News stories in the West contend that Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior is causing the Baltic states and other NATO members in Eastern Europe to become far more serious about national defense. There is no doubt that tensions in the region are on the rise, including a surge of incidents involving NATO intercepts of Russian military aircraft operating over the Baltic Sea. The new congressional approval of military aid to Ukraine may well increase the already alarming level of animosity between NATO and Russia.
But the notion that the Baltic republics have embarked on serious programs to boost their defense capabilities in light of Moscow’s menacing behavior is vastly overstated. The military spending of those three countries has merely moved from minuscule to meager. Although all NATO members pledged after the Alliance’s summit meeting in 2006 to spend a minimum of two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, few members have actually done so. Indeed, eight years later, only the United States, Britain, Greece, and Estonia among the 28 member states fulfill that commitment.
And Estonia barely met that standard.
All three Baltic governments are going to great lengths to highlight their alleged seriousness about defense, but the actual data fail to support the propaganda. Amid much fanfare, Estonia plans to boost its military spending from 2.0 percent of GDP to…. wait for it, 2.05 percent! Lithuania intends to raise its budget next year from 0.89 percent to 1.01 percent. And Latvian leaders solemnly pledge that their country will spend no less than 1 percent—up from the current 0.91 percent.