defence spend: Washington funds about 70 per cent of Nato spending; wants allies to raise it 2 per cent of GDP; EU defends says it is the world’s biggest donor at $58bn a year –
BRUSSELS: US President Donald Trump sent top US officials to Europe with a familiar warning from Washington that allies must spend more on defence, this time with the ultimatum “or else”. But Europeans have tried to deflect the threats with the argument that a commitment to security is not just about spending targets, which diplomats said that US officials did not challenge, suggesting that the stand-off will continue.
“Things look very different if we add up our defence budgets, our development aid budgets and our humanitarian efforts all around the world,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the Munich Security Conference last week. By current standards, Washington funds about 70 per cent of Nato spending.
Standing beside US Vice-President Mike Pence on Monday at the Commission, Juncker called for another measure of what counts.
“We want…a broader understanding that the word ‘stability’ in the world means defence expenditure, human aid and development aid,” said Juncker the EU’s chief executive, adding he was against Europeans being “pushed into” the targets.
Allies who do not meet Nato targets to spend 2 per cent of GDP on military budgets set out to show Pence and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis how Europeans are dealing with crises they trace back, in part, to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“France has a readiness to deploy that is hard to match. Spain was leading Nato’s new spearhead force last year. Italy is in Afghanistan,” said one senior European Nato diplomat. “That isn’t already reflected by spending targets.”
While Germany says Trump has a point about Europe’s drop in defence spending since the fall of the Soviet Union, Berlin and the European Commission also say Washington should take note that the EU is the world’s biggest aid donor, spending some 56 billion euros ($58.99 billion) a year. The United States spends about 1 per cent of its federal budget on foreign aid, or about $50 billion, but that also includes running diplomatic missions and giving academic grants, according to the US State Department.
At a Nato summit in Wales in 2014, months after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, allies agreed to end years of defence cuts that left Europeans without vital capabilities, such as refuelling airborne fighter bombers.
They agreed all allies should reach the target of spending 2 per cent of economic output on defence every year by 2024, although the goal is not legally binding.
It aims to reverse a trend that saw defence research spending in the European Union fall by a third, or more than 20 billion euros, since 2006.
Only the United States, Britain, Poland, Estonia and Greece met the target in 2016, although the cuts have stopped and Latvia, Lithuania and Romania are close, Nato officials say.
Nato’s 22 European allies and Canada will spend almost 4 per cent more, or some 10 billion euros, on defence this year and Germany’s increases account for some 20 per cent of that. There is no European push to change the Nato target and Nato officials say the 2 per cent target will remain politically useful, if not economically viable.
Reaching the 2 per cent target could cost Nato’s European members $96 billion per year, according to think tank Bruegel. US governments have been pressing Europeans to increase spending on their armed forces for decades, but Trump signalled a much tougher approach, suggesting on the campaign trail to make US support conditional on meeting Nato commitments. He has since given his full support to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, but complained this month that Europeans have “been very unfair to us”, for not spending more on defence.
Collectively the European Union is the world’s second-biggest military spender. But fears in Britain of an EU army held back collaboration.
Governments spent in isolation and missed out on savings worth 25 billion euros a year, according to EU data. Trump’s ultimatum is also still “hypothetical”, Pence said.
Asked what if Europeans did not spend more, he said: “I don’t know what the answer is to: ‘or else’.But I know that the patience of the American people will not endure forever.” — Reuters