NATO's Funding: From where does NATO get its funding?

This year's NATO Annual Report appears to paint an alarming picture. While the United States is upping its contributions to NATO, all other members of NATO are reducing their spending. In response, the United States could decrease its contributions significantly as well. Although this statistical snapshot seems to predict the beginning of the end for NATO, in reality, these statistics are not an accurate indicator of NATO's current status. Furthermore, in order for NATO to carve out a niche for itself in the post-Cold War world, it is necessary for such changes in spending to occur.

The first issue with predicting NATO failure based on current spending patterns is that statistics pertaining to those patterns are not always read correctly. While it is true that the United States contributes by far the largest percentage of NATO funding, at 22% of NATO costs, and that this percentage has been increasing, this is natural because other members of NATO have been reducing contributions. The higher burden placed on the United States by other member states' unwillingness to contribute is not in fact a burden. It merely appears to be so because of poor interpretation of statistics.

Furthermore, conjectures about NATO's impending demise ignore two key aspects of NATO's nature. Firstly, NATO is not an organization that relies heavily on financial contributions for its operations. When referring to the overall contributions made by its members, NATO itself says, "the greatest part of these contributions is indirect and comes through participation in NATO-led operations and missions, and in efforts to ensure that national armed forces are interoperable with those of other member countries." This implicit recognition that funding operations is not the most important part of being a NATO member means that the organization will be willing and able to continue its work despite declining contributions from most of its members and a potential drop in financial support from the United States. After all, NATO's most important role currently is as a global peacekeeper, and the costs of operations within this role are not even included in the NATO budget; yet, NATO countries are still willing to participate in them. Perhaps even more important than NATO's peacekeeping is that NATO brings together 28 vastly different countries from North America and Europe. Such strong ties are more important than ever in the modern era, where global cooperation will be key to global progress.

The other key aspect of NATO's nature ignored by those who predict its downfall is that NATO is, by definition, an organization which responds to change, and is currently in the process of changing its approach. NATO was born out of swift and violent changes to the political landscape in Europe with the recognition that western Europe required stability and protection after their recent upheaval. NATO has always responded to the needs of its time, and reduced contributions by many NATO members do not necessarily mean that the time for NATO has passed, but rather mean that times are changing. NATO's main goal used to be to protect its member states against possible attacks by the Soviet Union or its allies, but the days of a Europe divided starkly along capitalist-communist lines are over. NATO can no longer perform what was formerly its most key function, and as such it is natural that its members are less willing to contribute funds now than when NATO had a more clearly defined role. As NATO continues to tailor its activities towards the realities of today's world, it is probable that NATO members will either increase their funding contributions again in response to NATO's higher perceived usefulness, or not have to increase their contributions because NATO's new activities will not require as much financial support from its member states. Whether NATO decides that its niche is in peacekeeping, or that it should simply exist as an organization of countries who recognize that they have many shared interests regardless of political climate, NATO's adaptability will allow it to survive both changing financial contributions and changing times.

NATO is one of the world's most prominent international organization. If such an organization cannot survive minor threats to its budgeting, then that organization has no hope. However, NATO has great hope. As NATO carves out a clearly defined niche for itself in the 21st century, it will not only survive its financial troubles, but will thrive.


Mattea Roach


"Paying for NATO," last modified September 16th, 2013,