The focus of the debate is on whether our NATO allies are carrying their weight--are they spending enough on defense. In particular, Trump focused on those countries that were not meeting their target of military spending at two percent of GDP. The problem with this focus on the two percent target is that it really doesn't do a good job of accurately reflecting the real contribution of each ally. Greece, for example, more than meets this target with 2.46% of GDP, but this is largely a reflection of a grossly inefficient operations and not its military value. Other countries spend far less, but their real contributions in overseas operations has been far more.
My favorite example is little Denmark (at only 1.17%), which has been a major contributor to NATO operations worldwide. Elizabeth Braw has a very good analysis of the true contributions of our NATO allies at Defense One:
Take a glance at NATO’s defense spending statistics, and Denmark looks like a mediocre member. Last year, the Scandinavian country spent 1.17 percent of GDP on defense, far below NATO’s 2-percent benchmark. But a closer look at the country’s military deployments reveals a rather different picture: Denmark is, in fact, a NATO starlet. Members’ contributions to alliance missions matter as much as their defense spending. We should encourage them to be more like Denmark.
In Mali, the Danish armed forces have a 62-troop C-130 Hercules detachment. They have 199 troops in Iraq and have smaller groups elsewhere, including Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base and Kosovo. Next year, Denmark will boost its contribution to NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Estonia from five troops to 200, and it’s about to increase its Afghanistan force to 150 men and women. Currently, 702 Danish troops are on foreign deployment, 389 of them on NATO missions.
Or look at Norway, which similarly does not qualify for NATO’s Two Percent Club: it spends 1.56 percent of its GDP on defense. But Norwegian special forces played a crucial role in Afghanistan and are now involved in the fight against ISIS. Norway also has 200 troops in NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Lithuania, and troops in, among other places, Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan.
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Yes, the U.S. goes the extra mile for Europe, for example, by stationing some 30,000 Army soldiers here. But farther from the spotlight, so do countries like Italy, Denmark and Norway. Such overachievers should get credit for their efforts just as two percent spenders do. But praise is not enough. NATO shouldn’t have to rely on a few overachievers to assemble and run its missions. Much like the residents of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, all NATO members should be above-average contributors.Read it all here.