NATO has 28 member states and many bills to pay, which are mostly footed by the U.S.
Historically, NATO operated according to the recommendation that its member states should spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense spending. Unfortunately, only five member states — America, the United Kingdom, Greece, Estonia and Poland — meet the requirement for ensuring their own and fellow allies’ safety.
Another way of measuring how much NATO members contribute is by looking at defense spending per capita. The innovative metric was developed by Robbie Gramer at The Atlantic Council.
Gramer proposes that looking at defense spending per capita provides a more accurate measure of commitment among individual member states to political and military alliance, since some nation states make disproportionate commitments beyond GDP measures.
Denmark and Norway respectively spend 1.17 percent and 1.54 percent of their GDP on defense. These countries are central examples Gramer uses to justify his alternative metric.
Denmark was highly active in the fight against the Taliban, and Norway was frequently engaged in combat sorties during NATO’s 2011 mission in Libya. The U.S. currently spends 3.61 percent of its GDP on the military, well beyond the 2 percent NATO threshold.
Aside from security concerns in the Middle East and North Africa, NATO allies are becoming increasingly mindful of the threat they were originally created to address: Russia. Twenty-two NATO member states are increasing defense spending in the wake of Russian aggression against Ukraine.
“The world is a more dangerous place than just a few years ago,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at the organization’s July summit. In spite of the NATO leader decrying the current state of world affairs, five member states are spending less than 1 percent on defense: Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Slovenia, and Canada. The aforementioned five member states are in better shape than fellow member state Iceland, which does not even have a military.
The combined defense spending of all NATO member states in 2015 is just over $900 billion, of which the U.S. spends close to $650 billion. At a distant second is the UK, which spends almost $60 billion annually and amounts to 6.6 percent of combined NATO defense spending.
While the U.S. accounts for just over 72 percent of NATO member defense spending, the monetary measure alone is not necessarily representative of the direct American contribution to the military alliance.
“There is a difference between what nations contribute to NATO and what they spend on their own defense,” Lisa Sawyer Samp of the Center for Strategic and International Studies explained to Politifact, adding that “the United States contributes 22 percent of NATO’s common funding.”
The 2016 military budget for NATO is around $2 billion, of which the U.S. contributes about $460 million, which is 22 percent of the organization’s common military funding. While the UK is second in overall defense spending, Germany places second when it comes to directly contributing to NATO’s common military funding, at 15 percent.
NATO spending has become an important foreign policy matter in the 2016 presidential race. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said she wants Europeans to chip in more to the organization and Republican nominee Donal Trump has said the U.S. should reconsider its degree of involvement in the Cold War alliance.
The North Atlantic Treaty was signed in 1949 after World War II because the U.S., Canada, and its European allies needed to put a check on Soviet aggression. This is the founding document that created NATO. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and its own military alliance, the Warsaw Pact, NATO has had more member states join over the years.
NATO has been crucial to U.S. military activity in Afghanistan, by leading the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from 2001 to 2014. European NATO members became involved in Afghanistan after the U.S. invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. It was invoked for the first time in the organization’s history after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Article 5 states that, “an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.”
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