Two dynamics dominate the debate on the value of Smart Defense.
First, financial considerations take the lion's share of the arguments: Because of the financial crisis, Allies are heavily cutting their defense budgets. They will increasingly be less able to maintain their defense capacities, and surely not capable of developing new ones alone. The second logic focuses more on the strategic aspect: Many countries across the globe are developing new capacities, which may lead us to awkward situations of strategic inferiority and could become a serious threat. Smart Defense has the potential to address those issues.
Some may object that some nations are concerned about diminishing their sovereignty and may want to dampen the overall Smart Defense initiative. That is why we have to propose a project that could satisfy NATO's expectations and members' hesitations.
This could pass through structured and institutionalized cooperation. Nations could buy and develop capabilities together by sharing costs and advantages. All the discussions would take place within NATO. The organization would identify priorities, countries in need and willing to share, and programs to develop. Smart Defense is an initiative and will have to rely on effective projects to be efficient. In order for the initiative to be sustainable and profitable, it would require the establishment of a new agency, the Smart Defense Agency (SDA). It would be in charge of mapping the needs in the Euro-Atlantic area, identifying the projects based on the initial and updated mapping as well as on a cost-benefit analysis, facilitating the contacts and negotiations between the Allies, and assessing progress. For each project, participation would be conditioned on each willing Ally to commit to a certain financial investment proportionate to their financial capacities. To use the fruits of this cooperation, a new procedure will be created: each of these countries will be able to use the capacities developed jointly without having to get approval from the North Atlantic Council (NAC). It would however require Allies to notify the others at the NAC of their purpose for using the capabilities. This measure is rooted in the idea that there is sufficient trust and confidence among the Allies, and that all of them will use NATO capabilities wisely. NATO will be the administrator of these new capabilities. All the other countries that did not partake in this particular project will have to pass through the silence procedure at the NAC to benefit from these new capabilities. The SDA will need strong cooperation with the Allies to be efficient. Nations will have to give this agency some information about their projects, capabilities and needs, in order to ensure coordination.
Why is this the best solution?
For Allies, it is a smart and efficient way of creating new capabilities needed to partake in the two types of conflicts envisaged by the Strategic Concept: collective defense and crisis management. Sovereignty will be safeguarded, because nations would participate only in projects that they deem necessary for their defense strategy. By not participating in any of the Smart Defense projects, it will be difficult for them to use new capabilities and they would be isolated and criticized for being mere security consumers. Participating is an incentive because the new decision-making procedure is facilitating their demands and allowing them to join in this collective effort. It is a simple way to share costs and benefits and to increase solidarity among the Allies.
Finally, this is a structuring project for NATO. By becoming the administrator of these new capabilities through the Smart Defense Agency, the organization creates the frame for a real strategic cooperation inside of it. A successful Smart Defense initiative would enhance NATO's relevance in the eyes of the Allies.
Needless to stress that this is a medium- to long-term vision. The entry cost would be significant: launching the initiative and the project, as well as establishing the SDA all has its costs. The general trend is certainly to reduce costs in the defense area - creating a NATO agency certainly goes against the current work of shutting down many NATO agencies. Yet if we are serious about pooling and sharing our capabilities for not only now but more importantly for the future, we have to see this as an investment.
Thomas Brisson is an intern in Brussels for the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri).