Blog AnalysisNational Defense

The objective of 2% of GDP for Defense has almost been achieved! A miracle called Covid-19

(B2) The latest figures published by NATO should be read carefully and without drawing premature lessons

Rising defense budgets: much ado about nothing. (NATO - B2 Archive)

The general leap forward towards 2%

Reading the latest batch of statistics from NATO, and the data on compliance with the 2% objective, one could say to oneself: Wow! The Europeans have made a real effort for their defense. France thus jumped from 1,84% to 2,11% in ratio to GDP, crossing the fateful threshold of 2%. The United Kingdom takes off from this bar, going from 2,14% to 2,43%. While Germany made a significant increase from 1,38% to 1,57% and Italy also increased from 1,22% to 1,43%. Even the countries at the bottom of the table are affected by this inflation, Belgium thus goes to 1,10% (compared to 0,93% in 2019). On average, all European NATO countries are around 1,8%. Very close to 2%. A superb result that Donald Trump could boast of if he did not have his eyes elsewhere.

A very artificial increase

When we look at the reality of the numbers, it turns out that the point of view is slightly different. Admittedly, several countries (France, Belgium, Germany) have had a real increase in their expenditure. But for others this is hardly the case: thus British spending is stagnating (barely an additional £300 million in current prices). Where does the miracle come from then? Quite simply, GDP. " The fall in gross domestic product observed in 2020, following the economic crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic », Explains this sudden progression, confirms to B2 an Alliance diplomat.

The tomorrows will be harder

Defense budgets remained fixed on budgetary amounts decided before the epidemic. They therefore do not reflect the future reality which could be very hard on defense budgets in several countries. The real test in fact for budgets will come in the next two years (read: We must continue to invest in defense, despite the Coronavirus, says Jens Stoltenberg). The next statistics are likely to sound the hour of a hard return to reality.

Comment: a lunar lens

This dazzling progression confirms one thing: the 2% target is a lunar target that has nothing to do with reality and effective defense, but is more of a political marker. To properly understand a defense policy, it is necessary to take into account the real budget (in figures, its increase compared to the previous year, etc.) but also quantitative elements (renewal of equipment, number of operations carried out, exposure at risk, etc). In short, you should never trust (blindly) statistics, or at least a single statistic. The 2% defense target at NATO is like the 3% deficit on the European side: an artistic decoy.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

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).