Since the end of World War II, Europe has lived with a greater amount of challenges and threats related to defense. This is why the meeting of NATO participants in Brussels is extremely important. Beyond that, it was the first personal contact the new United States president had with many heads of state of Western governments, and it put the question of concrete contributions on the table for members to address.
The increase in military spending by European members is a question that Donald Trump used in his populist slogans and without specifying on Wednesday stated, “23 of the 28 members of NATO don’t spend what they should. It’s unfair to the American people.” In 2014, Wales, Spain and other members of the Atlantic Alliance* accepted a declaration in which they promised to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defense until 2024. Now they are beginning to separately submit their respective national budgets to achieve that goal. In 2016, Spain dedicated €5.77 billion (21 billion reais) or 0.9 percent of the GDP — to this sector, but certainly this figure doesn’t include pensions for retired military members, which other countries do, or the Special Armament Program, which includes payments for large purchase transactions made during the ‘90s.
It is necessary that the Spanish administration does not give in to the pressures from Trump and assume that the defense budget and military spending are the same things. There are countries whose military spending, proportionate to the national budget, is much greater than Spain’s and whose contributions to a common defense are lesser. Greece and Turkey are two good examples that focus their defensive efforts on their respective national territories. On the other hand, Spain, without reaching 1 percent, participates much more significantly in these efforts with a service company in Latvia and combat planes in Estonia that recently intercepted a Russian aircraft.
In other words, being a safety consumer is not the same as being a safety contributor, just like greater military spending does not mean a safer or more effective defense. A country’s defense is also defined by investments which can be attributed to other budget sectors (such as cybersecurity research, technological development and scientific training) and other circumstances difficult to measure in an economic balance sheet. Certainly, Spain contributes more to the defense of Europe and the United States by allowing the military bases in Rota and Moron to be part of the Aegis System** and a rapid response team for Africa, than by purchasing a large number of new weapons.
What also is crucial for defense spending by Spain is that there is a larger plan, a strategic justification and a better control on spending. Spain should not join the game of measuring its safety in business terms, which is exactly what Trump is proposing.
*Editor’s Note: NATO is also called the North Atlantic Alliance.
**Editor’s Note: The Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense is a U.S. Department of Defense program to defend against short to intermediate-range ballistic missiles.