Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

Devote 2% of GDP to defense? How much will this new Grail cost?

On the way to Camp 1
The objective of 2% defense is for many countries more difficult than crossing a summit in the Himalayas, almost unachievable, except for a superhuman effort, without oxygen… (credit: MOD Netherlands / Archives B2 – Dutch expedition to the Manuslu )

(BRUSSELS2) The objective of devoting 2% of GDP to Defense is repeated regularly by several European officials. Barack Obama recalled this during his visit to Hamburg. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg makes no mistake of repeating this regularly. And this objective should be reaffirmed as necessary by the heads of government or state at the Warsaw summit next July (as it was at the Wales summit in September 2014).

From words to actions… there is a step!

In current economic conditions, achieving this objective seems difficult for several countries. Even spread over several years over 10 years, this seems difficult to sustain. In fact, the objective is “unrealistic”, unless there is a decided, proactive policy, carried out over a long period of time (at least 5 or 10 years). A very interesting study, carried out by two researchers, Frederic Mauro and Klaus Thoma, on behalf of the European Parliament, demonstrates this (1).

Germany should spend 6 billion more over 5 years to catch up

To achieve this objective, Germany would have to spend $31 billion more, or double its budget (including $9 billion for equipment). Which, even over a period of 10 years, would require a continuous effort of +$3 billion per year to be found in the federal budget. Even for a “rich” country, it is not that obvious.

An almost insurmountable effort for Italy and Spain

For Italy as for Spain, the effort is major: 20 billion more to find for Rome and 15 billion for Madrid. Suffice it to say that in this period of budgetary scarcity and deficit reduction, this objective seems insurmountable. And getting to 2% becomes an illusory objective.

A significant catch-up for Belgium and the Netherlands

For other countries like The Hague or Brussels, even if the figure is not as striking, in absolute value, it is important in relative value for the national budget and almost impossible to justify for national governments: + 7,5 billion for the Netherlands and + $5,5 billion for Belgium. For the latter country, this represents an increase of almost 10% in the national budget! Difficult to accept… and justify.

A goal within reach for France

For France, the effort required is relatively low. According to statistics compiled by the European Defense Agency, in 2014, defense spending represented 1,85% of GDP. This represents an effort of $4,6 billion. And that's without counting the budgetary extensions agreed in 2015 and 2016. The 2% objective is therefore within reach... contrary to what Nicolas Sarkozy suggests.

British, almost good students!

Note that for the United Kingdom, there is (for the moment) no effort to be made, London already reaching 2%. The question for the British is rather to maintain the objective, the recent trend across the Channel being to compress budgets, we will have to reinject sterling into the engine of Defense if His Gracious Majesty's army wants to remain in good students...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) read also: European defense research out of investment

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

One thought on “Devote 2% of GDP to defense? How much will this new Grail cost?"

  • No wonder it's the United States asking for this...
    If you want to exceed 2%, just buy a few F-35s, given its price!
    Between its two aircraft carriers and its F-35s, it is not surprising that the United Kingdom, despite budget cuts, unit cuts, and capability losses, displays large expenditures for a small army…
    Despite certain shortcomings (projection…), the French army is much more balanced!
    As for the German army…, it is stocking up…!

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