NATO countries’ bickering over defence budgets likely to dominate summit

Despite pleas to set aside bickering over military spending so the issue doesn’t dominate a third NATO summit in a row, the United States is almost certain to demand again this week that its 28 NATO partners respect their pledges to boost defence budgets.

NATO countries slashed spending as tensions eased after the Cold War. But Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula was a wake-up call. The allies agreed then to halt cuts, boost budgets and move toward spending 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence by 2024.

The 2 per cent figure is perhaps too simplistic in that its value fluctuates depending on how economies perform. Moreover, countries calculate their defence budgets differently; some want veterans pensions included, for example.

Correct spending levels don’t guarantee that adequate forces can be deployed into battle in a timely way and sustained by efficient supply lines. Nor do they have a relationship to any real security threat assessment.

Importantly, this is about national military budgets, not NATO funding. No one owes the United States money, even though Washington spends more on defence than all the other allies combined.

That said, European allies and Canada rely heavily on U.S. equipment like large military transport planes and air-to-air refueling, and NATO’s deterrent effect is more credible backed by the United States.

Nine countries are projected to meet the 2 per cent benchmark this year — the U.S. with about 3.4 per cent, Greece, Britain, Bulgaria, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania — up from three nations in 2014. Germany will spend 1.35 per cent, ranking it 17th, but it aims to hit 1.5 per cent by the deadline. Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg spend less than 1 per cent.

While budgets have risen since 2014, NATO headquarters chooses to use 2016 — the year Donald Trump was elected U.S. president— as its reference point for spending increases. Officials concede privately that this is to mollify Trump.

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