The Troubled NATO Partnership: Defence Spending Row Keeps Dividing the Alliance

Written by | Friday, March 22nd, 2019

The US is currently very concerned about European efforts to build a joint European Union army. However, according to the latest statements by the French Defense Minister, the US has nothing to worry about, as member states agree to increase contributions to NATO and a possible common European defense initiative is not directed against the United States. In the wake of Donald Trump’s continued criticism of low defense spending in NATO countries, French Defense Minister Florence Parly has announced that she will do everything she can with other Europeans to take a larger share of the burden. In addition to worrying about low European arms spending, Trump was also critical of the efforts of European nations to create a common European defense force or strengthen the common defense industry.

When French President Emmanuel Macron called for a “true European army” on 6 November 2018, Trump rejected this idea and suggested that it was an effort to “protect Europe from the US”. During the Atlantic Council on 18 March, Parly said that “building European autonomy should never be seen as a step against the United States” nor should it be “a reason for the US to be less involved”. According to her, the steps to strengthen European capacities will help to alleviate Washington’s burden so that it can focus from Europe to “more urgent regions in East Asia and the Middle East”. “We have to help without waiting for the US to pay the bills,” she said. Mrs. Parly said European countries have moved to strengthen their capacities because the security of the whole continent is being tested and used 2008’s Georgia and 2014’s Krym as an example.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced on 14 March that Alliance members have increased their defense spending in 2018 for the fourth consecutive year. Out of 29 member states, seven states, including Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, met the 2% GDP requirement, which was agreed upon at the NATO Summit in Wales in 2014. Romania and France are expected to meet this target this year. To that end, the French minister admitted that European partners must make a greater contribution to NATO and stressed that “Europeans have an important domestic role to play if they want to stand on their own and actually share the burden of America.”

France “fully supports the US request for 2%” of defense spending targets for all NATO members because “France wants to be at the forefront of this effort”, Mrs. Parly claims. However, this problem was directly linked to the lack of European autonomous capacity, stating that the United States currently provides the Alliance with 91 percent of air tankers, 92 percent of large unmanned aerial vehicles, and 100 percent of strategic bombers and missile defense systems. She stressed that the development of capabilities in these areas would help to reduce Washington’s burden and strengthen Europe’s capacity to respond to crises without the need for US intervention. Instead, according to Parly, “autonomy should be a variation of friendship.”


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