Smart Defense addresses a European problem regarding common involvement in the defense sector. Little inclined to give up their sovereignty regarding defense, the European Member States should find a way to collaborate to compensate for the US partial withdrawal from European soil. The question is how to achieve such an objective while trust between some Member States is dubious, budget cuts are almost the norm and there is a hesitance to engage in targeted specialization of the military sector. While the weakness comes from the European side of the organization, the major recommendation here is to integrate the "European Method" in the working of the organization. NATO should shift from a top-down approach to a "bottom-up" approach: a less centralized NATO, letting its Member States cooperate under its umbrella but with more flexibility. The holistic approach is no longer sustainable in a post 9/11 world, which requires more specialization and a more complex approach from NATO.
To be more efficient, NATO's "European side" needs to reach some objectives such as trust building and cooperation regarding the defense industry, which seems relatively unattainable in a purely European environment and without North American support. The European defense system needs NATO involvement to exist and to maintain a certain level of efficiency. This is why NATO should integrate the "enhanced cooperation" mechanism used within the European Union, in particular, regarding defense matters. This mechanism "enables participating States to organize greater cooperation than that initially provided for by the Treaties under the policy concerned". Enhanced cooperation could be carried out under the auspices of NATO, through NATO institutions and procedures, leading to a step by step integration of military capacities. In the European framework, enhanced cooperation aims to speed up the building of Europe for the most ambitious Member States. This could be helpful in implementing the goals of the "Smart defense Initiative", knowing that the doors are open to any Member State wishing to join them at a later stage of the cooperation.
This type of approach, allowing some Member States to develop advanced cooperation on certain topics or regional issues under the auspices of the NATO would have several advantages:
First, if Member States perceived enough personal and direct interest in their investment, they would more likely agree to be involved in a multinational project. The current NATO approach offers them vast and costly projects, such as the NATO Ballistic Missile defense System, which has a low impact on defense capabilities and a low return on investment for most Member States. A more bottom-up approach, allowing Member States to work on a more regional or topic basis (border control, more cost effective common radar infrastructures) could be more motivating and satisfactory. The relevance of action would be easily perceived if countries were initiating more projects on common grounds and interests, even if it is a small number of the Member States. Furthermore, if groups of States were taking over the management of more regional issues and threats, NATO funds could be focused on international actions.
Second, the enhanced cooperation approach would enable a better linkage between Member States needs, threats perception and project development under the auspices of NATO. Indeed, individual Member States do not face the same threats and, therefore, do not need to invest their defense budgets on the same areas or specializations as others. Allowing countries to invest their funds in common concerns would be a better incentive to engage in NATO than forcing them to invest in projects of little state-specific relevance.
Third, a more bottom-up approach, only concerning a smaller number of countries, would facilitate trust-building between States themselves and between individual States and NATO. The States concerned by "enhanced cooperation" on a specific topic are more likely to develop trust while working together on common security challenges. Such cooperation, based on common threats or security challenges, could lead to strong trust-building and a more efficient knowledge sharing environment. We can cite here as an example, the advanced defense cooperation within the Benelux members, which enables common trainings, equipment interoperability and a development of a "common view" on defense.
Finally, a bottom-up approach would help to reduce concerns about sovereignty. Member States would show a stronger commitment while deciding to invest their funds, knowledge and sovereignty in a common project. Working with like-minded countries would enable Member States to progressively give up certain aspects of their sovereignty regarding specific issues which would be valuable for the whole organization. To forge ahead with more limited but more homogenous and motivated Member States groups would discourage division within the organization and bring new momentum to NATO dynamics.
In conclusion, "enhanced cooperation" could lead to more flexibility and more efficiency at different levels: research, training, infrastructure, materials and regional security. More involved groups of Member States could carry out a step by step NATO integration and help to realize the Smart defense objectives easily and smoothly. By allowing States to take care of their state interest, NATO could enhance its own integration capacity and save money for bigger projects or international missions, which clearly remain a priority.
Jérémy Thirion studied International Relations and International Law at the Catholic University of Louvain, focusing his work on the Post Soviet Era and the Legality of NATO Military Interventions in the region. As a young professional, Jérémy interned at the European Centre for International and Strategic Studies (Brussels) and with the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (The Hague).