Why do most NATO members fail to spend the agreed target of 2% of GDP on defense? Could the member states that do meet the target do anything about this?
They aren't legally obliged to: Nowhere in the NATO Treaty does it mention that they have to put 2% towards defense, it is simply the recommended sum.
- As a part of this several NATO countries have populations which believe that 2% isn't a requirement to have a functional military e.g. Canada
Other NATO countries like Germany claim that:
"Two per cent would mean military expenses of some € 70 billion. I don't know any German politician who would claim that is reachable nor desirable"
And point out that Germany has spent lots on refugees thanks to failed military interventions i.e. they are anti-war in the first place.
Nope they can't enforce sanctions on each other, because what's to stop some country from refusing straight up and leaving NATO? and nobody wants that.
- Because the voters of said countries prefer their taxes being employed elsewhere. In many countries here in Europe raising defense expenditure is one of the few things that governments would love to do, to make good friends with the USA as well as projecting a more powerful image, but they're really afraid of potential voters backlash. You can raise defense spending if you are raising also everything else (and not borrowing), so is, in an economic boom, and even then you're probably being frown upon. Raising the defense budget while making cuts elsewhere is election-suicidal.
- No. NATO treaty doesn't implement any kind of sanction if the spending targets are not met. In fact, the original treaty does not say anything about how much any member should spend in defense and its actual target of 2% of GDP was agreed much later. "Finally, I should add that Allies through the comprehensive political guidance have committed to endeavour, to meet the 2% target of GDP devoted to defence spending. Let me be clear, this is not a hard commitment that they will do it. But it is a commitment to work towards it." [2006-11-08]
Of course, said countries could try to press the rest in one way or another, but it's mainly a question of political will and negotiation. Merkel said to Trump Germany was going to try to increase its military spending. They are going to "try". If they fail, there's no clause on the NATO treaty Germany could be found at fault for that.
As per the 2014 Welsh NATO summit, members not yet committed to 2% of GDP for defence expenditure were to undertake
- to not let their defence spending drop below the present level, and
- to work towards attaining at least 2% of GDP by year 2024.
It seems unreasonable for the US to claim these members are not meeting their commitments.