Fair burden-sharing in NATO

The silly idea that NATO members should allocate 2% of their national income to deterrence and defence annoyed me a lot for a long time. It's not only too much given the modest conventional threat, but it also distracts.  Total military power is of little interest to our deterrence and defence as long as almost all of it is far from our frontier, and a coup de main-style grab of the Baltics is the least unlikely scenario of aggression against NATO. We shouldn't focus on raw quantity, but on smart allocation.
Furthermore, it's nonsense to ask poor or heavily indebted countries far from the threatened Eastern European region to spend much on the military. They would be better off with Ireland's security policy (~0.4% GDP military spending, member of EU, not part of NATO).*

So I gave it a try and created a table to see if I could come up with a more sensible distribution of burden:
minor inaccuracies regarding GDP and GDP per capita are possible
The rule should be a bit more fluent than the simple '100% GDP public debt' rule above to avoid unintended incentives to keep the public debt above 100% GDP, but I think the table conveys the basic idea on taking into account public debt well.
The U.S. could separately choose to have higher military spending because of the PR China, but that would be unrelated to NATO. Norway and Canada could consider themselves frontier countries because of the Arctic territories (and a rather negligible Norway-Russia border), but I don't.

357 bn USD military spending is plenty. I didn't add the extra effort to convert in USD PPP, but the picture should be clear; this is easily enough to deter and defend against Russia (66.3 bn USD) + Belarus (0.6 bn USD). Any minister of defence or general or admiral who claims otherwise should be fired immediately for gross incompetence.
Readers might associate hollowed-out, ineffective armed services with the hypothetical budget levels in the table. Such symptoms are NOT the consequence of such spending levels, but of intentional cynical dereliction of duty by ministers of defence, generals and admirals who prefer to keep structures nominally powerful and cut the budgets for fuels, spare parts, repairs, upgrades and munitions instead of adapting the force to the appropriate size and make it fit. The hollow force syndrome is not something you should blame fiscal politicians for, but something the top brass and ministers of defence should be fired for.
I excluded legacy costs such as pensions on the bottom of the table, so it should very well be possible to trim the forces to an appropriate size and high fitness for their mission with those budgets.

I suppose my hypothetical framework for fair burden-sharing in deterrence & defence of NATO makes a lot more sense than the crude 2% nonsense rule that was really just a poorly veiled effort to push the Europeans into becoming more useful auxiliaries for stupid American small wars. It was never really founded on any actual threat, as evidenced by the military spending disparity to Russia since the mid-90's.


*: 'My country first' can be applied by all countries.


  1. Not at all acceptable. You could buy anywhere near enough f35s (and their post delivery non-optional engine upgrade) with that pittence.

    You'll have to go back and think again, "We can afford survival", as Gen Mathis famously said. Try modelling the sale of all their FOREX and gold reserves. Try increasing market efficiencies by pulling government ownership from Thales, Airbus, Patria etc... Let US private equity own the stock instead.

    Word in your shell like; when all of this is being hammered out remember to stay only in trump hotels. 'He' likes it when people do that.

  2. I cannot agree more with you about the true reason of the hollow force syndrom, a failure of leadership !

    Instead of evaluation military power through moeny used or through % of the gdp one should instead simmply look at the numbers of real available usable weapons systems and what kind of systems there are in reality available and what abilities the military truly has, what are his structures and what can this military do realy.

    For example the current german "army" is not ridiculous weak because germany does not invest enough money, that is only an excuse to hide the complete failure and incompetence of the current "military" leadership. With the enourmous amount of moeny germany pays for the bundeswehr each year, germany could be an first rate military power. With 2 % of the GDP germany alone could have an army as strong as the russian army for example if we asumme competent leadership, intelligent armament and the right structure and correct focus.

    The weakness of many european militaries, especially of the bundeswehr is not a result of to few moeny, but of an overall failure resulting from the fact that the leadership are not soldiers, but a mixture of public officals and greedy and self-centered politicans in (a kind of) uniform. Always then i talk to officers of the bw, especially to lifers who are of higher rank or "older" age i cannot see any kind of true warriormind in them, and even not any kind of professional soldier-thinking, only the burocratic thinking of public officals, trapped and constricted in regulations, laws and there blinkers restrict them to think only about themselves and their career. None of them i met since years would sacrifice himself in anyway under any circumstances. They all put themselfes and their selfinteresst at the top.

    Therefore the true underlying reason / cause for this failure of leadership is imo in the culture of our western tm countries.

    The failure is in our leadership but the reason for this leadership is our culture of individualistion, of self-interest and of egoism, and especially the nihilism that has befallen our post-liberal western tm societies. If you do not beliefe anything than to enrichen yourself and have only an individualistic and materalistic thinking, no other leadership is realizable.

    Without a signifcant change in our current culture no other military leadership can be installed and therefore no amount of moeny would solve the problem of our inefficency.