The heads of the defence departments from the 29 NATO members are in Brussels for a two-day summit that began on February 13 for what has been dubbed a “three C” agenda – Cash, Capabilities, and Contributions.
The meeting is part of the commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Alliance. The agenda for the event includes discussions on members’ financial contributions, as only eight of the nearly 30 allies meets the 2% GDP for defence commitment as laid out in the NATO charter. This has become a point on contention for the countries who meet their annual contribution pledges.
Cash is also linked to capability, as 20% of contributions must be devoted to actual “hardware,” ranging from aeroplanes to submarines, as many European nations spend the bulk of their budget on personnel. The US also wants a stronger commitment to NATO missions and has spelt out its expectation of $100 billion more in additional spending by 2020 and $300 billion by 2024.
The NATO ministerial will be the first meeting of the alliance following the signing of an accession agreement with FYROM/North Macedonia on February 6, which, itself, came after a historic deal that removed Greece’s objections to its northern Balkan neighbour joining NATO.
The landlocked former Yugoslav republic is expected to become the 30th member of NATO within a relatively short timeframe, a development which for the last three decades has been seen as the first step towards EU membership.
US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison also brought to the fore the issue of the US withdrawal from the Intermediate Ballistic Missiles (INF) Treaty. Hutchison noted that Washington has been trying to get Russia to commit to the treaty since 2007, but Moscow failed to comply once it began developing new missile programmes, including the highly-touted hypersonic missiles that Russian President Vladimir Putin says will change the balance of power in the world in the Kremlin’s favour by 2022.
“We would welcome a new treaty that includes all the countries that have the ballistic missiles that would be a violation of the treaty,” US Ambassador Bailey said.
In terms of actual capability, the US is backing a “four-times-30 target”: 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons, and 30 ships that can be deployed anywhere in the world in 30 days.
The meeting takes place at a sensitive point in time, with deep political divisions amongst the NATO allies, including the alliance’s increasingly fraught relationship with founding member Turkey over the anti-Western regional policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which have included offering vocal support for Venezuela’s embattled Marxist dictator, Nicolas Maduro, and siding with Russia and Iran over a whole host of issues, including the purchasing of Russian-made military technology, backing openly anti-democratic regimes and taking a hostile line against key NATO allies like Israel.