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Blog Post

August 13, 2020

NATO’s progress on burden sharing remains strong

By Bradley Hazen

When NATO leaders met in Wales in 2014, strengthening allied burden sharing and reversing a downward trend in national defense spending were high on the agenda. In response to Russia’s comprehensive military modernization efforts and territorial aggression against Ukraine, member states pledged to increase their national defense spending to at least 2 percent of real gross domestic product (GDP) by no later than 2024.

European allies and Canada have now contributed five consecutive years of growth in defense investment, adding a cumulative total of $130 billion in new spending since 2016. In 2019, all but three NATO allies increased their defense spending in real terms, with nine allies reaching or surpassing the 2 percent goal (up from seven in 2018).

But progress has not been confined just to the realm of investment. Since 2014, the Alliance has stepped up military exercises across Europe, strengthened multinational missions in the air and at  sea, and reinforced its eastern flank with new enhanced Forward Presence missions in the Baltic States and Poland.

Looking ahead, the COVID-19 pandemic has left much regarding the future of allied defense planning and investment uncertain, and it is likely that many allied governments will feel pressured to limit or cut defense spending as the pandemic’s economic toll continues to mount. That said, it is clear from the data that the Alliance-wide drive towards 2 percent, though uneven at times, continued apace through 2019, signaling NATO members’ commitment to strengthening and more evenly distributing their contributions to the common defense.  

Bradley Hazen is an intern in the Atlantic Council’s Transatlantic Security Initiative, within the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.

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Image: Czech Republic Gen. Petr Pavel, chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Military Committee, delivers remarks at the 178th Military Committee in Chiefs of Defense Session at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Jan. 16, 2018. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro