Norway’s announcement is a reminder that defense spending is a NATO success story

Last week, the government of Norway presented a new long-term defense plan, which if adopted, will double the size of the country’s defense budget in just over a decade.

The Norwegian plan comes on the heels of an announcement in March that the nation will spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense in 2024, attaining the NATO benchmark two years earlier than expected.

The latest proposal calls for a further ramping up of spending, climbing to reach 2.7 percent by 2030. Much of that funding will be routed towards buying systems from American firms including Lockheed Martin’s F-35 joint strike fighter and Boeing’s P-8 maritime patrol aircraft.

The update from Oslo is illustrative that on NATO defense spending, by and large, the good news keeps on coming.

This year, two-thirds of NATO members, that is 21 of 32 nations, are expected to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense. Nearly every member already meets the second NATO benchmark to spend 20 percent of defense budgets on new equipment acquisitions.

As NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently noted, 2023 was the ninth consecutive year that NATO members (excluding the U.S.) increased defense spending overall.  

Even Germany, long the poster child of underinvestment, now spends 2 percent of GDP on defense.

If more widely known, this alliance success story would go a long way to dispelling the staid notion that NATO allies aren’t stepping up in the face of Russian aggression. 

To fully appreciate the turnaround, consider the perilous condition dwindling defense investment had left the alliance a decade ago.

In 2014, the year Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his initial invasion of Ukraine, a measly three NATO members (Greece, the United Kingdom and the U.S.) spent 2 percent of GDP on defense. Only seven could say they were reaching the second benchmark to put 20 percent of that funding into new equipment.

Back then, despite these benchmarks having been initially agreed eight years earlier, very few allies were willing to walk the walk when it came to allocating national resources towards building hard power.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea began to change the calculus for some allies, but not nearly enough. When it came to exchanging currency for capability, most countries remained stuck in the doldrums, while others began implementing increases, but at snail’s pace.

The shock of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, combined with the barbarism of Russian forces, has for now, dispelled the fog of wishful thinking and domestic political calculation which previously held defense investment back.

This is especially true for members bordering Russia. They have channeled the shiver which Putin’s imperialism sent down their collective spines into concrete action that is pushing the NATO conversation on spending beyond 2 percent.

Every member state which shares a land border with Russia has either announced plans or has already implemented defense budgets well above 2 percent of GDP, with Poland leading the way at 4 percent.

Certainly, this is not to say no work remains to be done. Restaffing depleted ranks in Europe’s armed forces and rebuilding their capabilities and stockpiles will take time. Furthermore, a small number of allies, especially those for whom the Russian threat feels farther away, have yet to fulfill their spending commitments. This needs to change.

Look no further than our neighbor to the north. Canada, which only spends 1.4 percent of GDP on defense, announced plans to boost defense spending earlier this week, but will only reach 1.76 percent by 2030. The opposition Conservatives harshly criticized the government’s plans as inadequate. Considering they may well take over next year, the possibility of Ottawa revisiting 2 percent seems likely.

There is a sense that on defense spending, NATO members have perhaps crossed the Rubicon for good. While the bridge hasn’t been detonated (there is still some possibility of retreat), Putin’s appetite I believe, will keep allies on the new bank.

The turnaround in defense investment is an ongoing NATO success story. Here in the U.S., it deserves to be told.

Daniel Kochis is a Senior Fellow in the Center on Europe and Eurasia at the Hudson Institute.

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