NATO’S FOUNDATION IS BURDEN SHARING

Op-ed by the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands

Read in Danish in Berlingske on June 14, 2018

Every morning when I arrive I see the American and Danish flags standing proudly together in the lobby of the U.S. Embassy.  It is a sight that always fills me with an intense sense of pride because it represents the closeness of a relationship formed over many years of cooperation and solidarity.  But, more than that, it reminds me that whatever dangers we face in the years ahead, we face them together, as partners, allies and friends.

Our world is not a safe place.  The security challenges we face today are significant, real, and wide ranging.  From the Middle East to Afghanistan, the Baltics, and in our own towns and cities, we face new dangers that threaten to harm our economies, impact our security and even upset our electoral systems.  Hazards like cyber warfare, fake news, and migration that were barely on our agenda only a decade ago suddenly loom very large.  In response to these perils we are rapidly learning new skills but, as most NATO leaders agree, our military capabilities remain the ultimate yardstick by which our ability to secure our freedom and prosperity is measured.

In recognition of this fact, there can be no question about our willingness to contribute to a strong, professional and modern common defense.  As we know from history, nothing good ever comes from trying to appease tyrants who have ambitions beyond their borders.  Autoritarian rulers will only respect us and our territorial integrity if we speak to them from a position of authority.  In short, our on-going diplomatic efforts will only succeed if they are backed up by credible military force.

At the NATO summit in July in Brussels, heads of state and government will convene to evaluate our current defense capabilities.  One topic that will be high on the agenda is a discussion of burden sharing.  It is an undeniable fact that many  NATO allies are struggling to overcome years of declining defense budgets.   As a result of this prolonged underinvestment, several countries who boast cutting edge technolgies in other fields are risking their security and short-changing their soldiers, sailors, and airmen by leaving them to work  with aging and worn out military hardware.

In our dangerous world, we need all NATO members to invest so that our defense provides a robust and meaningful deterrent.  As every Danish taxpayer knows, the system only works if everyone is willing to pay their fair share of the bill – “man skal yde før man kan nyde.” (you have to make an effort because you can enjoy the benefits)

NATO is the bedrock of our collective defense and an unbreakable bond that unites us together.  At the NATO meeting in Wales in 2014, we all made a solemn pledge to reinforce our commitment to deterrence, defense and capabilities.  Four years later, however, less than one third of NATO’s members have achieved the mutually agreed upon goal to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense.

In the meantime, while NATO has been waiting for Alliance members to meet their full and fair financial obligations, we have seen some startling developments on the international scene:  Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad has continued to slaughter his own people on an unprecedented scale, a resurgent Iran has increased its malign influence and destabilizing activities in the Middle East, and Russia has persisted in flouting international law, institutions and norms – not least on the Alliance’s eastern border.

Let’s make no bones about it, Russia’s aggressive behavior is a threat to stability and security, especially for European nations.  Its annexation of Crimea, its support for the separatists fighting Ukrainian forces in the country’s east, its military build-up, its threats to NATO members, its carpet bombing of Syrian opposition forces and civilians and its exploitation of Western vulnerabilities are all issues of grave concern that threaten our collective security.  We have to take this reality seriously.  America has to take it seriously.  And Europe has to take it seriously.  We are open to engagement, but we also must continue to raise the costs of aggression.

There can be no doubt that Denmark is one of the Alliance’s most crucial partner nations and one of America’s most enduring partners and allies.  For decades the United States and Demark have fostered deep bonds based on our mutual respect for international law, the principles of democracy and human rights.  Moreover, with bold and brave conributions, Denmark’s forces on missions abroad are vital to NATO.  In order for Denmark to continue to be able to provide its outstanding contributions, however, new investment is desperately required.  The United States welcomes Denmark’s decision to cease its defense cuts, as outlined in the new Danish defense agreement.  The agreement is a good start, putting the country on the right trajectory to increase needed investments, but much more remains to be done.  To make possible Danish contributions in the future and to ensure that “mand skal yde før mand kan nyde,” additional investment is needed.

The United States is a disproportionate NATO supporter.  Last year the American people spent a staggering 3.5 percent of their GDP on defense – nearly double the target of 2 percent that all NATO members agreed to in 2014.  In Denmark, Germany, Italy and many other member countries, the number barely crossed the onepercent threshold.  Looking at these figures, it is difficult not to be reminded of the words, earlier this year, of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, when he noted it is unreasonable for our allies to ask Americans to care more for their children’s future security than they do themselves.

The United States has always stood by its NATO commitment and will continue to do so in the future.  Regardless of size, all NATO nations can be equally secure in US support for Article 5.  That said, as we approach the Brussels summit, it would be befitting for Denmark and other countries to develop a firm, credible and sustainable plan for how they intend to meet the pledge they gave in Wales just four years ago.

For the last 70 years, NATO has embodied the transatlantic bond of which we are all justly proud and, I for one, am ultimately confident that NATO will build a consensus around this difficult issue as it has succeeded in doing so many times before.  It is precisely this shared willingness to make sacrifices for the good of all that defines the Alliance.

By making the right choices now we can ensure the safety and prosperity of all our peoples in the years to come.  It is imperative that we commit clearly and emphatically to fair burden sharing – the futures of our children depend on it