A 3‑Percent-Solution for NATO

 In GDI, Defense, Cyber/ICT, Ukraine, Energy, Space, Threats

The alliance should up its mem­bers’ spend­ing goals — and count much-need­ed resilien­cy invest­ment toward the total.

Why does French President Emmanuel Macron con­sid­er NATObrain dead”? One rea­son is that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has insist­ed the alliance can only be rel­e­vant if all allies spend 2 per­cent of GDP on defense, a lit­mus test that only a hand­ful of coun­tries have met.

There is good rea­son for allies to spend more fol­low­ing decades of neglect, and most allies have in fact start­ed to spend more again. That does not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean, how­ev­er, that they have become more effec­tive in address­ing the grow­ing range of threats they face. 

NATO’s 2‑percent spend­ing goal is arbi­trary. It is not tied to any ele­ment of alliance strat­e­gy. Spending more is not the same as spend­ing well. Spending lev­els alone tell us noth­ing about whether the alliance is invest­ing in the kind of capa­bil­i­ties it needs to deter and defend. 

Europeans com­plain about Trump’s bul­ly­ing, but they play the same num­bers game by sug­gest­ing that the 2‑percent thresh­old should include spend­ing on such things as for­eign aid. Not only do such self-serv­ing argu­ments fur­ther inflame transat­lantic ten­sions, they dis­tract allies from invest­ing in the kinds of capa­bil­i­ties that can address the broad spec­trum of 21st-cen­tu­ry threats they face.

Related: NATO Should End its Open-Door Policy

Related: NATO Should Count Spending on Secure 5G Towards Its 2% Goals

Related: Russian Trolls Are Hammering Away at NATO’s Presence in Lithuania

Renewed spend­ing on basic deter­rence and defense makes sense, thanks to Russia’s forcible annex­a­tion of Ukraine’s Crimean penin­su­la, its armed inter­ven­tions in south­east­ern Ukraine and Georgia, and its efforts to intim­i­date NATO allies and part­ners alike. Yet the alliance must be pre­pared to con­front a wider vari­ety of chal­lenges. 

Hybrid war has changed the land­scape of con­flict. Terrorists, state-run ener­gy car­tels, cyber-hack­ers, inter­net trolls and mil­i­tary forces that sur­rep­ti­tious­ly infil­trate for­eign coun­tries all prac­tice hybrid war­fare by using the net­works that pow­er open soci­eties to attack, dis­rupt or weak­en those soci­eties. 

Much atten­tion has been paid to Russia’s use of hybrid tac­tics, but non-state actors have also acquired sig­nif­i­cant capa­bil­i­ties to dis­rupt or weak­en NATO’s nations. Practitioners of hybrid war­fare are often less intent on seiz­ing and hold­ing ter­ri­to­ry than destroy­ing or dis­rupt­ing the abil­i­ty of soci­eties to func­tion. The finan­cial, trans­porta­tion, and ener­gy grids of the United States and oth­er allies and part­ners have repeat­ed­ly been infil­trat­ed and are high­ly vul­ner­a­ble.

When con­flict changes, so must defense. NATO must extend its tra­di­tion­al invest­ments in ter­ri­to­r­i­al pro­tec­tion and deter­rence to encom­pass mod­ern approach­es to resilience: build­ing the capac­i­ty of free soci­eties to antic­i­pate, pre­empt and resolve dis­rup­tive chal­lenges to their crit­i­cal func­tions, and to pre­vail against direct attack if nec­es­sary.  

Resiliency is the new defense chal­lenge of the 21st cen­tu­ry. It has become inte­gral to NATO’s abil­i­ty to pro­tect the North Atlantic space. Curiously, how­ev­er, allied efforts to bol­ster resilience are not con­sid­ered rel­e­vant to the 2‑percent spend­ing goal.

To its cred­it, the alliance has rec­og­nized the need to bol­ster its mem­bers’ resilience and set forth a num­ber of base­line require­ments that each ally should be able to meet. Three addi­tion­al steps are need­ed, how­ev­er, if the alliance is to make these invest­ments smart.

First, the its coun­try-by-coun­try approach to resilience betrays a sta­t­ic under­stand­ing of a very dynam­ic chal­lenge. Resilience cer­tain­ly begins at home, yet no nation is home alone in an age of poten­tial­ly cat­a­stroph­ic ter­ror­ism, net­worked threats, and dis­rup­tive hybrid attacks. Few crit­i­cal infra­struc­tures that sus­tain the soci­etal func­tions of an indi­vid­ual coun­try are lim­it­ed today to the nation­al bor­ders of that coun­try. Governments accus­tomed to pro­tect­ing their ter­ri­to­ries must also be able to pro­tect their con­nect­ed­ness — the vital arter­ies that are the lifeblood of open soci­eties and the transat­lantic com­mu­ni­ty. NATO lead­ers should pri­or­i­tize shared over sep­a­rate invest­ments in resilience.

Second, effec­tive invest­ment in resilience requires a bet­ter NATO part­ner­ship with the European Union, which is improv­ing its capac­i­ties to address chal­lenges to soci­etal secu­ri­ty. Resilience is a job for NATO, but it need not be a job for NATO alone. Enhanced NATO-EU coop­er­a­tion offers a means to lever­age the com­bined resources of both orga­ni­za­tions in com­mon cause.

Third, NATO must devise ways to coop­er­ate with the pri­vate sec­tor, which owns most infra­struc­tures crit­i­cal to essen­tial soci­etal func­tions. New types of pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships could lever­age the con­sid­er­able resources of the transat­lantic econ­o­my to enhance North Atlantic secu­ri­ty.  

The chal­lenge of hybrid con­flict under­scores why NATO, in its 70th year, must remain the key­stone to Western secu­ri­ty. NATO offers a ready mech­a­nism for allies to pro­mote shared resilience to dis­rup­tive attacks. It is a means by which resilience can be pro­ject­ed for­ward to neigh­bors who are weak and sus­cep­ti­ble to dis­rup­tion. It is a vehi­cle through which allied lead­ers can make wise use of lim­it­ed resources.

Alliance lead­ers should pri­or­i­tize smart invest­ments over mean­ing­less spend­ing goals. If they insist on play­ing the num­bers game, how­ev­er, then why not get seri­ous? Include resilience spend­ing in the tal­ly and raise the bar by anoth­er per­cent. Let’s call it NATO’s 3 Percent Solution. 

Source: Defense One

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