On the very first week of February, Foreign Policy magazine commentator Robert Haddick asserted that the US shift to Asia meant that NATO had some kind of now-or-never chance to reshuffle its identity, while arguing that "the alliance still struggles to define a convincing organizing principle that will be relevant in the future."
Despite recent efforts by NATO leaders to redefine the alliance's goals and improve its efficiency in face of the post-Cold War security environment, the multifaceted terrorist threat, WMD proliferation issues and a veiled arms race in emerging Asia, the alliance might be lacking a truly defining element, under which transatlantic security could dramatically be improved.
Intelligence gathering and analysis is one of the less publicized but nonetheless more important elements that give modern nation states an ultimate sense of shared community of interests, values and ideals is intelligence. As much as NATO members are planning to progressively communalize decisions on defense procurement, maintenance and training, the equation will be incomplete if intelligence is kept on a national, competitive basis.
Although such a proposal can be branded as too innovative or even utopian, an incremental approach based on an automatic spillover effect should do the trick. The creation of a NATO Joint Intelligence Center, with modest resources to start with could build confidence among national intelligence agencies acting with diligence, making benefits visible to all partners and being especially proactive in the intelligence community.
Obviously enough, intelligence officials need the power to obtain information from different sources to be effective, and the initial willingness of national officials to share information with this new body would be very limited. However, an initial coordination role could be envisaged for the new JIC, initially focusing on what we could label ‘common good intelligence,' namely information not involving classified military material whose effective sharing could help mitigate non-military risks, and including counterterrorism and cybersecurity for the whole Atlantic Community.
Such an approach is already partially being put in practice by the EU's Joint Situation Centre (SitCen), whose stated goal is providing the Council with high quality information on matters of public security. Although it might be argued that SitCen's scope is rather limited, the EU's joint intelligence initiative faces a double problem. First, the very nature of the EU's intergovernmental CSDP and its overarching parent, the CFSP, limits its field of operation. Second, the stalemate in EU-NATO relations means that many Central and Eastern European countries, as well as Atlantist countries such as the UK and the Netherlands, instead push for further NATO integration and security cooperation. Obviously enough, a NATO-led intelligence-sharing community would be able to overcome such hurdles.
In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and amid an ongoing debt crisis, Western governments are increasingly urged to rationalize their defense expenditure and make the most of the precious resources available. This urgent need for efficiency is yet another reason for national governments to support intelligence pooling: resources would be shared, redundancies would be eliminated and effectiveness would be greatly improved.
This is an opportunity NATO cannot let go. The intelligence community is one of the least monolithic branches of contemporary security apparatus. Progress would eventually come along, first slowly but ideally accelerating towards a point of no return to the old status quo.
Barring any detrimental leaks or setbacks, linear and incremental achievements would generate a spillover effect, fueled by centrifugal forces inside national intelligence communities, which would progressively increase their trust levels in the supranational center and endow it with further tasks and responsibilities and, perhaps more importantly, resources and information.
In order to effectively face the asymmetric threats of a multipolar 21st century, NATO is shifting from a Cold War military and security alliance towards a more inclusive, proactive and flexible organization, with the overarching goal of providing security in a much wider sense to all citizens of the signatory countries. With intelligence sharing, NATO's "Smart Defense" initiative would be even smarter: indeed, using the smarts of the brightest intelligence minds available might well be the smartest move yet for NATO.
F. Pont Casellas is a freelance translator, writer and political analyst. Currently finishing a Master’s Degree in European Studies and a Postgraduate Degree in Political Analysis, he has lived in several countries across Western Europe, North America and East Asia.