The Smart Defense initiative is going to inevitably confront the multiple difficulties characteristic of international cooperation. In addition to that, it will have to address the diminished sovereignty concerns of national leaders, generated by natural risk-averseness over security. Building the Smart Defense initiative on three pillars (flexible arrangements, gradualism in integration, and regionalism) will greatly increase the chances of success of this strategic endeavor.
International cooperation has always been an area plagued with difficulties. States are often tempted to free-ride on collective goods provided by some partners, they run the risk of misinterpreting each other due to insufficient information, or they may find it difficult to monitor and enforce agreements. However, cooperation in areas involving international or national security has been even more problematic. Countries tend to be very risk-averse when there is much to lose and stakes are extremely high. Security is exactly such a domain, forcing states to vigorously guard their sovereignty over national security issues.
That makes the endeavor of collective defense and security especially complex and challenging. The Smart Defense initiative launched by NATO leadership in 2011 represents an attempt to address the obstacles the Alliance is currently facing. As any new revolutionary initiative, this one will have to confront the entrenched institutional preferences of the nation-states, and alleviate their innate risk-aversion over security. For that purpose the operationalization of the initiative will need to be supported by three pillars. Flexible arrangements, gradualism in integration and regionalization are the proposed foundational elements of a viable Smart Defense initiative.
In order to address the concerns over the diminished sovereignty, the provisions for implementing the Smart Defense policy should be flexible and reflect a degree of ambiguity. That would not imply unclear policy provisions, but offer choices so that the states' options will not be bound by a rigid language. This should provide the national leaders with the ability to show their constituencies at home that national sovereignty was not restrained. It will also relieve them of any concerns they may have over their freedom of action, which otherwise might discourage from joining the initiative. A good example of a legal arrangement that exercises such properties is the human rights international legal framework.
However, employing such a framework raises concerns about the inevitable enforcement problem. The second pillar of gradual integration is meant to deal with this issue. While formally states will be offered freedom of maneuvering in crises response cases, they will have to gradually integrate their defense capabilities with their allies. The gradualism will make sure that this integration is built up in stages, thus offering time to consolidate new institutions, create new strategic culture, and cherish new policy thinking among national elites. It will create the avenues necessary in assisting the departure from the old thinking about national security. It will consolidate the perception of a collective security institution built on Smart Defense principle as an organic entity. Besides, the stage of gradualism must be action-oriented, creating a fait accompli. Starting the integration with individual units should not be perceived as undermining national sovereignty, or as being a financial heavy burden on the national budget. However, as the process continues, the scale of integration will increase. With time, the joint NATO units should become the most cost-effective response to security problems available to policymakers.
Finally, the regionalization is meant to enforce the two other pillars effect. Integrating forces and resources on regional level is an efficient approach both from the operational and political point of view. Operationally it makes sense for NATO littoral states to invest into naval capabilities, or terrestrial border-states investing into air-defense and border security. This does not mean that cross-regional integration should not be explored, but that the emphasis should be placed on regionalization of Smart Defense initiative. Security threats have also a local nature, which intensity tends to diminish with distance. It is logical to assume that member-states that are geographically close will have a higher convergence in their security perception.
While the Smart Defense initiative seems to be very difficult to implement, using the three pillar framework suggested in this paper makes a lot of sense. It explores the past successful institutional building experience, such as that of NATO and EU. States tend to rigorously guard their sovereignty and may resist giving up big pieces of it at once. Doing it in small steps and having the time to realize the benefits of this cooperation would increase the chances of success of the initiative. Provided the economic pressure on many national budgets, the gradual approach should make the necessary spending less painful and sensible.
Dumitru Minzarari is a PhD Candidate with the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, United States. He is a military office by training and completed his Master in International Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Columbia University in New York, where he focused on security studies.