To meet today's changing security environment and limited budgetary constraints, NATO has launched its "Smart Defense" doctrine, which aims to address these challenges through more synchronized efforts between member states. Some may fear that these actions require the sacrifice of national sovereignty, but that does not have to be the case. In fact, history is rife with examples of successful multilateral defense efforts that required no loss of individual national sovereignty. Those deeply protective of sovereignty, like myself, need not be concerned about Smart Defense.
Unlike international unions that pool decision-making and therefore require the sacrifice of some sovereignty, NATO does not unify decision-making and thus treats the sovereignty of each member state as just that, sovereign. NATO decisions are made by consensus. No voting takes place, and because NATO members are aligned by a Western orientation and communication between member states is routine and constant, consensus building in NATO is easier than in international unions such as the United Nations. So long as NATO avoids pooled decision-making and thus a transformation into an international union, NATO can operate successfully without challenging the sovereignty of its member states.
NATO officially began as a collective security alliance in 1949. However, one could argue that its roots were established in the Peace of Nicias in 421 BC when representatives of the seventeen participants of the Peloponnesian War agreed to uphold the peace by acting against renewed violence. Thankfully, NATO has already proven more effective than Nicias. Since Nicias, we can look to numerous military pacts that required no loss of sovereignty.
Nineteen countries joined the United Nations Command during the Korean war, cooperating while contributing their own forces and equipment to the effort with no loss of sovereignty. The Allied alliance in World War II was characterized by especially close coordination between partners who retained full sovereignty during and after the war. Despite their military failure, the United Kingdom, France, and Israel's assault on the Suez Canal in 1956 was a closely coordinated team effort that required no pooled decision-making or actions infringing on sovereignty.
More recently, the 31 nation coalition that removed Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 performed exceptionally well while individual sovereignty remained fully intact. And if proof was needed that NATO's consensus building protected sovereignty, NATO's decision to refrain from participating as a group in the Iraq war in 2003, and France and Belgium's veto of measures to protect Turkey during NATO's Afghanistan mission, demonstrate that the alliance operates without forcing members to act against their will. The fact that France decided to rejoin the Alliance after having left due to concerns over sovereignty speaks to the fact that it does not compromise sovereignty.
Drawing from these examples, NATO can ascertain some common features that contributed to the success of the alliances to inform its Smart Defense doctrine and ease concerns over the loss of sovereignty. Two important common features included (1) the sharing of best practices and (2) expert exchanges. To this we can add a new challenge for NATO: better integration of these features into the Alliance's central structure.
Some might dismiss these as inadequate because they are not new or exciting, and because they are already part of NATO's operating procedures. But because NATO has not crept towards pooled decision-making, the wheel need not be reinvented. In this era of global interconnectedness, the fact that all three tactics have existed and succeeded, and can be improved and expanded, makes them strong strategies, not weak ones.
NATO's Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre issued a report on July 15th, 2011, that provided three sound recommendations on how to improve counter-piracy efforts. These included: (1) acceleration of member implementations of a standard system application, (2) the establishment of a joint center to "fuse situational awareness data," and (3) acceleration of the process of sharing classified information.
The essence of these three recommendations can be applied across NATO on two broader recommendations: (1) develop standard operating procedures for member countries' militaries, facilitating a speedier and closer alignment of capabilities in times of war, and (2) establish procedures to better facilitate the sharing and synthesizing of data. Implementation of these recommendations would make NATO's operations much smarter with only minor costs, two key pillars of Smart Defense.
These two recommendations are based on a history of successful use in other military alliances. Their financial costs are not insurmountable, their payoffs in financial and operational terms a steal at twice the price, and their challenge to sovereignty trivial at most. Just as member countries are not forced into taking action against their will, they will not be forced to divulge information against their will. They will participate at exactly the level they feel comfortable, a necessary and sufficient condition for the prosperity of NATO and its Smart Defense doctrine.
Aaron Menenberg is a master's candidate in international relations at The Maxwell School of Syracuse University. Previously, he has worked for The Hudson Institute, the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and IBM Corporation.