Monday, April 15, 2013

What’s in “Smart Defence” for the United States?

 “Smart Defence” is usually understood as a purely European initiative, and hence the spelling. Even though it is the NATO, not the EU, pushing for this idea, the United States normally stays out of the debate and out of the tens of joint projects launched under the “Smart Defence” banner. Main benefit Washington expects from this project is more burden-sharing from its European allies and less responsibility for Europe’s security overall. But is that all the United States can take from “Smart Defence”?

Of course there are many issues with merging defense budgets and industries of multiple countries. Not all NATO allies have embraced it immediately. Anders Fogh Rasmussen and his “Smart Defence” emissaries Stephane Abrial and Alexander Vershbow still need to aggressively advocate for it at every possible level. There are many objective reasons why this at first glance simple “pooling and sharing” idea is taking decades to be realized. Of many aspects of “Smart Defence” deeper specialization is probably the most problematic. It is as complicated politically as it is attractive economically. Jakob Henius’ definition of specialization clearly underlines what causes main discomfort for allies:
 “Specialization means that NATO member states specialize permanently – in peace and war – in specific military capabilities, meaning that they will be the main, or in some cases the sole, providers of these in any future scenario. Consequently they will phase out other capabilities – some partly, others completely in order to afford specialization in the ones they have chosen and to avoid wasting resources on those provided by other countries.”                                            (Henius, McDonald 2012:30)
Hillary Clinton and Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the 2012
NATO Summit in Chicago
Experience of Libya operation as well as uneasy cooperation within the ISAF mission further strengthens the doubts of Realists. The choice is much easier for small countries as they don’t have much to choose from anyway. They can either decide to specialize hoping on partners’ support in other areas, or not have a given defense capability at all, as having full-scale defense system is far beyond their capacity and budgets. For bigger powers, however, decision to “phase out [certain] capabilities” and depend on others for maritime or aerial support is not an easy transformation.

Despite the difficulties, there are objective reasons why the idea of “Smart Defence” has not died and to the contrary, is taking momentum. Recent financial crisis is obviously one of the main, but not the only reason. 60 years of experience has taught Europeans how to built alliances starting from the least problematic areas. Pooling defense resources within the regional clusters and starting with the smaller scale projects seems one of the ways to go. Joint acquisition and operation of expensive logistical support, surveillance and intelligence capabilities proved to be pretty efficient. Some of the most notable joint projects are Strategic Airlift Capabilities (SAC), Airborn Warning and Control System (AWACS), Multinational Logistics Coordination Center (MLCC), and Allied Ground Surveillance (AGS). More importantly, such partnerships are becoming valuable for not only resource-poor Visegrad Four or Baltic and Nordic countries, but for countries with more advanced and well-funded defense sectors such as France and Britain. 2010 Franco-British Defense and Security Cooperation Treaty is a good example of how defense sectors of two countries can become closely integrated and interdependent.

Regional clusters seem to work due to cultural, historical, in some cases, language and training similarities between the armies, and certainly due to more trust among leaderships. Others, for example Steve Saideman of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, argue that it is not the geographic proximity, but similarity between the political systems (presidential vs. parliamentary systems) and ruling elites (one party vs. coalition governments) that determine how much military support can a country hope to get from its partner or neighbor if need be.

Austerity and increasing defense cuts is Americans’ problem as much as Europeans’ and smarter resource allocation is what Pentagon should be looking for at home too. Yes, shrinking US military presence in Europe will free up significant resources for Pivot to Asia and relative disengagement from European security may help to balance the defense budget, but is that all the U.S. can learn from the “Smart Defense”? United States and Canada have centuries of good neighborly relations, record of effective cooperation in various defense areas starting from aerospace defense (NORAD) to intelligence sharing and border control. Is not this a good ground for building deeper partnership following the example of the Franco-British cooperation? 

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