Thursday, 10 March 2011

NATO Defence Expenditure and 'Soft' Power

It's been a busy time and so posts on NATO Monitor have been a bit thin on the ground, but there'll be a few over the next few days. The Secretary General made an interesting speech at the Munich Security Conference back at the beginning of February, and a couple of its themes are worth picking up. Secretary General Rasmussen said:
First, I wish to emphasise how the crisis confronts Europe with some stark choices if it is to remain a credible security actor, and preserve the ability of the transatlantic community to act as one.  And second, I want to highlight the importance of what I call Smart Defence – how NATO can help nations to build greater security with fewer resources but more coordination and coherence, so that together we can avoid the financial crisis from becoming a security crisis.
This is a message that NATO Secretary Generals have been trying to put across for a long time, but Mr Rasmussen put it more starkly than usual:
Europe simply cannot afford to get out of the security business.  It has to re-vitalise its role as the United States’ prime security partner and adjust to the new global security environment.
The equation of military spending with security is both old-fashioned and in contradiction with European history since World War Two, as is the downplaying of soft power in the SecGen's speech. The development of the EU since the days of the coal and steel community has been a demonstration that political cooperation and economic integration do far more for peace and security than building up a vast military. France and Germany (or parts thereof) had been fighting since the break-up of Charlemagne's empire over a thousand years ago. Does anyone seriously imagine that a continued policy of a military stand-off between the two would have achieved better results in preventing war than the path they chose? Similarly, if European nations want to turn the Mediterranean into a base for a floating Maginot Line, would that help protect us from the economic pressures that drive migration from Africa and destabilise that continent? Of course not. Military force has a place, as a last resort, as NATO is debating today over the Libya 'no-fly zone'.

On Secretary General Rasmussen's second major point, that Europe spends unwisely on defence while it continues to spend in a fractured manner NATO Monitor are in agreement. When he says:
Of course, not all nations can afford or need all capabilities. After all, NATO's foundation is collective defence – an attack on one Ally is considered an attack against all. In times of need, we help each other. The reassurance of solidarity should encourage some nations to focus on certain capabilities – either alone or working together with a few other Allies.  And NATO can help identify those options.
What we also need is overall coherence. Again, NATO can provide the bigger picture of what Allies need and want. This is the time to make better use of NATO as an adviser and an honest broker -- to ensure a degree of coherence in any cuts which nations may consider, and to minimise their impact on the overall effectiveness of the Alliance.
So, ladies and gentlemen, this is how we get greater security for the money we invest in defence: pool and share capabilities, prioritise and coordinate better.
 the Secretary general is absolutely correct. On NATO figures, NATO Europe last year spent some US$275 billion on defence. That's around a third of US defence expenditure, and the result is certainly not one-third of US capability. Europe needs to coordinate more, both on spending and in joint military capabilities and units. This should be a common activity of NATO and the EU. Everyone would benefit.

But this should not be done at the expense of the kind of economics-based soft power at which the EU has historically excelled, and which, in the long run, creates much greater security for everyone than all the world's militaries combined.

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