The U.S., NATO, and the Defense of Europe: Underlying Trends

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Updated July 3, 2018

The Trump Administration has adopted an "America First" strategy, and taken aggressive stands on NATO burden sharing, trade, the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran, and the treatment of refugees that have led many in Europe to question its support for NATO and the Transatlantic Alliance. At least some European security experts talk about the U.S. as it was backing away from the NATO alliance, and a split between the United States and Europe that will force Europe to create its own approach to creating military and other security forces.




Many aspects of the Trump Administration's approach to foreign policy are as controversial in the U.S. as in Europe, and President Trump has proved to be an exceptionally volatile and combative leader who can express himself in extreme terms and suddenly change his positions. However, it but it is important to note the underlying realities that shape the new U.S. strategy, the U.S. military role in the NATO alliance, and Europe's own divisions and failures to create effective forces.

The current tensions between the U.S. and given European powers should not lead Europeans - or Americans and Russians for that matter – to ignore the fact that the U.S. remains fully committed to a strong Transatlantic alliance, that its forces and capabilities are critical to European security, and the Trump Administration's FY2019 budget to Congress will greatly increase the contribution that U.S. forces make to NATO and Transatlantic Security.

  • The high profile of American "populism" has little practical impact on Transatlantic defense capability. Similar issues have not emerged in most of Europe, and the recent history of European defense efforts makes it all too clear that there is no Europe consensus or unity in supporting an effective defense strategy or meaningful level of military effort. The political and economic divisions that divide Western states are truly Transatlantic, and involve Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and other European states just as they divide the United States.
  • If one looks beyond tweets to the actual text of the new U.S. strategy, the U.S. remains fully committed to the Transatlantic alliance and Europe's defense. Moreover, the Trump Administration is spending far more on NATO than the Obama Administration and greatly increasing the readiness and strength of the forces that the U.S. can supply to NATO.
  • The Trump Administration's new National Security Strategy does refer to "putting America first," but its opening also states that, An America that is safe, prosperous, and free at home is an America with the strength, confidence, and will to lead abroad. It is an America that can preserve, peace, uphold liberty, and create enduring advantages for the American people. Putting America first is the duty of our government and the foundation for U.S. leadership in the world. A strong America is in the vital interests of not only the American people, but also those around the world who want to partner with the United States in pursuit of shared interests, values, and aspirations.
  • The new strategy may call for more European military efforts, but it strongly backs the NATO alliance and singles Russia out, along with China, as one of the two major challenges to U.S. security. The text calls for the U.S. to "rally the world," and claims that, "The whole world is lifted by America’s renewal and the reemergence of American leadership." It has no relation to isolationism or any withdrawal from Transatlantic security.
  • The Trump Administration's FY2019 defense budget submission nearly doubles the FY2017 spending level on the U.S. European Defense Initiative from $3.4 billion to $6.5 billion. More broadly, the Administration's FY2019 U.S. defense budget raises U.S. baseline defense spending by $74 billion. This increase in FY2019 is higher than the official NATO Estimate of the total size of any European 2017 Defense Budget. (UK = $55.2 billion; France = $45.9 billion, Germany = $45.5 billion, Italy = $23.4 Billion.)
  • The Trump Administration's focus on military burden sharing as the percent of a nation's economy or GDP devoted to defense is a dangerously meaningless criteria for judging useful defense efforts. However, this focus on meaningless metric of burden sharing has been shaped by the past actions of NATO Ministers and previous U.S. Administration. It is NATO – not the Trump Administration– that is to blame for setting absurd goals for defense spending like 2% of GDP. It is also a reality that NATO figures show all too clearly Europe does bear far less of the total burden than is total economic wealth would indicate is fair.
  • Any detailed net assessment of NATO forces, the military balance, and the national elements of NATO's force sand defense spending will show that is no meaningful European alternative to dependence on the United States. Europe has no meaningful near to mid-term alternative to dependence on the U.S. It would take a decade of a far more intensive level of additional European military spending than seems credible to give Europe such capabilities, and require a level of cohesive European action that is even less credible.

If the United States, Canada, and Europe are to work together effectively to build an effective deterrent and defense capability to deal with Russia, terrorism, and other potential threats, they need to focus on building effective military and internal security forces that serve a clearly defined common strategic purpose. The current focus on burden sharing percentage terms has not only led President Trump to focus on the wrong priorities, but the entire NATO alliance – and this is the fault of NATO's past and not President Trump.

The days of relying on peace dividends and meaningless goals for levels of spending are over. There is a real Russian threat, as well as a real threat of violent extremism. NATO needs to return to the kind of serious force planning and focus on military strategy that shaped the NATO force planning exercise in the 1960s, the deployment of the GLCM and Pershing II, and the planning for MBFR and the CFE Treaty. It needs to set real military requirements and really meet them.

The key data on the trends and metrics that shape these facts are laid out in a new Burke Chair analysis entitled The U.S., NATO, and the Defense of Europe: Underlying Trends. This report is available on the CSIS web site at It provides detailed metrics on the problems in using the wrong measures of burdensharing, the rising level. of U.S. military efforts and capabilities to support Europe and NATO, and the comparative levels of defense effort in given NATO countries.

The key portions of the narratives explaining the metrics and conclusions from the analysis are summarized as follows.

What the New U.S. Strategy Documents Actually Say About the U.S. Commitment to NATO and European Defense

The U.S. is in the middle of a highly controversial shift to a more conservative government, and one associated with populism and new pressure on Europe over trade and its level of military spending. Europe too, however, has its own divisions, controversies, and "populism." Its key divisions range from Brexit to immigration, and its internal politics reflect much of the same tensions over new migrants, economic change and employment issues, and climate change and other environmental issues as in the U.S. along with a wide ranging mix of divisions over nationalism versus European unity.

President Trump did create some confusion over his commitment to NATO and the Transatlantic alliance when he initially failed to make a firm commitment to Article Five and the mutual defense clause in the NATO Treaty. He did so in the context of pressuring Europe far higher levels of defense spending, however, and he later made an unambiguous commitment to honor Article Five during a speech in Poland on July 6, 2017,

"To those who would criticize our tough stance, I would point out that the United States has demonstrated — not merely with its words but with its actions — that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment...Words are easy, but actions are what matters. And for its own protection, Europe — and you know this, everybody knows this, everybody has to know this — Europe must do more."

Much of the U.S. and European criticism of the Trump Administration's new strategy also seems to be based more on Tweets and OPEDs than the actual documents. The actual texts tell a different story. President Trump's new National Security Strategy (NSS), issued in December 2017, describes Russia and China as the two most serious threats the U.S. now faces. The NSS describes Russia, and the U.S. commitment to Europe as follows:

A strong and free Europe is of vital importance to the United States. We are bound together by our shared commitment to the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. Together, we rebuilt Western Europe after World War II and created institutions that produced stability and wealth on both sides of the Atlantic. Today, Europe is one of the most prosperous regions in the world and our most significant trading partner. Although the menace of Soviet communism is gone, new threats test our will. Russia is using subversive measures to weaken the credibility of America’s commitment to Europe, undermine transatlantic unity, and weaken European institutions and governments. With its invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, Russia demonstrated its willingness to violate the sovereignty of states in the region. Russia continues to intimidate its neighbors with threatening behavior, such as nuclear posturing and the forward deployment of offensive capabilities.

...The United States is safer when Europe is prosperous and stable, and can help defend our shared interests and ideals. The United States remains firmly committed to our European allies and partners. The NATO alliance of free and sovereign states is one of our great advantages over our competitors, and the United States remains committed to Article V of the Washington Treaty. European allies and partners increase our strategic reach and provide access to forward basing and overflight rights for global operations. Together we confront shared threats. European nations are contributing thousands of troops to help fight jihadist terrorists in Afghanistan, stabilize Iraq, and fight terrorist organizations across Africa and the greater Middle East. The NATO alliance will become stronger when all members assume greater responsibility for and pay their fair share to protect our mutual interests, sovereignty, and values.

...The United States fulfills our defense responsibilities and expects others to do the same. We expect our European allies to increase defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024, with 20 percent of this spending devoted to increasing military capabilities. On NATO’s eastern flank, we will continue to strengthen deterrence and defense, and catalyze frontline allies and partners’ efforts to better defend themselves. We will work with NATO to improve its integrated air and missile defense capabilities to counter existing and projected ballistic and cruise missile threats, particularly from Iran. We will increase counterterrorism and cybersecurity cooperation.

The Secretary of Defense's new National Defense Strategy (NDS), issued in February 2018, reinforces these points. It too describes Russia's role as one of the key threats to the U.S., and strongly emphasizes the value of strategic partnerships and NATO

The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers. It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions...Russia seeks veto authority over nations on its periphery in terms of their governmental, economic, and diplomatic decisions, to shatter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and change European and Middle East security and economic structures to its favor. The use of emerging technologies to discredit and subvert democratic processes in Georgia, Crimea, and eastern Ukraine is concern enough, but when coupled with its expanding and modernizing nuclear arsenal the challenge is clear.

Another change to the strategic environment is a resilient, but weakening, post-WWII international order. In the decades after fascism’s defeat in World War II, the United States and its allies and partners constructed a free and open international order to better safeguard their liberty and people from aggression and coercion. Although this system has evolved since the end of the Cold War, our network of alliances and partnerships remain the backbone of global security. China and Russia are now undermining the international order from within the system by exploiting its benefits while simultaneously undercutting its principles and “rules of the road.”

...We face an ever more lethal and disruptive battlefield, combined across domains, and conducted at increasing speed and reach—from close combat, throughout overseas theaters, and reaching to our homeland. Some competitors and adversaries seek to optimize their targeting of our battle networks and operational concepts, while also using other areas of competition short of open warfare to achieve their ends (e.g., information warfare, ambiguous or denied proxy operations, and subversion). These trends, if unaddressed, will challenge our ability to deter aggression.

The security environment is also affected by rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war. The drive to develop new technologies is relentless, expanding to more actors with lower barriers of entry, and moving at accelerating speed. New technologies include advanced computing, “big data” analytics, artificial intelligence, autonomy, robotics, directed energy, hypersonics, and biotechnology— the very technologies that ensure we will be able to fight and win the wars of the future...New commercial technology will change society and, ultimately, the character of war. The fact that many technological developments will come from the commercial sector means that state competitors and non-state actors will also have access to them, a fact that risks eroding the conventional overmatch to which our Nation has grown accustomed. Maintaining the Department’s technological advantage will require changes to industry culture, investment sources, and protection across the National Security Innovation Base.

... Mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships are crucial to our strategy, providing a durable, asymmetric strategic advantage that no competitor or rival can match. This approach has served the United States well, in peace and war, for the past 75 years. Our allies and partners came to our aid after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and have contributed to every major U.S.-led military engagement since. Every day, our allies and partners join us in defending freedom, deterring war, and maintaining the rules which underwrite a free and open international order...By working together with allies and partners we amass the greatest possible strength for the long-term advancement of our interests, maintaining favorable balances of power that deter aggression and support the stability that generates economic growth. When we pool resources and share responsibility for our common defense, our security burden becomes lighter. Our allies and partners provide complementary capabilities and forces along with unique perspectives, regional relationships, and information that improve our understanding of the environment and expand our options. Allies and partners also provide access to critical regions, supporting a widespread basing and logistics system that underpins the Department’s global reach.

We will strengthen and evolve our alliances and partnerships into an extended network capable of deterring or decisively acting to meet the shared challenges of our time...A strong and free Europe, bound by shared principles of democracy, national sovereignty, and commitment to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is vital to our security. The alliance will deter Russian adventurism, defeat terrorists who seek to murder innocents, and address the arc of instability building on NATO’s periphery. At the same time, NATO must adapt to remain relevant and fit for our time—in purpose, capability, and responsive decision-making. We expect European allies to fulfill their commitments to increase defense and modernization spending to bolster the alliance in the face of our shared security concerns.

 Many Europeans and Americans may not like President Trump's style or use of Tweets, bit it is critical to note that his strategy documents make it clear that "America First" calls for a revitalization of American leadership and not a retreat from the world. It is equally important to note that they firmly reassert the primacy of the U.S. commitment to Europe in U.S. strategy, along with the critical importance of Russia's reemergence as a potential threat.

The U.S. is also scarcely alone in calling for a stronger and more effective European defense effort, and larger national contributions. Many European Ministers of Defense, and senior European commanders make the same points – although they focus more on real world military capabilities than percentage of GDP and spending on new weapons.

The U.S. Dominates Transatlantic Military Spending

Any analysis of the level of U.S. effort that shapes America's ability to implement this strategy must focus on the level of resources the U.S. provides and how they compare to allied and rival states. NATO’s emphasis on burdening sharing tends may lead NATO analysts to focus on defense spending as a percent of GDP, rather than compare the trends in terms of actual spending. Work by the IISS and SIPRI shows, however, just how large the U.S. effort is compared to other states and that the U.S. clearly dominates military spending on a global basis.

There are limits to such comparisons because they have to be made in terms of actual spending past years, and cannot reflect the massive rises in U.S. spending called for under the Trump Administration’s FY2019 budget submission. As the IISS and SIPRI data show, virtually every source of comparative estimates defense spending also uses at least slightly different definitions and produces different figures. This is further complicated when attempts are made to compare spending trends in constant dollars because sources use different conversion factors, and all such comparisons do not account for the very different costs of given elements of military spending like personnel cost, operations and maintenance O&M), and procurement.

Nevertheless, the differences between IISS and SIPRI spending estimates for CY2017 – the most recent year available – are comparatively small and they send several clear messages:

  • Even when the comparisons of the U.S. for FY2017 exclude all spending on nuclear weapons, homeland defense, and veterans, the U.S. spent well over $600 billion on defense.
  • The IISS estimates that the U.S. spent 38.2% of all world military expenditures in 2017. SIPRI estimates 35%.
  • The U.S. spending level was well over 8 times the spending of Russia, and 4 times the spending of China.
  • If one compares the data for the four largest European powers in NATO, U.S. spending was well over 12 times the spending of the UK, 10 times the spending of France, 14 times the spending of Germany, and 24 times the spending of Italy.

At the same time, the same IISS and SIPRI sources show that there is no correlation between the size of military efforts and the percentage of GDP spent on military forces. The percentage of the GDP spent on defense may be a useful measure of potential strain on a nation’s economy but it is worthless as even the crudest measure of actual military capability.

Actual Military Spending versus Meaningless Percentage Measures of Burden-Sharing

NATO now focuses at the Ministerial level on some of the worst possible metrics of military effort, and ones that do nothing to portray real world military capability. These include defense spending as a percent of GDP and equipment expenditure as a percent of defense expenditure. Both metrics fail to provide any data on whether the spending is relevant to military requirements and mission needs, and – as has been noted in the narrative on the previous section – the GDP data only give the crudest picture of even the burden on the economy since any figure much below 4% of the GDP cannot put a serious strain on any stable developed economy.

If anything, the NATO data on the percent of GDP tend to support President Trump’s arguments about burdensharing, and warn that many NATO countries are spending far too little to maintain effective military forces of anything approaching the size they should be able to fund and deploy. NATO data show that 24 of 28 countries were spending less than 2% of the GDP on defense in 2017. They included 9 countries in the forward area and most vulnerable to Russia. They also include Germany, which once was the core of NATO forces in the Central Region, and which has the most successful economy in Europe, and 9 other highly successful European economies.

The core problem in these data, however, is that there is no indication at all of what percent would actually buy a successful mix of deterrent and defense capability, what strain – if any – going to 3% of GDP would make, and the level of spending it would take to make up for years and sometimes more than a decade of chronic underspending. The 2% goal is inherently meaningless.

Here, the United Kingdom is a key example. It is one of the few NATO European countries to have actually reached and exceeded the 2% level in 2017 (2.19%), Yet the British Parliament's Defense Committee reported in June 2018 that "spending needed to increase to 2.5 percent of national output from its current level of 2 percent to retain Britain’s firepower. It said spending should rise to 3 percent if the armed forces’ capacity and capabilities were to be improved. (Reuters,, June 25, 2018).

Reuters indicated that a separate parliamentary study had already reported that Britain’s defense spending had fallen by 1 billion pounds between 2012/13 and 2016/17. The new Defense Committee report also recognized bot the importance of the United State role in European defense, and that Britain had to spend more to be an effective partner. It stated that, “Military-to-military engagement between the UK and the U.S. is one of the linchpins of the bilateral relationship,” the report said, citing both operational and financial benefits...However, that will continue to be true only while the UK military retains both the capacity and capability to maintain interoperability with the U.S. military and to relieve U.S. burdens.”

Similarly, figures like the German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen have made it clear that going from 1.24% of GDP to 2.0% would take years to bring Germany's existing forces to meaningful readiness – if ever. Prime Minister Merkel has described German defense as "unsatisfactory," and as creating “evil tidings every day. Real world Germany military capability is absolutely critical to effective European defense, but spending 2% would not by itself move Germany or NATO towards creating a more effective deterrent and defense capability. (Griff Witte, " Merkel and Trump agree the ailing German military needs a boost. Why isn’t it happening?" Washington Post, June 21, 2018)

Germany might well be able to field an effective force for less than 2% if it reorganized around a realistic force posture and set of mission priorities. At present, however, many of its units lack the readiness to move as effective combat forces, its submarines are partly operational at best, along with half of its Leopard 2 tanks. Many of its other armored vehicles lack machine guns, and its pilots have had to borrow commercial helicopters.

Moreover, an empty nominal goal like 2% of GDP is not only meaningless in military terms, it provides no political incentive to spend, either in terms of total effort or military and mission priority. In fact, Reinhard Brandl, a member of Merkel’s party who sits on the Parliament’s defense and budget committees has stated that President Trump's call for 2% is perceived by the German people as "blackmail" because there is no clear link to any improvement in their security.

Such a level of effort goal may have been marginally better than no goal at all when there was no Russian or terrorist threat. Today, however, meeting or not meeting the 2% goal says nothing to any legislator or citizen about the level of security it will buy. In a world where there are always competing and well-defined needs and demands, it is about as pointless as any exercise in governance can get.

Setting a guideline of 20% of defense spending on equipment is even sillier. The highest ranking countries in terms of NATO’s reported expenditures in 2017 were Romania, Luxembourg, and Lithuania – scarcely models for the rest of NATO. The lowest ranking included Germany, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Belgium, and Slovenia. These include several highly advanced economies, and countries near Russia. But seeing the low percentages does not imply that any credible rise could fix the impact of years of underspending. As for the "middle” countries, there is no indication that the spending level is interoperable or standardize, meets NATO mission priorities, or serves any other purposes that meets the needs to the alliance. In short, NATO is focused on a metric which is little more than statistical rubbish.

This also explains why NATO's graphs mapping both percent of GDP and percent of defense spending on equipment are even sillier. They may serve some purpose in flagging gross underspending, but there is no reason that meeting both goals should be particularly useful or rewarding. The same is true of efforts to break out spending per capita, spending on personnel, equipment, infrastructure, and/or "other." It seems safe to guess that more spending is better than less, but it remains a "guess" at best. There is no way to know what "more" buys, or what "less" cost in terms of actual military capability.

The data on total NATO defense spending by country are a different story. They do show comparative level of effort, and they again flag the critical importance of the US role in shaping alliance military spending. If one uses NATO data for total current defense spending – rather than IISS or SIPRI data – NATO calculates that in spite of the cuts in U.S. defense spending between 2011 and 2017, there were greater cuts in spending by other NATO members. This led the U.S. share of total NATO defense spending to rise from 71.1% in 2010 to 73.9% in 2016 and 2017. To put it bluntly, these data show there is no credible chance that NATO Europe can approach the total spending levels of the U.S., and find a credible substitute for the combination of forward deployed forces and U.S. power projection capability.

The country spending data also compare total spending in both current and constant dollars. Many of the trends in constant dollars are reassuring in the sense that even countries spending less than 2% of their GDP are making major defense expenditures, and that a number of countries near Russia have raised their spending in recent years, regardless of whether they met the 2% goal. In some ways, the trends in total defense expenditures turn out to be more reassuring than the nearly meaningless percentage metrics.

The current focus on burden sharing percentage terms has not only led President Trump to focus on the wrong priorities, but the entire NATO alliance – and this is the fault of NATO's past and not President Trump.

The days of relying on peace dividends and meaningless goals for levels of spending are over. There is a real Russian threat, as well as a real threat of violent extremism. NATO needs to return to the kind of serious force planning and focus on military strategy that shaped the NATO force planning exercise in the 1960s, the deployment of the GLCM and Pershing II, and the planning for MBFR and the CFE Treaty. It needs to set real military requirements and really meet them.

As noted in the introduction to this analysis, the Alliance must put an end to meaningful level of effort goals that set some of the worst possible objectives for burdensharing. It must focus on meaningful military objectives to create effective deterrent and defense capabilities and deal with threats like extremism. It must focus on building an effective deterrent and defense capability to deal with Russia, terrorism, and other potential threats, they need to focus on building effective military and internal security forces that serve a clearly defined common strategic purpose.

The Massive Rise in U.S. Military Spending in FY2019

As for defense spending on real world military capabilities, the U.S. has already taken the lead. The preceding analysis has dealt with the scale and importance of U.S. military spending relative to NATO in terms of past spending. One of the most striking aspects of the Trump Administration’s strategy and commitment to the NATO alliance, however, is the scale of the increases it has made over the spending in past years, when the Budget Control Act set caps on U.S. defense spending, sharp cuts had to be made in spending plans, and readiness, modernization, and force strength all had to be cut.

The Trump Administration’s FY2019 budget defense budget request called for $686 billion for the Department of Defense’s base budget and overseas contingency operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. That amounted to an inflation-adjusted increase of 4.3 percent increase over the 2018 request- which had made a significant increase over President Obama’s FY2017 request. These figures did not include some $30 billion more for nuclear weapons related spending by the Department of Energy.

The net increase during FY2018 and FY2019 was close to 9 percent overall, some $100 billion above the FY2017 level. It effectively bypassed the budget caps under the budget control act by adding baseline spending increase under the supposedly wartime and crisis spending in the contingency operations accounts which were exempt from such limits.

A West Point study indicates that this was scarcely a record increase in military spending, but it was a major one. It sharply increased U.S. defense spending relative to Russia and to other NATO countries, and made major progress in reversing the past downward trend in readiness, modernization, and force strength. Moreover, the Department of Defense projections from the Future Year Defense Plan showed further rises in each year through FY2023, reaching a total of $741.8 billion in the baseline budget, or $787.8 billion if the Oversea Contingency Outlays (OCO) account is added in.

Experts disagree sharply about the impact of other trump legislation affecting economic growth, and the cost of mandatory entitlements spending. It is also striking, however, that OMB projects that the burden on the U.S. GDP will continue to drop in spite of this major increase in military spending. OMB projects a continuing drop since FY 2010, and a cut from 4.5% of the GDP in FY2010 to 3.1% in FY2019. This again illustrates the pointlessness of focusing on percent of GDP figures rather than real defense spending and what it actually buys.

What the Increase in U.S. Spending Does for Europe and NATO

The U.S. does not have a functioning program budget and has long cease to report its spending on NATO. It is clear, however, that much of this increase will affect U.S. capability to support its European allies.

The most immediate indication is the one area where the U.S. specifies specific increases in spending for the European Defense Initiative (EDI) – the key areas where the U.S. is joining with its allies to strengthen its immediate capability to respond to any threat from Russia. The U.S. FY2019 request from this program is for $6.531 billion – a 91% increase over the Obama Administration's request for $3.4 billon in FY2017.

The full OSD Comptroller description of the program is 18 pages long, and covers a wide range of immediate improvements in U.S. deployments and rapid reinforcement capabilities for NATO. The Comptroller of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) summarizes this effort as follows,

The EDI provides one of the primary funding sources for U.S. European Command’s (USEUCOM), and its Service Components’, ability to respond to an evolving European security environment. The 47 activities proposed within the FY 2019 EDI request:

  1. Continue to enhance our deterrent and defense posture throughout the theater by positioning the right capabilities, in key locations, in order to respond to adversarial threats in a timely manner.
  2. Assure our NATO Allies and partners of the United States’ commitment to Article 5 and the territorial integrity of all 28 NATO nations.
  3. Increase the capability and readiness of U.S. Forces, NATO Allies, and regional partners, allowing for a faster response in the event of any aggression by a regional adversary against the sovereign territory of NATO nations.

It supports an average strength of approximately 9,903 active, reserve, and guard personnel in USEUCOM, including 9,095 Army 350 Navy and 458 Air Force personnel. These personnel will participate in multiple activities throughout the theater, including rotations to increase the temporary presence or strengthen allied/partner capacity during planned exercises, the expansion in size and scope of planned exercises for enhanced NATO interoperability, support to USEUCOM's Joint Exercise Program (JEP), and Joint Multi-National Readiness Center (JMRC) training events.

The persistent presence of air, land, and sea forces throughout Europe is the cornerstone of the United States’ commitment to NATO Article 5. The FY 2019 EDI budget request provides the funds necessary to increase the number of rotations present throughout the USEUCOM area of responsibility (AOR).

...Increasing the presence of U.S. forces in Europe through the deployment of rotational forces (e.g. heal-to-toe presence of ground combat forces and enablers) as well as deferring previously-planned force reductions (e.g. retaining theater air superiority), provides for a more robust U.S. military presence throughout the European theater. This increase presence provides the USEUCOM Commander with a credible force posture capable of deterring and, if required, defeating threats posed by regional adversaries. The Services in coordination with USEUCOM, are developing options to best utilize equipment and forces to counter regional threats.

What is really critical about the EDI, however, is that it responds to the right kind of NATO and Transatlantic security goals: Ones set collectively by the NATO military to provide the highest priority increases in deterrent and defense capability in the forward areas of the alliance that are most vulnerable to Russian intimidation, pressure, and asymmetric attack. All NATO military spending and investment should be based on similar military need, not an accountant's approach to the theater of the absurd.

U.S. Spending on Transatlantic Mission Capability

The most important aspect of the increase in the U.S. defense spending, however, is not in forces dedicated to NATO and the defense of Europe, but rather in the overall global pool of U.S. forces and power projection capabilities the U.S. can deploy in an emergency or actual conflict. The U.S. defense budget summary only covers the impact of FY2019 spending, but it literally involves hundreds of pages of increases in personnel, O&M and readiness improvements, and investments in power projection and forward deployed forces – investments that include major new submarines, F-35 stealth fighters, and a wide variety of precision guided land and air weapons.

The U.S. budget justification notes that European security is a key area of focus:

Russia seeks veto authority over nations on its periphery in terms of its governmental, economic, and diplomatic decisions, to shatter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and to change European and Middle East security and economic structures to its favor. The use of emerging technologies to discredit and subvert democratic processes in Georgia, Crimea, and eastern Ukraine is concern enough, but when coupled with its expanding and modernizing nuclear arsenal the challenge is clear.

Mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships are crucial to the DoD strategy, providing a durable, asymmetric strategic advantage that no competitor or rival can match. This approach has served the United States well, in peace and war, for the past 75 years. Allies and partners aided the United States after the terrorist attacks on 9/11—the only time NATO has invoked the mutual defense clause, Article 5—and have contributed to every major U.S.-led military engagement since.

... The United States will strengthen and evolve its alliances and partnerships into an extended network capable of deterring or decisively acting to meet shared challenges with shared responsibility. Recognizing each ally and partner is different, interoperability requires combined forces be able to act together coherently and effectively to achieve military objectives. Interoperability is an investment priority for operational concepts, modular force elements, communications, information sharing, and equipment.

Key new areas of spending include:

  • Increasing end strength for the Army, Navy and Air Force (+25,900),
  • Continuing the Department's Missile Defeat and Defense Enhancement (MDDE) initiative,
  • Increasing procurement of preferred and advanced munitions,
  • Modernizing equipment for the second Army Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT),
  • Buying ten combat ships in FY 2019,
  • Increasing production of the F-35 aircraft and F/A-18 aircraft
  • Enhancing deterrence by modernizing the nuclear triad
  • Increasing funds to enhance communications and resiliency in space,
  • Supporting U.S. Armed Forces with a pay raise of 2.6 percent, and
  • Increasing the emphasis on technology innovation for increased lethality.

Once again, however, these major increases in U.S. capability to defend Europe lack a meaningful set of matching European military force goals, and the U.S. is now dependent not only on European military forces but European reception and transit facilities so it can rapidly deploy.

This is particularly critical because the size of the U.S. forces deployed in Europe is so much smaller today than during the time of the Cold War. The U.S. had 244,100 uniformed personnel deployed in Germany in 1990. It has 36,300 deployed in Germany today. The U.S. had 27,400 uniformed personnel in Britain in 1990. It has 8,300 deployed in Britian today.

Recent exercises warn that the lack of adequate European reception and transit facilities sharply reduces the capability of even existing U.S. forces to deploy in Europe, as well as to supply and sustain such forces once they do deploy. The NATO military have already highlighted many of the steps needed to change this situation, and once again, such steps have far higher priority than meeting NATO's nonsense level of effort goals for percent of GDP and share of defense spending on equipment.

The Uncertain Challenge of Terrorism

Most U.S. and allied spending on counterterrorism inside the U.S., Canada, and Europe takes place in internal security and law enforcement operation, and intelligence areas where there is little reliable unclassified reporting. It is important to note, however, that terrorism continues to be a major challenge to the Transatlantic alliance, and that most operational spending on out of area counterterrorism activities is made by the United States.

Moreover, most Transatlantic Cooperation in fighting terrorism and violent extremism outside the U.S., Canada, and Europe takes the form of military counterinsurgency warfare, asymmetric warfare, or paramilitary operations against armed groups. This poses a challenge in terms of power projection, training and equipment for different kinds of warfare, different IS&R needs, and operating with strategic partners against threats that both have radically different cultures and social norms.

The U.S. and its Canadian and European partners as also learning from some 17 years of warfare in Afghanistan that fighting major counterinsurgency actions may contain a threat, but not defeat one.  It is clear from the global trends just in terrorist forces that the defeat of ISIS, and operations against the Taliban, cannot defeat this threat. They are only a relatively small part of the global threat, and much of that threat can either begin to operate in Europe or North America or influence the rise of native terrorism in Europe, Canada, and the United States.

Moreover, the patterns of fighting against violent extremism and terrorism both within and outside Europe, Canada, and the United States differ significantly more than the military threats immediately outside NATO’s borders. The require forces tailored to the specific mission, and generally to the needs of a special partner's military, paramilitary, and security forces. There is much that can be done on a Transatlantic basis, but every aspect of planning and operations must also be tailored to national needs.

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He has served as a consultant on Afghanistan to the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of State.