The amount the United States spends on its defense and foreign involvement is always hotly debated; depending on what side of the aisle is arguing, priorities for what the US should achieve in the international sphere differ. There is a balance when it comes to spending money on international organizations. It is important that the US take the lead when it comes to funding organizations such as NATO, the IAEA, the UN and other international organizations, in order to remain a leader in world politics, security, and humanitarian efforts; however, the balance also lies in making sure that the money spent abroad adds value to the US, its allies, and the rest of the world.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is essential to the security of the US and its European allies. Originally establish to deter communism during the Cold War, today the treaty lives on to provide international security for its member states. The most significant provisions to NATO are Article V, stating that if one member is attacked, all members must retaliate, and the 2% GDP defense spending provision. This provision requires that each state spend at least 2% of their total GDP on defense spending.
NATO is different from most international organizations when it comes to funding. Instead of directly investing into the organization, member states contribute to the organization by contributing military assets to training missions and rotational deployments. The US is a huge contributor to NATO when it comes to supplying the organization with training, funding, and rotational deployments. With a $650 billion defense budget, the US is above the 2% threshold, at 3.62% of GDP going towards defense spending (1). The only other states out of the 28 members to exceed 2% are the United Kingdom, Poland, Estonia, and Greece. The rest of NATO spends less than 2% , including France and Germany, which come in at 1.80% and 1.18%, respectively (2). The 2% provision is one that is not actively enforced by NATO, as it is extremely unlikely that NATO will drop or suspend any state for geopolitical or strategic reasons.
Many voices on both sides of the aisle in the US claim that the US spends too much on NATO and European security. However, the US has a vital role to play with its allies in Europe. First, Europe is America’s closest economic and cultural partner, and maintaining similar security interests is key to future conflict resolution. In addition, NATO still provides a formidable deterrent against Russian aggression. Many Eastern European NATO states are highly concerned with Russia’s destabilizing abilities, proven by direct and indirect involvement in Ukraine. If anything, the European members of NATO should be increasing their defense spending to reach the 2% threshold. The terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris should serve as a wake up call that defense spending is not only utilized with fighting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or deterring Russia, but to ensure security for Europeans in their own cities.
In addition to NATO, the US also is a large contributor to the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA). This international organization promotes the safe and civil use of nuclear energy, and works to prevent nuclear material from being made into nuclear weapons. The IAEA is essential to this process of oversight and prevention; they are directly involved in the inspection of nuclear sites. The US picks up a bulk of the tab for the IAEA. Of the IAEA’s €360 ($405) million budget, all funded by its member states, the US contributes around 25% on average every year (3). The IAEA will continue to play an increasingly central role in international security, ensuring that Iran adheres to the JCPOA. The JCPOA requires that the IAEA inspect Iran’s nuclear facilities and maintain continued transparency (4). This is crucial for the US, as Iran would not allow solely US inspectors to examine their facilities. In addition to the normal budget, at the Non-Proliferation Treaty conference in 2010, the US announced that it would give $50 million over the next five years to the IAEA’s Peaceful Use Initiative, intended to help with the clean up of Fukushima and the cure of Ebola. The bill for the IAEA seems steep compared to what other countries spend, but this amount is small for the US. Plus, supporting the IAEA is crucial to ensure the success of the JCPOA, and it shows that the US is a leader when it comes to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.
The US also funds the UN and its peacekeeping missions more than any other member. Peacekeeping expenses are apportioned by the General Assembly, in which a formula is applied to each country based on wealth and other metrics. The five Security Council states are required to pay more because of their increased responsibility to peace and international security; however, there is not set quota for Security Council members to pay. According to the UN, the US paid for about 28.38% of the $8.37 billion budget for peacekeeping operations last year. This is to be expected, as that percentage is consistent with US commitment to many international organizations; however, what is surprising is that the other four Security Council members pay much less. Aside from the US, the highest contributing member of the Security Council is France, at 7.22%, and Russia the lowest, at 3.55% (5). This indicates an imbalance in funding and power in the UN. It is unacceptable that other Security Council members pay so much less, while maintaining equal power regarding security issues. Anything but unanimity within the Council prevents UN involvement in a conflict area. If Security Council members are going to yield so much power, there should be a threshold, such as the 2% provision enforced by NATO, that requires a certain percentage of funding. It is important that the US remain the leader when it comes to funding, but other countries must also show that they are behind the UN in providing stability throughout the world.
It is apparent that when it comes to funding international security, the US plays a leadership role. The continuation of funding for the three most important international security organizations is crucial for US security and world leadership. However, it is also important that other states in these organizations increase their funding, especially in NATO. It is becoming less acceptable for European NATO members to not focus at least 2% of GDP on defense spending. The Cold War is over, but that doesn’t mean NATO is obsolete, or that it cannot redefine its mission. Deterring Russian aggression is still important, as Putin recently demonstrated his ability to redraw borders in Eastern Europe. But, the Paris and Brussels attacks show that counter-terrorism is viable option for a 21st century NATO. The IAEA is also crucial to the US and its security, as the success of the JCPOA greatly hinges on the IAEA’s ability to successfully provide oversight into the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program. The US must remain a leader in international security, even if that means being the leader in funding as well. Other states, such as NATO allies and the other four Security Council states, should provide more to these international security organizations if they want the same amount of influence in the future; however, this does not mean the US should lead from behind. It is crucial that the US continue to fund and be an example of a country that takes international security and stability seriously, for itself and its allies.
(1) Kattosava, Ivana. "Which NATO Members Are Falling Short on Military Spending?" CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 15 Apr. 2016. Web. 19 June 2016. <http://money.cnn.com/2016/04/15/news/nato-spending-countries/>
(2) "Defence Expenditures of NATO Countries (2008-2015)." NATO Public Relations, 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 June 2016. <http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2016_01/20160129_160128-pr-2016-11-eng.pdf#page=6>
(3) Epstein, Susan B., and Paul K. Kerr. IAEA Budget and U.S. Contributions: In Brief (n.d.): n. pag. Congressional Research Service, 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 20 June 2016. <https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/R44384.pdf>
(4) Gaspar, Miklos. "JCPOA Implementation Day Ushers in New Phase for IAEA in Iran: Director General Amano." International Atomic Energy Agency. N.p., 19 Jan. 2016. Web. 20 June 2016. <https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/jcpoa-implementation-day-ushers-new-phase-iaea-iran-director-general-amano>
(5) "Financing Peacekeeping. United Nations Peacekeeping." UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 20 June 2016. <http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/operations/financing.shtml>
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Chadd Dunn is a senior at the University of Southern California double majoring in business administration and international relations. He focuses mainly on international economics,