Analysis, Data / Budget, Strategy

Counting Dollars or Measuring Value: Security Assistance as a Share of GDP

NATO: Counting Dollars or Measuring Value Series

While Washington calls for greater defense spending by NATO member states, some partners and allies, such as Germany, urge a broad lens for measuring security contributions. Assessments of peace and security investments that fall outside defense budgets, and are thus not counted in the NATO 2 percent goal, are one such area.[1]

To add some analytical rigor to an already intense political debate, the CSIS study team examined security assistance spending by NATO member states and its select subset of European partners. It defined security assistance spending as spending outside of defense budgets aimed at capacity building, conflict prevention, and stabilization initiatives abroad anticipated to directly contribute to security. The category includes expenditures for peacekeeping operations, training for partner militaries, development initiatives strengthening rule of law, crisis management, and related funds. (A comprehensive list is provided in the appendix of the report.) For the sake of scope, initiatives anticipated to have second-order contributions to security have been excluded. This includes democracy promotion.


The security assistance metric provides nuance to burden-sharing assessments. However, neither NATO nor the European Union have imposed a standard reporting template for such investments. The CSIS team created its estimates by assessing national-level (and EU Commission) data for expenditures fitting the security assistance criteria described in the prior paragraph. The resulting figures should only be used as estimates, as publicly available data varies by source and often lacks the granularity needed to accurately account for them.

Unsurprisingly, as a strong advocate of comprehensive security, Germany is one of the leading contributors to security assistance spending. It comes in second to the United States in absolute spending and first in terms of percentage of GDP, at approximately .057 percent on average between 2013-2018.  The seven largest national spenders by percentage of GDP stand out in comparison with the rest:  Germany, the United States, Norway, the Netherlands, Iceland, Finland, and Italy.  Comparison across countries should be taken with caution, as discrepancies in accounting may distort results. Moreover, a considerable amount of each EU member’s security expenditures is a portion of their EU contributions, but is often unspecified in state budgets and thus cannot be attributed to the country’s security spending. The EU Commission dedicates 0.749 percent of EU total revenue to security spending.

Overall, by these conservative estimates (likely lower than actual amounts), no ally or partner contribution to security assistance spending comes to more than 0.06 percent of GDP. The EU Commission has the greatest percent expenditure of those examined.

For more information on transatlantic security investment, see the authors’ full report Counting Dollars or Measuring Value: Assessing NATO and Partner Burden Sharing here or download the PDF version below.

Download Full Report Here


[1] Nicole Koenig and Jörg Haas, The EU as a 3-D Power: Should Europe Spend More on Diplomacy, Development and Defence?, Policy Paper 2016 (Berlin: Jacques Delors Institut, 2017),


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Kathleen Hicks, Jeffrey Rathke, Seamus P. Daniels, Michael Matlaga, Laura Daniels and Andrew Linder, "Counting Dollars or Measuring Value: Security Assistance as a Share of GDP," Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 3, 2018, last modified July 3, 2018,