Report to Congress on Assessing NATO’s Value

March 28, 2019 11:15 AM

The following is the March 27, 2019 Congressional Research Service report, Assessing NATO’s Value.

From the report

On April 4, 2019, foreign ministers from the 29 member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are to gather in Washington, D.C., to mark the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty (also known as the Washington Treaty). NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is to address a joint session of Congress on April 3, 2019, the first ever to do so. Congress was instrumental in creating NATO in 1949 and has played a critical role in shaping U.S. policy toward the alliance ever since.

A key goal of the 70th anniversary meeting will be to highlight NATO’s past successes and present a unified vision for its
future. The United States was the driving proponent of NATO’s creation and has been the unquestioned leader of the alliance as it has evolved from a collective defense organization of 12 members focused on deterring the Soviet Union to a globally engaged security organization of 29 members. Successive U.S. Administrations have viewed U.S. leadership of NATO as a cornerstone of U.S. national security strategy.

Proponents of NATO cite numerous benefits to the United States, including:

    • Peace, stability, conflict prevention, and deterrence in Europe;
    • Treaty-based defense and security support from 28 allies, including many of the world’s most advanced militaries;
    • An unrivaled platform for constructing and operating international military coalitions;
    • U.S. military bases in strategically important locations; and
    • Economic stability in the world’s largest trade and investment marketplace.

On the other hand, NATO’s critics argue that European reliance on U.S. security guarantees have fostered an imbalanced and unsustainable “burdensharing” arrangement by which the United States carries an unfair share of the responsibility for ensuring European security. Critics cite the following costs to the United States of its leadership of NATO:

        • Loss of autonomy;
        • Heightened risks to U.S. forces;
        • Continued European military dependence on the United States;
        • Provoking Russia; and
        • A negative budgetary impact.

The anniversary meeting comes at a tense time for NATO, as the allies have struggled to present a unified response to vocal criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump. President Trump has admonished European allies for failing to meet agreed NATO defense spending targets and has repeatedly questioned NATO’s value to the United States. Although he is not the first U.S. president to press the allies to increase defense spending, none has done so as stridently and none has called into question the U.S. commitment to NATO as openly or to the same extent as Trump. The President’s criticisms have provoked mixed reactions in the United States, with NATO supporters, including many Members of Congress, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to NATO, and others reevaluating the costs and benefits of long-standing U.S. leadership of the alliance.

Trump Administration officials stress that they remain committed to NATO and to upholding European security. They underscore that Congress has supported the Administration’s requests to increase funding for U.S. defense activities in Europe such as the European Deterrence Initiative. President Trump’s supporters also argue that his forceful statements have succeeded in securing defense spending increases by European allies that were not forthcoming under his predecessors.

While many Members of Congress have criticized specific developments within NATO—regarding burdensharing, for example—Congress as a whole has demonstrated consistent bipartisan support for NATO. During the Trump Administration, congressional support has at times been viewed as an effort to reassure allies troubled by President Trump’s criticisms of the alliance. During the Trump Administration, both chambers of Congress have passed legislation expressly reaffirming U.S. support (H.Res. 397; H.R. 5515/P.L. 115-232; H.Res. 256), including legislation passed by the House in January 2019 (H.R. 676) seeking to limit the president’s ability to withdraw from NATO unilaterally (similar legislation, S.J.Res. 4, has been introduced in the Senate). Some analysts portrayed the bipartisan House-Senate invitation to Secretary General Stoltenberg to address a joint session as an additional demonstration of NATO’s importance to the Congress.

Download the document here.

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