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Ahead of NATO Summit, Lankford Urges Biden to Ensure NATO Countries Meet Defense Spending Commitments

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Ahead of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Vilnius next week, Senator James Lankford (R-OK), Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and a bipartisan group of 33 senators sent a letter to urge President Biden to call on NATO countries to meet defense spending commitments. Since 2006, NATO member nations have agreed to commit a minimum of two percent of their GDP to defense spending. The letter notes that despite increasing levels of aggressive behavior by authoritarian nations, particularly Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many member states continue to fail to meet their treaty obligations.

“As you prepare for the NATO summit this year in Vilnius, we write to underscore the critical need for NATO members to increase and fully meet defense spending commitments to the alliance,” the Senators wrote. “Failure of many of our allies—including some of NATO’s largest members—to meet commitments of two percent of GDP on defense has the potential to undermine American support for the alliance, severely limits Europe’s ability to contribute to our shared interest in defending against Russia, and is a source of long-term instability in Europe, not to mention frustration for American taxpayers.”

“Although we appreciate the assistance that many of our European allies have provided Ukraine, the heavy European emphasis on economic and refugee assistance is directly attributable to the inability of many to meet their NATO commitments in a way the alliance demands. This has immediate implications in Ukraine where our allies could be a force multiplier in helping bring this conflict to a successful end. 

“The lack of sufficient progress is politically and economically unsustainable. American citizens rightly question why our government disproportionately bears the burden—decade after decade—for Europe’s defense. In Vilnius, we respectfully request that you make this issue a top priority,” the Senators wrote.

Read the full letter here or below.

Dear Mr. President,

As you prepare for the NATO summit this year in Vilnius, we write to underscore the critical need for NATO members to increase and fully meet defense spending commitments to the alliance.

The Senate put our allies on notice in this regard last August. In the process of approving Finland’s and Sweden’s accessions to NATO, the Senate amended the resolution of ratification to state that all members of NATO should spend a minimum of two percent of GDP on defense.’ This amendment was unanimously adopted by the US Senate.

Failure of many of our allies—including some of NATO’s largest members—to meet commitments of two percent of GDP on defense has the potential to undermine American support for the alliance, severely limits Europe’s ability to contribute to our shared interest in defending against Russia, and is a source of long-term instability in Europe, not to mention frustration for American taxpayers.

We are not asking our NATO allies to do anything they have not already pledged to do. In 2014 at the NATO Summit in Wales attended by the Obama-Biden Administration, all NATO member countries committed to maintain or move toward meeting the two percentdefense guideline within 10 years. Through 2022, according to NATO, only seven have, including the United States. None of the others are major economies, except the United Kingdom. This means that despite increased spending by some, the US, which accounts for a little more than half of the combined alliance GDP, ultimately pays 70 percent of NATO’s combined defense expenditures.

Although we appreciate the assistance that many of our European allies have provided Ukraine, the heavy European emphasis on economic and refugee assistance is directly attributable to the inability of many to meet their NATO commitments in a way the alliance demands. This has immediate implications in Ukraine where our allies could be a force multiplier in helping bring this conflict to a successful end.

The Wales Summit was not the first time Europe’s underinvestment became a problem in need of addressing within the alliance. The establishment of the two percent target actually goes back to 2006, when like today, only seven NATO members met the threshold.

The lack of sufficient progress is politically and economically unsustainable. American citizens rightly question why our government disproportionately bears the burden—decade after decade—for Europe’s defense. In Vilnius, we respectfully request that you make this issue a top priority.

We are encouraged by reports that leaders at the Summit may set the two percent target as the floor for NATO member defense spending, while asking for up to one percent more as an objective. Our hope would be that in adopting this more ambitious goal, all NATO members will prioritize defense spending and manage to meet their obligations to the alliance.

That disparities in NATO member defense spending have persisted for so long is incompatible with genuine partnership.

Thank you for your consideration. In Vilnius, we hope you will lead our alliance to a more concrete level of commitment to defense of our common interests.

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