Lawmakers on Thursday pressed the NATO commander for Europe over concerns that some allies are not paying the mandatory dues required to build a defense against Russian aggression.
The Trump administration has long criticized some NATO members for failing to invest enough money into defense and relying on the United States to shoulder the majority of the burden.
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday continued to share that concern at a hearing with Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of United States European Command.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, pointed out that a March 7 Rand Corp. report stated Russia spent 5.3 percent of its gross domestic product, or GDP, on its military, compared to a requirement that NATO members contribute 2 percent of GDP.
"It is important, as we look at what we are expecting from our NATO partners, to recognize this," Inhofe said.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, said some people believe the 2 percent investment will go to unnecessary, non-military projects.
"It's not like it is going into some NATO account and being spent on the new building," said Tillis, who asked Scaparrotti to explain why the investment is important. "Can you talk about the inherent capabilities of the readiness and the benefits to the nations themselves by virtue of upping their investment as a NATO partner?"
Scaparrotti said that threats facing NATO have changed dramatically over the last five years.
"Russia is carrying out a campaign of destabilization to change the international order, fracture NATO and undermine U.S. leadership around the world," he said in his opening statement at the hearing.
"As seen on land and in the air, and frankly, in every domain, Russia's increasingly modernized military is operating at levels not seen since the Cold War," he said.
Scaparrotti cited changes such as new cyber warfare capabilities and precision weapons, threats that require support for building a relevant defense.
"[NATO members] have to invest in this," he said. "They have to have a force that is relevant. It's for their own population security, but it is also for us as an alliance and the good of the NATO alliance."
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, asked if there are acceptable alternatives to investing in defense.
"One of the things our European allies in NATO have suggested is, rather than looking at sort of an arbitrary 2 percent of GDP contribution to NATO, that we ought to be looking at capabilities instead," she said. "How good of an argument do you think that is, as we think about what may be a better way to determine if our allies are making the contribution that we really want to see to NATO?"
Scaparrotti said that NATO really needs three requirements from its members -- cash, contributions and capabilities.
"It's not one or the other, or more of one and less of the other two; 2 percent is a reasonable percentage of GDP given the threat we are under today, in my opinion," he said.
However, Scaparrotti added, "There are some of the countries that are not at 2 percent today, [but] their contributions to NATO missions and other international missions is quite robust and should be taken into account."
Sheehan followed up by asking how worried Congress should be about reports suggesting that some of the bigger NATO allies are not as prepared as they should be.
"I think we should continue to press them to meet the standard," Scaparrotti said. "NATO has very well laid-out standards and the expectations of the forces nations provide, and we should continue to press them to be a part of this defense. The alliance is strong as long as every member is strong and does their part."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.