Pandemic must not derail defence spending ambitions, NATO governments told

10 October 2021

LISBON – NATO governments must stick to defence spending targets to match the unpredictable range of threats facing them, despite budgetary pressures stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, legislators from the across the Alliance cautioned Saturday. 

Russia’s “increasingly aggressive military posture and its use of information war tactics;” the risk of instability in North Africa and the Middle East; fallout from the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan; and China’s “aggressive foreign and economic policies” are just some of the reasons why NATO has to meet spending targets and ensure defence money is used effectively, said Norwegian lawmaker Christian Tybring-Gjedde. 

“All of these challenges – and I could list many others – highlight the need for continued military spending and investment, even if such spending is economically and politically challenging in an era of heightened scarcity,” Tybring-Gjedde told the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which is holding its annual session this week in Lisbon. 

Tybring-Gjedde drafted a resolution for the Assembly’s Economics and Security Committee (ESC) which pressed NATO governments to respect agreed targets for allocating 2% of GDP on defence and 20% of that on major equipment, research and development. 

The Committee voiced concern that several Allied countries are not on track to meet those commitments by 2024 which “could undermine the very solidarity that has made NATO so successful.” 

NATO governments should use the development of the Alliance’s new Strategic Concept and the NATO2030 modernisation process to galvanise political will behind core security commitments and deepen cooperation that enhances efficient use of scarce defence resources, the lawmakers recommended.  

That should include consolidation of defence industries, enhanced interoperability among the Allied militaries and multinational capability development. 

Russia’s growing influence in Belarus - and its expanding military cooperation with the authoritarian government there – illustrates the NATO’s need to maintain adequate defences, the committee also heard during the discussions. 

“If the regional security situation worsens or if Russia deploys forces in a provocative manner, then NATO Allies will need to take measures to shore up deterrence in the region and provide critically needed reassurance to Allies there,” according to a draft report presented by Michal Szczerba, a member of Poland’s parliament.  

He urged Allied governments to maintain “tough, but targeted” sanctions against Belarusian officials and enterprises engaged in oppression of the democracy. 

NATO PA President Gerry E. Connolly, who joined the Committee debate, condemned the “despicable behaviour” of the Belarus regime in instrumentalising migrants in its dispute with the West and underscored the importance of standing up to Russian interference there. 

“Operating through strength, collectively, asserting our democratic values, resisting Russian intrusion in all respects, is an important mission of this body and of NATO itself,” he said. 

Although the world economy appears to be recovering from the pandemic, Turkish lawmaker Faik Öztrak warned several risks remain as governments struggle with debt burdens, supply and labour bottlenecks and the risk of revived inflation. 

Failure to reform the liberal market system in ways that broadens opportunity, minimises corruption and reinforces democracy could bolster efforts by Russia and China to “promote authoritarian-led societies (as) the wave of the future,” he cautioned in a draft report. 

Öztrak also emphasised the importance of supporting global vaccination programmes to protect vulnerable populations and deny space for the coronavirus to mutate into dangerous new variants. 

That call was taken up by José Manuel Barroso, President of the Board at Gavi-The Vaccine Alliance, a public–private global health partnership with the goal of increasing access to immunization in poor countries. 

“Until people are protected in all corners of the world, the virus will continue to circulate, prolonging the pandemic and the risk that new and potentially more dangerous, transmissible variants emerge,” the former European Commission President said. “This puts us all at risk.”