A Westminster Hall debate on arms export licences for sales to Israel is scheduled for Tuesday 12 December 2023, from 2:30-4:00pm. The debate will be led by Zarah Sultana MP.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been met with international condemnation. NATO members have said they will increase defence spending in the face of what NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has described as “the most serious security crisis in a generation”.
Article 5: Collective defence
NATO was formed in 1949 with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington. Its purpose was to ensure the collective security of its member states and to counter the perceived security threat from the then Soviet Union.
At the heart of the North Atlantic Treaty is Article 5, which states that an attack against one member state shall be considered as an attack against them all.
Article 5 does not necessarily commit an ally to military action in the event of an attack. Instead, it requires members to assist the party or parties attacked with “such action it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area”.
Given Article 5’s obligation, member states are advised to maintain adequate defence spending levels, so they have the capacity to act if necessary. This sentiment is formally reflected in the target for NATO members to spend at least 2% of their country’s GDP on defence, set at the 2006 Riga Summit.
NATO defence spending since 2014
Despite all NATO members agreeing to the 2% guideline, few countries have adhered to it.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 drew attention to the declining defence budgets of most NATO members. At the NATO Summit in Wales that year, member states agreed to reverse the trend and aim to spend 2% of GDP on defence by 2024.
Between 2014 and 2022, defence expenditure by NATO members is expected to rise by $140 billion (15%). However, while the number of countries meeting the 2% target has increased over this period, most are still falling short.
As shown in the chart below, only nine out of 30 member states are expected to meet the 2% spending target in 2022, up from three members in 2014.
Greece, Lithuania, Latvia and the Slovak Republic had the largest increase in defence spending as a proportion of GDP between 2014 and 2022.
All member states have increased defence expenditure as a share of GDP over this period, except for Turkey and the US. The UK and Norway spent the same proportion of GDP on defence in 2014 and in 2022.
Spending pledges since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Although Ukraine is not a NATO member, meaning NATO countries are under no obligation to act in its defence, the UK and other allies have worked on security cooperation initiatives with Ukraine since its independence in 1991.
In response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the crisis in eastern Ukraine since, and at the request of the Ukrainian Government, allies have significantly stepped up their support.
At an extraordinary summit in Brussels in March 2022, NATO members agreed to “accelerate our efforts to fulfil our commitment to the Defence Investment Pledge in its entirety”. The pledge is a reference to the commitments made in 2014.
According to NATO, since the invasion, most member states have committed to investing more in defence, and more quickly. The table below shows future spending pledges made in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
|Country||Defence spending pledge||Projected year of fulfilment|
|Belgium||Increase spending to 1.5% of GDP||2030|
|Czech Republic||Increase spending to 2% of GDP||2025|
|Denmark||Increase spending to 2% of GDP||2033|
|Estonia||Increase spending to over 2.5% of GDP||2022|
|Finland||Increase spending (which is currently at around 2% of GDP) by EUR2.2 billion over four years||2026|
|Germany||Increase spending to over 2% of GDP||–|
|Hungary||Increase spending to 2% of GDP||2024|
|Italy||Increase spending to 2% of GDP||2028|
|Latvia||Increase spending to 2.5% of GDP||2025|
|Lithuania||Increase spending to 2.52% of GDP||2022|
|Luxembourg||Increase spending to 1% of GDP||2028|
|Netherlands||Increase spending to 2% of GDP||2025|
|North Macedonia||Increase spending to 2% of GDP||2024|
|Norway||Increase spending by 3 billion Norwegian Krone (around 0.1% of GDP) for this year||2022|
|Poland||Increase spending to 3% of GDP||2023|
|Romania||Increase spending to 2.5% of GDP||2023|
|Slovak Republic||Increase spending to 2% of GDP||Achieved target in 2022|
|Slovenia||Increase spending to 2% of GDP||2030|
|Spain||Increase spending to 2% of GDP||–|
|Sweden||Increase spending to 2% of GDP||–|
While some countries have committed to maintaining these higher levels of spending in the long-term, others have only committed to boost spending for a fixed period.
Countries with notable spending pledges
Following the invasion, Germany set out plans to boost defence spending to over 2% of GDP through a EUR100 billion (£85 billion) special fund for military equipment modernisation, to be spent over several years. Germany has never met the 2% target, and until recent events it had not been expected to by the 2024 deadline.
Germany is currently the third largest contributor to NATO, after the US and the UK. If Germany was to spend 2% of GDP on defence, this would exceed current UK defence expenditure in absolute terms. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, unless the UK increases defence spending to more than 2.5% of its GDP, this would mean Germany would overtake the UK as NATO’s second largest defence spender.
Poland is a former Soviet bloc country and is geographically close to Russia. Arguably, Poland’s history and geographic placement make Russia a particular security concern for Poland.
Poland was one of the few countries already spending 2% of GDP on defence before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Shortly after the invasion, it pledged to increase spending to 3% of GDP by 2023 and has passed legislation to ensure this commitment is met through its Homeland Defence Act.
What does the UK spend on defence?
Prior to Russia’s invasion, the UK was already meeting the 2% spending target. In 2022 it is expected to spend 2.1% of GDP on defence. This is down from 2.3% in 2020.
After the invasion, on 30 June 2022, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that defence spending would rise to 2.5% of GDP by the end of the decade.
The following week, when asked whether he was committing to this increase, the Prime Minister said this was more of a “prediction” based on current defence spending trends. He cautioned that “much depends on the size of our GDP” at the end of the decade.
No further action has been taken to increase the UK’s defence spending to 2.5% since the statement.
- House of Commons Library, Ukraine Crisis
- House of Commons Library, UK defence expenditure, April 2022
- House of Commons Library, What is NATO?
- House of Commons Library, The two NATO targets: Which countries are hitting the mark?, August 2018
On 16.11.22 we corrected this Insight, which originally said Poland was a former Member of the Soviet Union, to more accurately describe it as a former Soviet bloc country.
About the authors: Sanjana Balakrishnan is completing an internship with the House of Commons Library. Esme Kirk-Wade is a statistics researcher, specialising in defence.
Image: NATO logo flags in front of the headquarters building in Brussels, by Dragoș Asaftei – stock.adobe.com: 495384264 (Extended license)
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