Today, the Transatlantic Community faces new threats. From the inside trends toward nationalism challenge the liberal-democratic institutions in Europe and the US. From the outside terrorism, migration and Russian revanchism put pressure on the alliance. The annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 questioned a core principle of post-war Europe: to respect each countries’s territorial integrity and souverenity and settle conflicts peacefully. It is a principle that secures the peace and the stability in Europe and I cannot stress enough that can’t affort to tolerate its violation.
As Europeans, we do not face these challenges alone, but together with our partners in NATO. At the opening of NATO’s new headquarters in May this year, we saw a piece of the Berlin wall and of the ruins of the collapsed World Trade Center. It reminds us of past challenges that we have overcome, and of the ones that we will overcome in the future. I know that some of you think NATO was obsolete. Let me assure you it is not.
In times of rising nationalistic rhetoric, NATO is a means against unilateralism and strengthens cooperation in foreign- and security policy. Because most member states of the European Union are members of NATO, the alliance helps to secure the peace in Europe. As US Secretary of defence James Mattis coined it: “If we did not have NATO today, we would need to create it”. This is also true from a European perspective as well.
But facing current challenges and providing security for the Transatlantic Community does not come for free. Former US President Obama and now President Trump, each have, admittingly in different tones, expressed their wish for NATO member states to spend more on defence. Let me tell you why I think they are right.
Between 70-80% of NATO’s military capabilities are provided by the US. A fair distribution would see an even burden sharing. We Europeans must finally understand that the times when we have lived from the peace dividend after the end of the Second World War are over. Germany is NATO’s second largest money contributer and together with our allies we must take more responsibility for the threats in our neighbourhood.
At the 2014 Wales Summit and the 2016 Warsaw Summit we send a strong signal of resolve, as NATO member states agreed to reserve the trend of declining defence budgets and declared to spend 2% of their GDP until 2024 on defence. As a reliable partner, Germany has committed itself to the 2% goal. Of course, no military can effectively absorb an increase in defence spending from around 1% to 2% of GDP within one year. But as the threats posed by terrorism, Russia and the challenges from migration are likely to remain, member states should increase their defence investments step by step, assuring an efficient build-up of military capabilities.
The 2% goal is the right benchmark to build a more effective alliance. However, taken as absolute, it runs the risk of focusing too much on the quantitative dimension of spending money, not considering the qualitative dimension of how to spend it. As today’s security challenges are multi-faced, a sole hard power approach is insufficient. For that reason, German Minister of defence Ursula von der Leyen proposed an extension of the 2% goal by a burden sharing score. This would incorporate non-direct monetary contributions by member states to the collective security such as contributions to stabilization of fragile states, response and leadership in new crises, and thwarting terror plots. The advantage of this adjustment would be both tailor-made to NATO’s long-term interest of creating a strong alliance and reassuring the public that security is more than hard power military capabilities.
Let me address another point. In face of Russian revanchism, NATO member states have decided to deploy NATO troops in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland and reassured our commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty. This is a very important measure, because it retains the alliance’s inner cohesion and deters Russia from aggressive actions.
Why do we expect this approach to secure the peace? There are two reasons. First, the deployment of NATO troops at Russia’s border rises the political cost for any potential aggressive move conducted against member states. Second, we keep our channels for political dialogue open to Russia. The NATO-Russia Council serves as an important platform for dialogue and has never been suspended. In addition, since 2014 the Normandy contact group, consisting of Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France, has been working on resolving the situation in Ukraine outside of NATO’s structures.
However, the logic of deterrence has a flaw. It increases the risk of conflict by misinterpretation or escalation by accident. The public is sensible for this relation. According to a Forsa survey in 2016, one third of Germans were worried about a war with Russia. This tells us that our messaging has to put more focus on our efforts to enter and maintain a dialogue with Russia. We must place the talks into the spotlight, not the muscles.
Last but not least, showing resilience must also be expanded to the cyberspace. In the light of leaked emails during the 2016 US presidential election and concerns over the up-coming national elections in Germany this year, cyber security has to be at the top of our agenda. Through Rapid Reaction Teams, NATO can provide assistance to member states that help to secure inference-free elections and protect our democratic institutions. Therefore, we need to provide funding to build-up those capabilities further such as NATO’s Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn. In cooperation with civil industry we must work on resolving attribution problems and thereby expand deterrence to the cyberspace.
Looking into the future, we should never forget that despite occasional differences of views, our unity within the Transatlantic Community is our greatest strength to provide freedom and security for our people.