4 avril 2009

ANALYSE : The dilemma of NATO military expenditures

Marielle BERNARD
NATO is certainly celebrating its 60th anniversary but it still has to face challenges, which without a good management and dialogue between members States could lead to the crash of the Organisation.
One of the thorniest problems is the burden-sharing concerning military expenditures. The creation of NATO was possible only due to the high commitment of the US in the Organisation, especially to its high participation to the expenditures. Moreover, the European countries accepted to take part of this alliance partly because of the general acceptance of seeing a large part of the burden-sharing assumed by the US.
The worst consequences were the emergence of free riders countries. It means countries that take advantages of the greater value of collective defence but assumed in large part by larger actors for which this collective defence organisation is so much more important and for which they have so much more to lose if it disappeared. In these circumstances, the vital interest of the survival of the organisation concern few countries and give the opportunities for others countries to contribute as little as possible in the burden-sharing (1). We call this “exploitation of the large by the small” or the phenomenon of free rider (2).
This phenomenon is part of the problem concerning burden-sharing and finding a solution to split fairly the military expenditures will be more a political answer than a pure mathematical theory; due partly to the fact that NATO is so much more a political arrangement than a military structure (3).
The second problem concerning the burden-sharing concerns the US themselves:
- First, because they accepted to be a global superpower in a bipolar world, and to assume a large part of the military burden due to its high interests of seeing Europe in peace.
- Second, due to its global interests and due to the fact that the US would probably have higher defence costs without NATO. From that time, they also get the freedom to lead the policy they wanted and to be followed most of the time by others NATO members.
NATO has always been seen as a military structure serving the US interests. So reconsidering the burden sharing will also involve reconsidering the way the US use the North Atlantic Alliance.
The third problem concerning the burden-sharing concerns the European members’ states. Two mains reasons can be explained:
- First, because of the umbrella of NATO and US security, European countries concentrate their investments in social welfare programs that demanded a greater portion of gross domestic products (GDP) (4). This general tendency, on the long term, influenced European policy, that couldn’t really promote the rise of military expenditures without provoking annoyance from populations. Confusion exists in Europe, where increasing military defence budget can be associated with a decrease of social expenditures. This problem is far from having a minor incidence on the NATO burden-sharing. Even if a debate is opened concerning the reorganisation of the burden-sharing, it doesn’t mean that it would find an happy end due to the unpopularity each time a decision goes in the sense of rising military expenditures. This phenomenon concerns not only NATO but also national defence budget.
- Second, NATO’s members’ reluctance to raise their military expenditures is also due to their obligation for some of them to affect a part their expenditures to the development of the ESDP.
So when members States think about renewing its 1999’s strategic concept, they have to rethink they own commitment in the activities of the Organisation. However, with the economic crisis that the populations have to face throughout the world, it is going to be very complicated to modify the main rules concerning NATO military expenditures.
The main decisions taken during the G20 are far from engaging investments in defence and security. In the near future, Governments are going to give priorities to social policy. And it could have consequences on the long-term policy concerning military activities of each member’s states inside and outside NATO.

(1) Foster Peter K. and CIMBALA Stephen J., The US NATO and military burden-sharing, Frank Cass, 2005, p. 10.
(2) Specifically, “free ride” applies to anyone who contributes less than the marginal value they derived from the consumption of a non-excludable public good.”
(3) Foster Peter K. and CIMBALA Stephen J., The US NATO and military burden-sharing, Frank Cass, 2005, p. 8.
(4) Zwagerman Nanne, "NATO Burden Sharing", May 10, 2008, http://atlanticreview.org/archives/1074-NATO-Burden-Sharing.html

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