October 17, 2009:
Belgium is cutting its defense spending by ten percent over the next three years. That will leave it with an armed forces consisting of 34,000 troops and civilians. The main elements of this force will be two combat brigades, 54 F-16 fighters and a handful of warships. Belgium has peacekeepers deployed to Afghanistan, Kosovo, Congo and Lebanon. The troops complain of equipment shortages.
After the cuts, Belgium will be spending about one percent of GDP on defense. NATO recommends two percent. Most NATO members spend about 1.5 percent of GDP on defense. At the high end we have the U.S., which spends four percent. Several nations spend more than two percent. These include France (2.4 percent), Bulgaria (2.3), Greece (2.8), Turkey (2.7) and Britain (2.3). Greece and Turkey have high spending because they have not yet completely gotten over a war they fought with each other 90 years ago. French and British spending is high because these two nations have nuclear weapons and still maintain strategic intervention forces that can be deployed around the world. Bulgarian spending is still high for traditional reasons (it's in a rough neighborhood) and because the troops are often deployed on peacekeeping missions throughout the world. Bulgaria is also eliminating conscription, which will mean all the troops will require a raise, in order to remain competitive with the civilian job market.
Most NATO nations cut their defense spending (as a percentage of GDP), by 30-40 percent after the Cold War ended. These nations also reorganized their forces, putting more emphasis on providing jobs for their citizens, and less on maintaining military capability. As a result, combat capability of most NATO nations has fallen by more than half since the end of the Cold War. Now that peacekeeping has become popular, many NATO nations are struggling with the need to spend more on the troops, before sending them off on these humanitarian missions.