Last week, I participated in the Future Leaders Summit at the venue of the NATO summit in Wales, dubbed the most important summit in NATO’s history.
The Future Leaders Summit, part of the Atlantic Council’s Young Atlanticist Program, offered young leaders an opportunity to interact with senior representatives from NATO member states and other countries. It is clear that NATO leaders are seriously concerned about Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
It is also clear that the Alliance is struggling with what it will be after the mission in Afghanistan is over, what tools it has to respond to the kind of warfare Russia is conducting in Ukraine, and what might be the strategic implications of the ISIS takeover in Iraq.
The leaders are also concerned about how NATO is perceived by the member states and how those perceptions might affect NATO’s role in the world. H. E. Frans Timmermans, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of the Netherlands, stated that “we can’t get people to support NATO actions abroad if we can’t provide for their security at home.” The situation is especially worrying in the context of ISIS’s appeals to the West. Timmermans also noted that the Russian threat is “imminent.”
The Alliance’s aid package to Ukraine, aimed at strengthening Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, is an indication of the seriousness with which NATO treats the issue. The Alliance, however, rejected larger deployments to Ukraine. H. E. Miroslay Laj?ák, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Slovak Republic, rightly pointed out that the political significance and results of these initiatives is more important than their number.
Defense budgets make all NATO engagements possible, and NATO as an alliance has been failing to provide for adequate defense funding. Only four NATO members (the U.S., the U.K., Greece, and Estonia) currently spend 2 percent of gross domestic product, NATO’s own commitment, on defense. These levels of spending are not adequate to meet the threats that NATO member states face.
To put things in perspective, as Heritage’s Luke Coffey points out, “New York City spends more on policing than 14 European NATO members spend on their national defense.” Member of Parliament and President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Hugh Bayley emphasized that people need to know what NATO is and how it spends money. Absent such an understanding, there won’t be support and understanding for the importance of the role NATO continues to play in European security.
Time will tell whether the initiatives proposed by NATO will be enough to secure peace and prosperity in the transatlantic region. It is imperative for the U.S. to continue to play an active role in NATO.