NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

NATO's Shrinking Military Spending

November 21, 2002

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is meeting to consider adding new members -- seven central and Eastern European nations. But critics point out NATO's larger challenge is to remake itself from a Cold War defense pact into a mobile fighting force that can combat terrorism worldwide. But that can't happen, they say, if the United States is the only member investing in a 21st century military.

  • Last year the U.S. spent 85 percent more on defense than all of its allies combined -- a gap that reflects Europe's preference for generous social benefits over military spending.
  • While military spending is down on both sides of the Atlantic since 1990, the U.S. annual defense expenditure per person was still $958 in 2001 -- compared with just $391 for all of Europe.
  • While European countries buy weapons used to fight the last war, the American military is building an arsenal of high-tech weapons that can be quickly deployed to the next crisis spot.
  • France and Britain are the only NATO members currently involved in major military upgrades.

President Bush has asked NATO allies to play a new role by helping disarm Iraq is United Nations weapons inspections fail. Another request: a 21,000-member NATO rapid deployment force that could move within 30 days.

But wise spending is vital, critics warn. While new members are required to spend 2 percent of their economic output on defense, the money is wasted if it maintains antique armies that can't fight alongside modern U.S. forces.

Source: Editorial, "Military Weakness Threatens Relevance of Enlarged NATO," USA Today, November 21, 2002.

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