The last year has been an interesting one for NATO. A more aggressive Russia and an increasingly unstable Middle East made the mantra of collective defense for the first time since the Cold War seem to be, perhaps, not enough.
At the same time, U.S. President Donald Trump continued to pound a fist about the need for allies to contribute their fair share, to not rely so heavily on the United States for their own national security and to not necessarily expect the U.S. to come running if the threat of conflict grows imminent.
For all of those reasons, we enter 2019 with what seems to be a more emboldened NATO — or shall I say, more emboldened allies. Individual countries are investing more in defense, less to appease the United States and more to close their own gaps in domestic security. There’s heightened effort to secure borders, to counter domestic terrorism and to invest in missile defense to deter regional adversaries.
Such investments signal an evolving view on NATO, from a security blanket of sorts, particularly for smaller member states, to an alliance that derives its strength from the sum of its parts.
Even if one believes that criticism from the White House drove NATO allies to invest more, such motivation has since been displaced by what seems to be a sense of individual responsibility. In fact, a less coddling United States just might have inspired countries to recognize they have strength and they have a say.
You’ll see hints of the more emboldened NATO allies in this year’s Outlook, with essays from defense ministers from around the world speaking less about what NATO can do for their countries, and more about what their countries can do for NATO. From U.S. officials, you’ll get a sense that it’s time to focus more on our own priorities and strategies and less on messaging to or demands of allies. You’ll even see out of Russia an argument for the strength of President Vladimir Putin.
You might say, following the heightened tensions of 2018, that nations are getting their houses in order.
Jill Aitoro is editor of Defense News. She is also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brings over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.