NATO HQ: If there’s one undercurrent to all the discussions here and on Ash Carter‘s flight from Washington about NATO, it is that the US is — once again — calling on Europe to do more to defend itself.
With the current imbalance of spending at stark levels — America provides 75 percent of NATO spending, up from 50 percent in 2001 — and Russia posing a worrying threat to the alliance’s eastern flank, few things matter more than the 27 other countries boosting their defense spending.
“For the first time in many years, in 2015 we registered a small increase in defense spending amongst European allies and Canada,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a short press conference this morning. “And our estimates for 2016 indicate a further increase of 1.5 percent in real terms this year. This is progress. But I will call on allies to keep up the momentum, and to do more.”
Stoltenberg is paving the way, with Carter and other NATO heavyweights to rebalance the alliance’s worryingly lopsided spending. Perhaps the Russian threat, combined with that from Daesh terrorists, will help propel those who have let America pay the bills for their own defense for so long to redress that balance.
One indicator of how serious NATO is about doing a better job and boasting a more robust presence: The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini will meet with Stoltenberg and NATO defense ministers this evening, along with the Finnish and Swedish ministers, “to discuss how we can make our cooperation even stronger,” the secretary general said. Sweden is considering joining NATO, and Russia has warned them against it, promising to bring the full power of the Russian state to bear should Sweden, long a neutral state, join the alliance. Finland is considering buying F-35s and, as perhaps the smallest country to have ever wounded the Russian bear, knows the value of good friends on its flank.
Meanwhile, the alliance proceeds apace to send four armored battalions to the eastern flanks. The four multinational battalions will be deployed to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The US, Germany and the UK will “sponsor” the units, meaning they are responsible for building the battalions. The fourth sponsor has not yet been announced but it’s probably Canada. That is in addition to the American armored brigade combat team that will rotate in and out of the region, and a second that will be on call.
The other measure NATO is considering, one that has been discussed for years and is a measure of the alliance’s occasional inability to implement a common sense measure, is the addition of an assistant secretary general for intelligence. In an age when the sharing of intelligence between internal authorities — let alone countries — must be incredibly fast and secure, some European countries worry that NATO could misuse intelligence about internal threats. The European Union’s European Defense Agency has looked at some of these issues recently, holding a tabletop exercise on hybrid warfare in March and another in June. Perhaps that’s what the EU high rep will be discussing.