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NATO: Defense spending rises as members look to a future without US leadership

In a recent meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), between the defense ministers in June 2017, it was heard that almost across the board there has been an increase in defense spending. Despite the target of 2% of GDP that members are expected to meet, traditionally many members have ignored this target in order to grow their economies or recover after recessions, but there are more members now hitting this target. There are multiple explanations for why members are spending more on defense all of a sudden.

Firstly, instability in certain regions is making members nervous, in the China Sea, Ukraine or Syria for instance. Secondly there appears to be some slow reshuffling of the global order of things, as the US becomes less coherent in its foreign policy and is taken less seriously, other powers are imposing their will. Thirdly, the argument that the US cannot be expected to protect its allies indefinitely is a solid one and some members are taking a look at their defense solutions in a world where the US is less dominant and finding them lacking.

It was Trump himself who originally generated controversy when he stated his position on NATO, critiquing the treaty as being unfair to the USA and becoming increasingly obsolete. Trump’s original position here was that NATO members were getting away with not pulling their weight in the organization and that the US was having to take too much of the economic and operational burden for NATO responsibilities.

Increasingly the US’s actions are unilateral and against the wishes of its allies, for instance in the case of the Paris climate accord, where the US pulled out of an international deal that included the vast majority of the world’s nations and going against the will of the international community. This sudden unwillingness to commit to international responsibilities has led to widespread condemnation of the US decision and where in the past the US action might have caused others to do the same, now countries are less afraid to oppose US hegemony.

A number of worldwide wars have drawn in international players and this friction between factions is a problem for global security. Traditionally the wealthiest states since the Second World War have done everything possible to avoid direct conflict between each other, but in 2016 and 2017 some countries have come closer to direct conflict than before in recent memory.

NATO’s own cyber defenders dealt with 500 incidents per month in 2016, a rise of approximately 60% compared to 2015 and in 2017 those levels look to have increased again. The alliance has been focusing on this aspect and will continue to do so particularly after the huge cyber-attacks and viruses that have struck organizations and governmental institutions throughout the world in 2017.

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