Despite the current trends toward nationalism and retrenchment in both the US and Europe, policymakers should continue to give transatlantic security cooperation the utmost priority. The security challenges the Alliance faces can only be successfully confronted if the US and Europe continue and deepen their cooperation. While NATO has inefficiencies and shortcomings in specific policy areas, Americans and Europeans should recognize its value as the cornerstone of not just regional, but also global peace, security, and stability. To this end, we recommend that NATO members: (1) Meet the 2% spending target by 2024; (2) Develop a burden sharing score as a more robust metric; (3) Address weaknesses in systems for electronic warfare, as well as further develop cyber capabilities; (4) Continue to support and expand the recent defensive troop deployments to NATO’s eastern borders. Additionally, decision-makers on both sides of the Atlantic should keep in mind that security cannot only be viewed through the traditional lens of deterring and countering threats. A holistic approach to security should include investing in efforts to curb climate change and proactively helping other governments address the causes of migration.
Meeting the 2% Spending Target by 2024
Burden-sharing has been a recurring and contentious issue among NATO member-states since the inception of the Alliance. The issue resurfaced with renewed intensity following President Trump’s criticism of countries that do not meet the 2% GDP contribution target. In 2006, Alliance members set a target to spend 2% of their GDP on defense and reaffirmed this commitment at the 2014 NATO Wales summit, with countries that failed to meet this target committing to work towards it by 2024. The US should be patient as its allies work towards this goal. It is unrealistic for countries currently spending around 1% on defense to reach 2% within a year or two. This would be politically infeasible and such a drastic increase might not be effectively spent on areas that actually enhance Alliance security. To address America’s concerns realistically, NATO members should increase their defense budgets each year for the next seven years. Doing so is important not only to signal a commitment to the Alliance but also to invest in capabilities to provide for the common defense.
Develop a Burden Sharing Score
In the long term, we recommend that NATO develop a burden sharing score. This score will serve as a comprehensive measure for countries’ contribution to the Alliance and ease the over-reliance on monetary contributions as the only means of contributing to NATO. This score would account for: contributions to ongoing missions, response and leadership in new crises, and thwarting terror plots, among other factors that member states can decide to include. It is unlikely that all Alliance members will meet the 2% spending goal by 2024; these countries might however be contributing in other ways that enhance the Alliance’s collective security goal and it is important to have a metric that reflects these contributions as well.
Enhance Cyber Capabilities to Counter Emerging Threats
The military conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, as well as the hacking and subsequent leaking of emails during the 2016 US presidential election, have demonstrated the serious threat posed by cyber warfare. The hackings showed that American systems were vulnerable and other NATO members might be targeted next. NATO therefore needs to increase investment in cyber capabilities in order to anticipate and counter existing and future threats. In the short term, the Alliance should ensure that member states’ critical infrastructure, especially communications equipment, is well protected against cyber attacks. NATO should increase personnel tasked specifically with protecting and responding to cyber attacks on member states. Furthermore, it should establish a team that only focuses on preventing and countering cyber threats from Russia.
Expand Troops to Deter Russian Revanchism
With Vladimir Putin testing the strength of the NATO alliance, the US and Europe must stand firmly against Russian revanchism. Positioning NATO troops in Poland and the Baltic states is an important deterrent against Russian aggression. Recent troop movements to countries which share borders with Russia sends a clear signal that NATO is prepared to defend its Eastern allies. Despite President Trump’s campaign rhetoric about Russia, the Administration should continue to support strengthening the allied rotational troop presence in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. NATO’s European members should embolden support for this enhanced forward presence, which is intended to keep the peace. Placing troops in defensive positions to be able to quickly respond to Russian attacks is a move of defense and deterrence—not provocation or aggression.