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The Future of NATO

Executive summary:

The North Atlantic Peace Treaty or better known as NATO has been around since 1949. It was brought around because of everything going on with the Cold War. Since then it has grown from having twelve countries in its organization to 29 countries from North America and Europe. NATO has been around for 70 years which has made many people ask questions like, “ why is NATO still around?” or “ why are we even spending money on it?” or “ what is the future of NATO ?”. Many believe that the future of NATO is just to not have it exist or have the United Sates pull out of NATO but contrary to popular belief I believe NATO still serves a purpose in our 21st century.

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Although many would argue that as the United States we spend too much of our money and put in an excessive amount of our G.D.P. ( gross domestic product) into NATO and get nothing out of it, while the European countries do not put in their fair share. We cannot let this minor factor affect the bigger picture, which is protecting our security. Our nation and society thrive on knowing that they are protected, living in a secure nation, therefore we cannot leave NATO. But even though we should not pull out of NATO that does not mean we should continue to let these other countries not put in their fair share, so we should create a penalty for countries that are not putting in their fair amount of G.D.P.

Problem Definition:

To understand this ongoing conflict of whether or not the United States should still be a part of NATO we need to understand what NATO really is. Around the 1950s’ the main purpose of NATO was to allow American military to be stationed long enough in Europe in order to restore the balance of power. In the 1960s’ the balance of power is reestablished, Europe’s economy is thriving, France and Britain are nuclear powers, and Germany’s military is under control. Around 1991is the collapse of Soviet Union, so NATO’s biggest threat is out of the way which puts NATO in an awkward situation because it now doesn’t know what to do. Since it was created its main focus was to restore Europe after what happened in World War II and to make sure the Soviet Union did not take over Europe, but now both of these “goals” were completed so now what?

Barry R. Posen wrote in the New York Times describing NATO as a business and like all businesses none want to be put out of business, and since NATO is such a “ good brand” (Posen) they decided that they only way to stay in business was to change their goal, to represent something new. Today NATO’s purpose and goal is to “safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by political and military means” (NATO). NATO does live by this, during the September 11 attacks NATO was ready to help the us the United States their allies. They created Article 5, which basically states that if you attack a country who is a part of the alliance then all the alliance members will attack you right back. Although NATO is very loyal to the first part of its goal the second part tends to get blurry. The second part of its purpose is,  “ Collective defense is at the heart of the Alliance and creates a spirit of solidarity and cohesion among its members” (NATO). In this day and age there is a debate on why we, the United States, are still in NATO because the other countries more specifically European countries do not put in their share into the Alliance. This has caused serious tension within the alliance and outside the alliance, people wondering why we are still apart of NATO, are we even benefiting from it, or if there is even a point for NATO to still be around.

There is no question that NATO should still be around and continue, there should also be no hesitation about our involvement in NATO because our nation thrives on the idea of living in a secure environment and NATO offers this security. However, there are problems that the members of NATO need to address in order to follow through with the second half of their goal. The biggest conflict that NATO is facing is that not everyone is putting in their two percent of G.D.P. Doug Bandow from the Cato institute expresses that the U.S. has been the main supplier for NATO, and that in 2015, “ NATO- Europe came in at 1.5 percent of the GDP, well short of the two percent objective” (Bandow). Money is understandably a serious problem and no one likes to lose money, waste money, or see that they are the only one putting in the set amount of money agreed on which is why we need a new group goal. This new goal will be to establish a strict rule on the two percent that needs to be followed, by implementing a tax and or penalty on the country that does not put in their fair share of the two percent.

Policy Alternatives:

In order to achieve this goal, there are multiple options we can choose from. The first option is to create a flexible two percent, flexible as in what the countries choose to spend their two percent on. Peter Beinart from the Atlantic expressed that the United States has such a fixation on making the two percent for defense spending, he expresses that the “ problem with demanding that America’s NATO partners spend 2 percent on defense is that it assumes Europe’s biggest threats are military (Beinart)”. Therefore, if we allow the members of NATO to choose what they spend their two percent on, then we will have more of an easier time getting the two percent from all participating countries. Although some would argue that even with this flexible spending many countries will not participate and not put in their honest two percent. But if we can find a way to figure out a country’s correct G.D.P. so that everyone is putting in the fair amount of percentage that has been calculated, then we can hold countries accountable and implement a tax or penalty on those who do not follow through. These possible penalties can be: an increase in their percentage of G.D.P. that they have to give, not having the complete support from their allies for a certain amount of time, or not being able to give their opinion during meetings.

Another option we have to achieve our goal is that we create a “ second NATO” this organization will just consist of European members, for now we will call it “ Europe’s NATO”. With this second organization we, the United States, can sit on the sidelines and not be so much of a key player in this organization. Doug Bandow expressed that while Obama was in office the U.S. went along with whatever the European countries wanted us to do, “Obama officials routinely visited Europe to “reassure” allies that Washington would forever defend them” (Bandow) no matter how much they actually put into NATO. We cannot continue with this mindset if we want to make things equal, so if we can show these European nations that they can support themselves. Then we will no longer have to invest large amounts of money to support the whole other half of the world, according to Bandow, “ with 52 percent of America’s and Europe’s combined GDP, Washington accounts for 72 percent of the military spending” (Bandow). This shows how much we cover for Europe and even though many would just say that we should just give up on NATO since Europe will have their own organization, that just cannot be the option because we still need some form of an alliance. So, by being on their sidelines we can still maintain an alliance with them and it will increase efficiency because they will watch over their half of the world and we will continue to watch over our half.

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A final policy idea will be to truly discuss where the allies stand on military before any further action is made. Many have noticed that within the organization there is a divide about what is important with military spending, the U.S. sees Russia and Afghanistan as a major military problem that requires the attention of Ally members, unlike the European members who do not see these two countries as an important issue. First, we as the U.S. should find a way to express how these two countries are important to European countries, Spencer P. Boyer expressed that the U.S. needs to explain to their allies that if we succeed in Afghanistan it, “is imperative to their nation security interest, not just America’s” (Boyer). The only problem that distracts these countries from seeing the positive effects of helping the U.S. is that they believe that the war in Afghanistan is over militarized. European countries have different philosophies on the use of force, compared to the U.S., they are “ generally more ambivalent about engaging in military activities than Americans” (Boyer). In a German Marshall Fund poll, it found that sixty four percent of Europeans supported sending troops to help in the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan but only thirty percent supported to sending troops to fight, while in America sixty eight percent of Americans were all for sending troops to Afghanistan to fight. The other country that NATO is divided on is Russia, some European countries do not believe Russia is a real threat anymore because Vladimir Putin, in his twenty years of power, has only invaded two countries, Ukraine and Georgia, who are not even apart of NATO. That is because he knows what would happen if he actually went after countries like Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, he would be attacked. “ NATO spends more than 13 times as Russia on defense” (Beinart) even without the U.S. NATO is still spending four times as much as Russia. With points like this it is understandable why European countries are not paying attention to Russia but are they considering other ways Russia could attack. Daniel Kochis expresses that, “Russia represents a challenge to NATO in the Arctic, Baltic, Black Sea, north Atlantic, and Mediterranean” (Kochis). He then explains that, “Russian cyberattacks, espionage, blackmail, or any way to undermine democratic institutions know no borders” (Kochis)”. Which shows why we need to focus on Russia as well as Afghanistan. Through these points it is obvious that there is a clear divide with how NATO should participate militarily but if we cannot come to terms in this aspect then how do we expect to come to terms on finances.


There are many ways we can achieve our goal to keep the participation and effort from each country equal and efficient, but the one policy that will achieve this is the first policy mentioned in the “policy alternatives”. This policy will allow enough flexibility to start conversations within the alliance members in order to settle on finances. As mentioned before this goal will allow there to be efficiency among NATO which will put all money concerns aside. The definition of effectiveness is simply getting things done, completing a task or goal. It is fair to say that by using this to achieve the goal of having “ Collective defense is at the heart of the Alliance and creates a spirit of solidarity and cohesion among its members” ( NATO).In order to thrive on this idea of effectiveness and efficiency we need to know the full information. We need to understand what our Allies’ actually need, what they think their money should be going to, and trying to get them to understand our side and how we feel about the whole situation. If all 29 countries can come to understand what the actual information is and how everyone feels then we can that improve our goals and the end product of NATO, which will prove and explain to the public why we will continue in NATO and why we need it.  Although some may argue that we can never have the actual amount of gross domestic product or it doesn’t accurately measure how much a country contributes, the  U.S. Government Accountability Office clearly explains which countries have what , how much each country has put in , how much each county needs to put in.

Voluntarism plays a huge aspect in this because each country is free to act and make decisions on how they feel that they should be spending their two percent. With that being said many would argue that this would be a completely new concept that could not work in the organization, but NATO states support the alliance in two ways. One way is that countries at their own expense “maintain forces and assets that they pledge to NATO through a defense planning process”(Office). The second way that they support the alliance is through contributions to NATO’s three common budgets. These three budgets are the civil budget, military budget, and Security Investment Program. Not all members of NATO participate in all commonly funded budgets, for example all Spain and France do not participate in all aspects of the military budget or with NATO Security Investment Program. So, as we can see this concept of being able to put the two percent were each country pleases isn’t that much of a different concept, from being able to decide which common budget you choose to participate in.

To make sure this can truly work we must work with incentives, Stone defines incentives as “ changing people’s behavior with rewards and punishments” ( 2002, pg. 261) so with that being said we will use the idea of carrots and sticks. Our “carrots” which is basically our  “reward” for paying the two percent is guaranteed help from their allies. That establishes trust with one another to know that everyone is putting in their share to support NATO in some way. Now for our “sticks” incentive which is our “punishment”, there are two types of punishments that can happen. First, a penalty tax can be placed upon the country who is not cooperating in paying their two percent. The second punishment could be 1) they are kicked out of NATO or 2) they cannot be guaranteed that they will receive help from their fellow allies who are putting in their two percent. They cannot expect help if they are not putting in their fair share.

For those who are not convinced about staying NATO, remember this quote by Winston Churchill who reminds us why it is important to have alliances. “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them”.


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