Thursday, 2 February 2012

Smart Defence, Just Cuts or Genuine Reorganisation?

At his press conference after today's defence ministers' meeting broke up, Anders Fogh Rasmussen talked about the Smart Defence initiative he is pushing to make the most of diminishing resources available to NATO member states:
Today we also discussed Smart Defence. We agreed we have to make sure that every cent we spend delivers the maximum effect, with the maximum efficiency together. We have to decide what capabilities our Alliance needs. And we have to prioritise, specialise and cooperate, to make sure we can get them.
We have identified a number of areas where Smart Defence would make a real difference –  such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; logistics and maintenance; and training. Allies are discussing a number of projects which will deliver real improvements and make maximum use of the limited resources we have. By the time we meet in Chicago, I would expect us to have political agreement on a significant number of projects, as well as an approach for a longer term strategy, which sees Smart Defence at the hub of the way we do business.
Because economic hard times will come and go, but we always need security. And we need to stay serious about our security. 
This discussion comes notably against a background where the US has announced significant cuts in its presence in Europe. Allies are questiong exactly what it means that the US is planning to cut 2 out of 4 brigade combat teams remaining in Europe, as well as an air wing? Is the US cutting back its commitment to Article V and the defence of the Alliance? Some in the Baltic States and eastern Europe with the most pronounced fears about Russia might see it that way.  Or, at a time of budget cuts, is the US simply redeploying resources to places they are needed, recognising the reality that there is little to no chance of a land war being waged against NATO far into the future? (See the Chicago Times for a good discussion of the issue)There are concerns that less training time will mean less inter-operability, and that it will become more difficult to mount NATO operations in future.

European nations should look to put their own house in order before being too critical of the US. Maintaining many separate defence budgets and overlapping military capabilities, NATO's European allies spend a large fraction of the US defence budget and yet get little for it. Greater budgetary and defence policy integration across Europe, even with significantly reduced expenditure across the continent, could actually leave European allies with more troops, more planes, more ships available for the defence of Europe or for the projection of power for peacekeeping or other purposes. Such a move by the Europeans would likely mean more coordination inside the EU, and would necessitate deeper EU/NATO cooperation. Political realities make that difficult. (The Tribune also ran a piece on a speech that Cathy Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy made the other day)

So, now we wait for Chicago to see whether the Smart Defence initiative means anything, or whether NATO's drift in this area will continue.

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