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July 10, 2023

We don’t really know which NATO allies are pulling their weight.

By John R. Deni US Army War College Press

Here’s how to fix that. 

John R. Deni  

The Defense Investment Pledge agreed to by NATO allies in 2014 is reaching its decade-long finish line. The Alliance’s own data indicate that not all allies will cross that line, as many still spend less than the equivalent of 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense and several still devote less than 20 percent of their defense budgets to acquisition and related research and development. Nonetheless, some allies like the United States are advocating to increase the 2 percent target. This is sure to run into resistance. How can the United States and like-minded allies successfully negotiate higher targets? They might start by agreeing to portray NATO burden- and risk-sharing more accurately. Although some argue that inputs like defense spending tell us a lot about outputs like contributions to Alliance operations, recently available data indicate this is not necessarily the case: New statistical analysis shows that whether or not a country has met the 2 percent spending target doesn’t tell us whether or not they’re contributing equally to the Alliance’s mission. If burden- and risk-sharing could be portrayed more accurately, those opposed to increasing the input targets might be more willing to reconsider. Even if they do not, improving how NATO depicts burden- and risk-sharing would benefit lawmakers, analysts, academics, and the public. Recommendations on how to achieve this follow the statistical analysis. 

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