For decades, NATO has desired more interoperability. However, only moderate success has occurred due to precariousness that impedes major reforms. With regard to the upcoming Chicago Summit, the "Smart Defense" initiative threatens to collapse due to political discord and a lack of confidence. How can the skeptics be persuaded? First and foremost, I argue that the negotiating basis has to be adjusted.
NATO-wide organizational equipment in Europe and the US is the key factor for a viable and sustainable specialization within NATO – an essential step for a successful implementation of "Smart Defense". NATO-wide organizational equipment in the broadest sense comprises "hardware" such as armaments, as well as "software" components such as organization and communication equipment. The main obstacle of the three elements of the "Smart Defense" initiative (prioritization, specialization and cooperation) is the specialization of specific capabilities by each NATO member state. As states would have to partially put their security in the hands of others, they fear to relinquish a part of their national sovereignty. These fears result in limited solidarity in terms of a security policy. However, both concepts, solidarity and sovereignty, are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they complement each other. What is more, a definite specialization mainly pivots on an adequate balance of sovereignty and solidarity. Global threats, the main security risks in the 21st century, cannot be challenged by single actors on their own. A stronger multilateral course of action is necessary to guarantee security – a precondition for sovereignty.
The contemporary reorganization of the European Union's defense industry can gradually adapt itself to new risks, as well as changes in the organization of military forces and the scope of its duties. However, in terms of specialization, the major challenge is adequate equipment for multinational forces and their tasks. These tasks include tackling threats like terrorism, piracy, state failure and proliferation among others. How can NATO attain this equilibrium? First, NATO member states must agree on a NATO-wide organizational equipment. They can then specialize out of a common equipment pool, customized for specific tasks as well as theaters. By doing so, a range of advantages emerge.
Planning and development can take place on a stronger multilateral and interagency basis, leading to new operational related synergy effects. Here, the European Defense Agency (EDA) can serve as a model. Incompatible equipment which includes hardware and software compatibility has always been a main obstacle for multinational operations. For example, a French carrier plane is unable to transport a polish tank, or a Swedish jet fighter cannot land on a U.S. aircraft carrier. Merging national capabilities into a strong NATO framework will result in considerable synergy effects.
The second aspect concerns training of military personnel. With equipment adjusted to a NATO-wide organizational standard, joint exercises of multinational forces will be fostered. National specialists can prepare multinational forces more easily, while individual states will cut costs and improve multinational cooperation – an underlying idea of NATO. Existing expertise can be made available for the whole alliance more easily. As every soldier is endowed with harmonized knowledge and abilities, the coordination of troops will improve in the long run.
The third point affects the coordination of defense spending. With NATO-wide organizational equipment, a lack of specific equipment will be easier to notice and purchasing the same equipment twice will be a thing of the past. Inefficiencies coming from redundant surpluses will be prevented because of structural reasons. Lastly, gaps within the NATO force structure or a lack of equipment can be anticipated and tackled at an early stage. Armament companies will profit from more international competition. New markets for both European and American corporations will create jobs, growth and earnings. Moreover, I expect an increase in quality and new, modern capabilities in key areas for NATO.
Such a reform increases transparency and confidence building measures. Obviously, confidence is the most important resource within an alliance such as NATO. It will finally establish enough incentives for NATO member states to confide in the specialization of tasks and equipment. With this reform, NATO member states can increase interoperability to a high degree and be forearmed for new tasks lying ahead. Only by standardizing equipment will an equilibrium of solidarity and sovereignty be achieved. This will lead to the success of the “Smart Defense” initiative as a whole. Let’s make a go of Chicago!
Igor Fayler is a student of political science and sociology (B.A.) at the Georg-August-University of Goettingen. Currently, he interns in the program for USA/Transatlantic Relations at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin.