a war in Ukraine, not just supporting separatists but sending its own forces, prolonging the conflict and violating ceasefires.

Of course, the US is not blameless in the world, as one could criticize the invasion of Iraq (which I have done repeatedly since it happened).  But that does not legitimate or excuse what Russia is doing now.  Russia’s behavior threatens European security in ways that Kosovo never did precisely because there was never a threat that the US/NATO would be invading anywhere else.  Russia?   It is not done with Ukraine–the conflict goes on because Russia wants it to go on.  And Russia has been making provocative moves towards the Baltics ever since.  Where is that Estonian officer that got grabbedStill in Russia.

One can argue that all interventions are illegal, although responsibility to protect may suggest otherwise.  Kosovo, whatever its flaws, was an effort to prevent further massacres after all other efforts had failed.  Crimea and now Donbass are efforts by Russia to destabilize a neighbor after Russia lost its grip.  Yes, we can compare the two, but the comparison reveals significant differences and only superficial similarities.

Stephen Saideman