WASHINGTON — For NATO to meet its modern requirements, nations need to align their national priorities with guidance from the military alliance, a top official argued Wednesday.

“It is essential that NATO nations synchronize their national plans with agreed NATO capability targets which they accepted last June,” said Air Commodore Ralph Reefman, assistant chief of staff for defense planning at NATO Allied Command Transformation.

Reefman appeared at the 2017 Defense News Conference on Wednesday as part of a panel on NATO capabilities.

While it is understandable each nation has its own priorities that don’t always match those of NATO — the U.S., with its global footprint, stands out as a prime example — Reefman argued that the guidance from the alliance should be taken into heavy consideration by political leaders going forward.

NATO official details alliance's budgetary, capability challenges

Air Commodore Ralph Reefman, assistant chief of staff for defense planning at NATO Allied Command Transformation, sat down with Defense News to talk about capability gaps and the challenge of coordinating 29 member states to meet budgetary needs.

“They’ll have to integrate them into their respective national plans. Otherwise, it will never come to fruition. When national views or priorities are not in line with the priorities NATO has, this would lead to shortfalls in certain capabilities NATO needs,” Reefman added.

Much of the recent focus when discussing NATO requirements has been on the target figure of spending 2 percent GDP on defense. That certainly factors into building a strong alliance, but the details matter.

The 2 percent figure is “extremely important,” Reefman told Defense News after his speech, and if all of the countries meet that, NATO would have everything it needs. But until that point, the alliance is forced to focus on how best to meet capability requirements and leave the details to be colored in by the individual nations.

“An ally might invest much more than 2 percent on defense spending but perhaps only make available to NATO 50 percent of its capabilities because it has other national interests,” Reefman said. “The 2 percent [figure] is important, but getting the right capability within NATO, the total capability pool, that we need is probably what I am more concerned about.”

The early relationship between NATO and the Trump administration featured a number of awkward moments, most notably two: when the president referred to the alliance as ”obsolete” and he declined to state in a speech before NATO that the administration recognizes Article 5. 

The president has since walked back both of those issues with his public comments, but distrust remains among European allies. NATO officials, meanwhile, have walked a tightrope to not offend either side. 

“NATO has been relying on the United States for a long, long time, and we’re trying to reset the balance for a more fair burden,” Reefman said.