As the United States continues the historic buildup of its defense capabilities, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has committed to increasing security investments as well. Russia seeks to change the international order by stressing our alliances, undermining national institutions and supporting conflicts around the world. Its goal is to exert greater influence around the globe and demonstrate Russia is not only a nuclear power but a Great Power. The NATO alliance shares a common strategic vision on how to counter this threat.
Recently, I visited several NATO countries to understand their contributions to NATO and efforts to support U.S. defense initiatives in Europe. Although President Trump has put pressure on NATO countries to contribute 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to defense spending, it is important to realize additional contributions to our collective mission. Countering Russia requires not only a robust U.S. military but strong alliances as well.
Congress has recently authorized $716 billion in funding for national defense for the fiscal year 2019, which will provide America’s service members the training, resources and equipment necessary to take on threats around the globe. Already, NATO partners have agreed to the NATO Readiness Initiative, which is comprised of 30 land battalions, 30 aircraft squadrons and 30 naval ships within 30 days. However, moving against threats like cyber, hybrid warfare and terrorism, that know no borders, requires not only monetary contributions but troop contributions and infrastructure investments.
In recent years, missions in Bosnia, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan have included the deployment of NATO Allies alongside U.S. servicemembers. Sadly, casualties have not been a burden America shoulders alone. Denmark has the highest loss per capita of all the coalition forces in Afghanistan, with 44 Danish fatalities since January 2002. Deploying in support of international NATO operations projects and western security interests influences a greater impact than could be accomplished independently.
Additionally, NATO nations have discussed counting infrastructure spending as part of their commitment because NATO leaders have recognized the enormous impediments to moving troops and military materiel across Europe. Europe’s tunnels and bridges are too narrow for wide transports, and the Baltics have never really been integrated into NATO’s ground logistics. Improving rail and highway networks will take tremendous resources and support from European governments. The benefits will be an immense boost to not only the collective defense of NATO but to the economic well-being and stability of Europe as well.
The Baltic countries have been strong NATO partners and have contributed in ways other than through monetary investments. In 2007, the Russians launched a cyber-attack targeting Estonia, a tiny Baltic nation of 1.3 million people and a landmass roughly half the size of Maine. Following a dispute with Moscow over the relocation of a Soviet war memorial, the attack affected parliament, banks, broadcasters and newspapers. As a result, Estonia bolstered its cyber defenses. Estonia shares its technological expertise with NATO allies to prevent and mitigate disruptions caused by cyber-attacks. This key contribution to the alliance is not counted as part of its 2 percent “contribution” to NATO, but the benefit of this cooperation is arguably greater due to the prevention of enormous economic and civil disruptions.
We must expand cooperation with our NATO partners. However, there are additional ways to measure burden-sharing that will improve the partnership. The standard defense expenditure as a share of GDP at 2 percent and equipment expenditure is a start, but defining new metrics for cooperation will make for a stronger and more effective alliance.