Despite the current trends toward nationalism and retrenchment in both the United States 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 United States 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 global, peace, security, and stability. To this end, we recommend that NATO members: (1) Meet the 2% spending target by 2024: (2) Address weaknesses in systems for electronic warfare, as well as further develop cyber capabilities; (3) 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.
1. Meet 2% Spending Target by 2024
Burden-sharing has been a recurring and contentious issue among NATO member-states since the inception of the Alliance. This contention intensified after 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 United States should be patient as its allies work towards this goal. It is unrealistic for countries currently spending around 1% on defense to, within a year or two, reach 2%. 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.
2. Enhance Cyber Capabilities To Counter Emerging Threats
The military conflicts in Ukraine and Syria and the hacking and subsequent leaking of emails during the United States 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.
3. Expand Troops To Deter Russian Revanchism
With Vladimir Putin testing the strength of the NATO alliance, the United States 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 that share borders with Russia sends a clear signal that NATO is prepared to defend its Eastern allies. Despite the new U.S. president’s campaign rhetoric about Russia, the Trump 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.
Aylin Matlé holds a M.A. in War Studies from King’s College London and a B.A. in Public Management and Governance from Zeppelin Universität (Friedrichshafen) and is currently pursuing a Ph.D on the role of the US in NATO during the Obama presidency.
Caleb Larson is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Policy with a specialization in Conflict Studies and Management at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in Erfurt Germany and holds a BA in History from UCLA.
Carolyn Taratko is currently a Fulbright Scholar in Berlin and a PhD candidate in modern European History at Vanderbilt University in the USA, where she focuses on the development of agricultural policy and nutritional science in Germany in the early twentieth century.
Mpaza Kapembwa is a 2015 graduate of Williams College and is currently enrolled in Georgia’s Tech’s International Affairs Master’s Program.
Rachel Hoff is Director of Defense Analysis at the American Action Forum, a center-right think tank; she represented Washington, DC as a delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention