Hopefully NATO’s European Members Don’t “Welsh” on Their Commitments
By James Krotz
In one short week, the charmingly quaint city of Newport, Wales in the United Kingdom will host the 2014 NATO Summit. On September 4th and 5th the leaders of the member nations, heads of state from some of the most economically and militarily robust countries in the world, will gather to address key issues that confront the Alliance moving forward. There are many items on the docket, including crafting a comprehensive strategy in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, addressing the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq and Syria, responding to the continued civil war in Libya, and the fast approaching end to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan. All are highly contentious and complex issues, and the Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, will make sure each issue receives adequate attention. However, President Obama should have another item for the agenda; making sure the European members of NATO maintain adequate levels of defense spending to address the resurgent threats.
In past years, leading up to the Eurozone financial crisis, it was the norm for NATO countries to spend over 2% of a country’s Gross Domestic Product on defense. However, with the recovery period still in effect, only four of the twenty-eight NATO member states meet this goal: the U.S., the U.K., Greece and Latvia. With the compelling argument of Russian paramilitary units occupying parts of eastern Ukraine, President Obama should be looking to get a firm commitment from European leaders for an increase in defense spending.
A number of weapons for achieving these commitments could be employed by President Obama. The United States, as the metaphorical “sugar daddy” of the transatlantic alliance, could threaten to drastically reduce its contributions to NATO, closing bases and relocating troops. Such a move would be a wakeup call to European states who are perfectly content to ride the coattails of the big spenders. Another way the President could shape NATO policy is to propose a change to Article 5 of the NATO Charter, the article that guarantees all member states come to aid of a member state that is attacked. An addendum to Article 5 should be added, saying that only states who meet the spending requirements qualify for Article 5 protection. Article five should be either a fail-safe or it is worthless.
Russia and Islamic extremism present very real threats to European security. A misplaced artillery shell that accidentally kills a Pole instead of a Ukrainian could dramatically escalate the crisis. Certainly, President Vladimir Putin has proved the years of watchful peace and austere defense budgets are over. President Obama has the opportunity to enact real change and boost his foreign relations credentials. And European members of NATO have the opportunity to prevent another escalation of the crisis and revitalize the Alliance. Whatever the course may be, it will be decided in a week’s time. European security may hinge on the summit being held in a peaceful, seaside town in Wales.