The 2% goal as defence illiteracy
by Jan Oberg
NATO’s London Summit on December 3 and 4, 2019 displays the deep political crisis of the 70-year-old alliance: Only a dinner and a short meeting, no statement to be issued, quarrels among the leading military members, accusations, substantial differences on Syria and many other issues, the deepest-ever Transatlantic conflict and the usual issues of burden-sharing.
But the political dimension of NATO’s crisis is only one. There is also a legal crisis. You’ll recognize it if you care to read the NATO Treaty text – something academic and media people don’t generally seem to have done. They would then have noticed that the Alliance of 2019 consistently operates outside – indeed in violation of – its own goals, purposes and values. For instance, the UN Charter which should be NATO’s guideline has been violated on a permanent basis for decades – such as in its out-of-area bombings of Yugoslavia with no UN mandate.
The contempt shown for international law in general and the UN Charter in particular is an integral part of NATO’s existential crisis.
And, third, there is a moral dimension to NATO’s crisis. Of course, no one talks about it.
It’s the simple fact that no war that individual NATO members states or NATO as NATO have engaged in can be termed anything but predictable fiascos when judged by the alliance’s own stated goals and criteria – just think of Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria… all crystal clear moral catastrophes causing unspeakable suffering, death and destruction to millions upon millions while achieving none of the stated goals that were set to explain and legitimize these wars such as creating democracy, respecting human rights, liberating women or stopping alleged genocides.
By now, the world should have been told enough lies about NATO’s benevolent motives, policies and actions for taxpaying citizens to mobilize resistance to it.
These three crises can all be related to the response of the Western world to the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact 30 years ago – i.e. to the choice to expand NATO and exploiting the weakness of Russia.
The last and perhaps most-hidden-of-all crisis is NATO’s intellectual crisis.
It’s now an alliance that operates in a kind of echo chamber with little, or no, sense of the realities of the world. It’s there for its own sake. When you listen to its Secretary-General – not only Stoltenberg but Fogh Rasmussen and earlier ones – you sense a level of creativity and intellectualism that reminds you of leaders who also happened to be Secretaries-General such as, say, Leonid Breznev.
Irrespective of some little objective analysis of the situation, NATO sings only one tune: There are new threats all the time, we must arm more, we need new and better weapons and we must, therefore, increase military expenditures.
And how is it legitimized?
By uttering mantras. No matter what NATO and its members choose to do, it is simply stated without a trace of argument or documentation that more money will increase four things: Defence, security, stability and peace. And be good for basic Western values such as freedom, democracy and peace.
How come – the small boy watching the Emperor would ask – that no matter what NATO has done the last 70 years, it is still maintaining that it needs more to create that defence, security, stability and peace?
What’s wrong with a system that keeps applying the same medicine decade after decade and gets further and further from achieving the stipulated goal?
Military expenditures in general – no balance and no reality check
NATO’s main enemy is supposed to be Russia. It doesn’t matter that Russia’s military expenditures are about 6-7% of NATO’s total expenditures (29 countries). It doesn’t matter that NATO’s technical quality is superior. It doesn’t matter that Russia’s military expenditures are falling year-by-year – decreased to US $ 64 billion in 2018 from US $ 66 billion in 2017. It doesn’t matter that Russia’s military expenditures averaged only US $ 45 billion from 1992 until 2018.
Only? Yes, NATO’s total budget is US $ 1036 billion of which the US stands for 649.
And it doesn’t matter that the old Warsaw Pact budget were some 65-75% of NATO’s during the first Cold War and we were told back then that some kind of balance was good for stability and peace. Today we are told that the more superiority NATO has, the better it is for world peace.
In short, reality doesn’t matter anymore to NATO.
The 2 per cent goal
And this is where the 2 per cent of BNP comes into play and reveals just how deep NATO’s crisis is. But have you seen anybody questioning this 2 per cent goal as the philosophical nonsense – or forgery – it is?
It resembles the Theatre of the Absurd to tie military expenditures to the economic performance of a country. Imagine a person sets off 10 % of her/his income to buy food. Sudden he or she wins in a lottery or is catapulted into a job that yields a 5 times higher income. Should that person then also begin to eat 5 times more?
The 2 per cent goal is an absurdity, an indicator of defence illiteracy. People who take it serious – in politics, media and academia – obviously have never read a basic book about theories and concepts in the field of defence and security. Or about how one makes a professional analysis of what threatens a country.
If military expenditures are meant to secure a country’s future, do the threats that this country faces also vary according to its own GNP? Of course not! It is a bizarre assumption.
Decent knowledge-based defence policies should be decided on the basis of a comprehensive analysis of threats and contain dimensions such as:
What threatens our nation, our society now and along various time horizons? Which threats that we can imagine are so big that we can do nothing to meet them? Which are such that it is meaningful to set off this or that sum to feel reasonably safe? What threats seem so small or unlikely that we can ignore them?
What threats are most likely to go from latent to manifest? How do we prioritize among scarce resources when we have other needs and goals than feeling secure such as developing our economy, education, health, culture, etc.?
And, most importantly, two more consideration: What threats can be met with predominantly military means and which require basically civilian means? And how do we act today to prevent the perceived threats from becoming a reality that we have to face – how do we, within our means, prevent violence and reduce risks as much as possible.
All these questions should be possible to answer with the new mantra: Just always give the military 2 per cent of the GNP and everything will be fine?
MIMAC is the Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex – the vested interests of small elites in symbiosis with governments which run on and benefit from bizarre standards like the 2 per cent goal.
One purpose of that goal is to make serious, empirical and relevant threat analysis irrelevant. It’s a perpetuum mobile – a way of securing that MIMAC always gets what it needs, no matter what the consequences are for thosee who pay it all, the citizens and their tax money.
Imagine that Russia disappeared from the earth tomorrow. And NATO would quickly find some other “enemy” by which to legitimate that it anyhow needs also 2 per cent of your BNP in the future. At least!
It’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg two days ago announced this mind-boggling news, swallowed by media as the most natural thing of the world in need of no questions – read it on NATO’s homepage:
Ahead of the meeting of NATO Leaders in London to mark the Alliance’s 70th anniversary, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday (29 November 2019) gave details of large increases in Allied defence spending. Mr. Stoltenberg announced that in 2019 defence spending across European Allies and Canada increased in real terms by 4.6 %, making this the fifth consecutive year of growth. He also revealed that by the end of 2020, those Allies will have invested $130 billion more since 2016. Based on the latest estimates, the accumulated increase in defence spending by the end of 2024 will be $400 billion. Mr. Stoltenberg said: ‘This is unprecedented progress and it is making NATO stronger.’
Read it carefully: NATO’s military expenditure increase 2016-2020 is US $130 billion – that is twice as much as Russia’s total annual budget!
There is only two words for it: Madness and irrationality. Madness in and of itself and madness when seen in the perspective of all the other problems humanity must urgently find funds to solve.
The total regular UN budget for the year 2016-17 was US $5.6 billion. That is, NATO countries spend 185 times more on the military than all the world does on the UN.
Do you find that sane and in accordance with the problems humanity need to solve? This author does not. I stand by the word madness. There exists no rational academic, empirical analysis and no theory that can explain NATO’s military expenditures as rational or in service of the common good of humankind.
The world’s strongest, nuclear alliance is a castle built on intellectual sinking sand. It’s a political, moral, legal and intellectual Titanic.
The only armament NATO needs is legal, moral and intellectual. And unless it now moves in this direction, it deserves to be dissolved.
The inverse proportion between its destructive power and its moral-intellectual power is – beyond any doubt – the largest single threat to humanity’s future.
This challenge is at least as serious and as urgent as is climate change.
Perhaps it is time to stop keeping NATO alive by taxpayers’ money and start a tax boycott in all NATO countries until it is dissolved or at least comes down to – say – one-tenth of its present wasteful military level? Not to speak of its bootprint destruction of the environment…