This study focuses on the rationale and role of the Centers of Excellence concept in view of NATO transformation, by using institutional logics. It finds that a strong NATO loyalty and an inclination to include non-traditional actors dominates the concept, but the logic of defense sovereignty (specifically national interest) has shone through in terms of organizing the respective COEs. In regard to NATO transformation, the concept seems to primarily play an identifying and supporting role, rather than having an operative or executing role in the transformation. Furthermore, the concept does not seem to have evolved according to NATO transformational strategic intentions, but the COE concept is nevertheless of strategic relevance in the sense that all the potentials and criteria for transforming NATO are fulfilled. The findings also carefully indicate that the concept is strategically important for NATO transformation, but its actual effect on transformation should be evaluated in separate studies.
The findings have some practical implications. States should govern their COEs, but be aware of the challenges that follow in times of austerity. National interest (under defense sovereignty) dominates the notion of who should organize a center. How this plays out in times of austerity should be looked at, specifically how this might affect filling personnel warrants (PE) and live up to the obligations nations have agreed to in MOU or technical/functional agreements. The concept might also be exposed to conflict between national and NATO interests, the risks of which should be continuously mitigated.
The empirical findings reveal some possible opportunities that the informants perceive as natural to look into. These opportunities are: engaging more actively with NGOs, and exploit the relationship to the fullest through the COE concept; use the COE concept to advance closer cooperation between NATO and external partners like the EU and PfP countries; and assess how and where the COEs can be given concrete roles in (ongoing) threats and operations. This will exploit the experts' knowledge in realistic scenarios, and hopefully revitalize the COE concepts role in transformation and in NATO.
Sean Lobo currently works as an adviser for the Norwegian Atlantic Committee. He just graduated in political science (Uni. Oslo), and has four years of service in the Norwegian Armed Forces.