BY ELIZABETH BUNN
The EuroZone crisis heightens NATO’s urge to take immediate effective measures to prevent members’ economic problems from turning into a general, more dangerous security crisis.
NATO relies on contributions from member countries to fund its initiatives. As European countries undergo severe austerity cuts, including massive cuts to defense budgets, their capacity to fulfill those financial obligations diminishes.
“Negative growth, or slow growth, cuts into the ability to sustain the type of funding that is necessary for NATO to operate,” said Ambassador J.D. Bindenagel, a veteran of the U.S. diplomatic corps and 2002 recipient of the Presidential Meritorious Service Award.
The question NATO must address – now more than ever – is how to prevent diminishing finances from weakening the alliance and thwarting its ability to execute its goals.
Enter Smart Defense, the conceptual umbrella under which NATO encourages members to take an aggregate approach to defense spending. This means communication between members and a commitment to share resources. It means transitioning from an inward-looking to a multinational stance. In a perfect world, Smart Defense would enable NATO members to maintain strong defense capabilities in spite of widespread austerity.
In Chicago, NATO plans to streamline its Smart Defense strategy by:
- Identifying shared military projects that will focus solely on addressing critical capability shortfalls
- Creating long-term shared projects including missile defense, Alliance Ground Surveillance and air policing
- Outlining concrete projects for 2020 that will cover such areas as Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance and air-to-air refueling
A commitment to Smart Defense is complicated for a number of reasons, however, especially as countries struggle to reduce their deficits.
Unilateral spending cuts in Europe, for instance. European countries are so focused on reducing their own budgets, they aren’t monitoring what their neighbors are cutting. Former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, in an April presentation in Chicago, suggested, “We don’t want to end up without any tanks.” On the reverse side, NATO also wants to avoid needless duplication.
Shared doesn’t always mean equal. – that’s another issue. Different countries have different views on the instruments – such as gross national income and or GDP – that should determine equitable burden sharing. Larger nations typically aren’t as keen on sharing resources.
Smart Defense also means taking a smarter approach to existing collaborations. Consider the NATO Response Force: Countries participate on a rotational basis, and if the alliance votes to deploy the force during a particular country’s tenure, that country must cover the costs. De Hoop Scheffer called it a “reverse lottery,” and suggested NATO explore a fairer alternative.
Many analysts say Smart Defense is a good policy. “We have to take our security dollars and go further,” said Sally Painter, Chief Operating Officer at Blue Star Strategies, a Washington-based international consultancy, and member of the U.S. Committee on NATO.
“As part of the alliance, there’s always been recognition that each country has a unique capability,” Painter said, echoing the NATO / Smart Defense emphasis on the importance of allowing members to concentrate in niche capabilities.
But, Painter cautioned, Smart Defense is a tactic, not a vision. Painter said the economic crisis has generated a crisis of leadership and confidence in Europe. One side effect, Painter said, is a sense of enlargement fatigue among members that shuts the door to potential members like Macedonia.
“It makes sense economically to let more countries in as long as they fit the requirements,” Painter suggested. “If there’s a crisis in one of the non-NATO European countries, NATO will have to deal with it anyway.”