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Raimond Kaljulaid: NATO future unsure without defense spending spike

Raimond Kaljulaid.
Raimond Kaljulaid. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

While Estonia is spending far more on national defense than previous agreements have called for, it will not be enough to deliver us if we fail to get the rest of Europe on board, MP Raimond Kaljulaid writes.

The annual Parliamentary Transatlantic Forum of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly was held in Washington D.C. in early December. The topics were hardly surprising: Ukraine, Middle East, China, honoring prior NATO decisions and the upcoming Washington summit.

I attended the event together with Vice President of the Riigikogu Jüri Ratas. Estonia is lucky in having a former prime minister as its spokesperson. It inevitably makes a difference. Allow me to point out three conclusions that matter to Estonia.

First. Ukraine's situation is seen as extremely difficult. The West has made military aid available to Ukraine, while it has not been enough. Russia has adjusted its industry to meet wartime needs more effectively than we have and is capable of continuing this war.

The U.S. Congress has been slow to approve a new round of Ukraine aid, which, worse still, has to do with domestic matters. Some Republicans are calling for changes to immigration policy and refusing, among other things, to approve aid for Ukraine before relevant agreements are reached.

But it is hoped that an agreement is near and the funding will be approved. It is a major problem that the impression in America is that it is providing the bulk of aid, with Europe contributing little or nothing. This is categorically not true, while such lies are being spread and the voters seem to be buying them.

The other important conclusion that is directly tied to the former concerns the defense industry development of NATO members. It is a public secret that NATO countries didn't have enough munitions even before the war started. Now, stocks have been depleted further to help Ukraine.

Replacing weapons and ammunition that have been donated is progressing slowly, not to mention arriving in a better place than we were before the war. And yet, it is a key aspect in terms of the credibility of NATO deterrence.

Security cannot be ensured through high-sounding statements and optimistic press releases. We need real capabilities that we can effectively use in a real war. Our adversaries will see through and call our bluff.

The third significant message from the meeting also concerns defense spending. Only a third of NATO members spend over 2 percent of GDP on defense. Estonia is spending over 3 percent, while some are still struggling to reach past targets.

The same old excuses made the stage. One participating country's representatives explained that they are finding it difficult to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense because of rapid economic growth. Apparently, the problem is that there is too much money.

The utterly worn-out proposition according to which how the money is spent is more important than spending 2 percent was also dusted off and carted out. Experts could only shake their heads and try to explain that efficiency aside, lacking enough munitions to throw at the enemy ultimately boils down to how much money has been allocated for their purchase.

But the problem of defense spending is also political. U.S. representatives pointed, more or less directly, to the upcoming presidential election and the chance that Donald Trump might be elected.

As all European leaders know full well, for Trump, the most important aspect of NATO was how the U.S. has shouldered the bulk of the responsibility in terms of realistic military capabilities, which we would be hard-pressed to criticize him for. Trump is definitely not the only Republican asking why should the U.S. help defend allies that fail to hold up their end of the deal.

Europeans need to be dead serious when it comes to these words. To be able to count on America's continued contribution to European security, we must perform our obligations. I use the word "we" knowingly as even though Estonia is spending far more than previous agreements called for on defense, it will not be enough to deliver us if we fail to get the rest of Europe on board. It will be among the most burning issues next year.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to fully gauge the strength of allied relations before they are put to the ultimate test. We don't know how much time we have or how serious the ordeal will prove. History teaches us that no agreement or treaty is certain. But treaties sides to which fail to perform their obligations are far riskier still.

Every person in Estonia knows what Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty says. However, Article Five is preceded by Article Three according to which "the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.

Politicians who are skeptical of NATO and international cooperation in general find it all too easy to ask why should America help countries that have not performed this contractual obligation, have not maintained and developed individual defensive capacity or contributed proportionally to collective defense.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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