Chicago moves ‘Smart Defence’ forward

US President Barack Obama throws a football during the NATO Chicago summit. White House photo Pete Souza

By Alexander Nicoll, IISS Director of Editorial

As defence budgets are being reduced, the NATO Alliance faces the prospect of a significant weakening of its collective capacity to ensure security for its members. But closer coordination on what to keep and what to cut could significantly mitigate the effect of spending cuts by individual allies. Decisions taken at the just-completed NATO summit in Chicago represented an encouraging step towards improved cooperation.

Leaders pushed forward the Smart Defence initiative of Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in several ways. They approved a ‘Defence Package’ designed to advance the three strands of Rasmussen’s plan: prioritisation, cooperation and specialisation. The last of these is especially sensitive because it could involve countries deliberately dispensing with particular capabilities and relying on others to provide them on operations – thus raising issues of sovereignty.

The package, which has not been published, includes 20 projects, covering for example pooling of maritime patrol aircraft and improving availability of precision weapons for fighter aircraft. Each will be taken forward by a volunteering lead nation. The number is smaller than in lists previously circulating, and they are not being called ‘flagship’ projects, partly because some of them are really quite small and essentially symbolic, intended to build mutual confidence.

NATO’s top officials will try to give Smart Defence real momentum by building a stronger list of projects before the next ministerial meeting in October.

Meanwhile, leaders asked NATO officials to find a better definition of the Alliance’s core capabilities. This reflects a constant debate among members on whether ‘collective defence’ under Article V is the main driver or whether, as the US and others would argue, the priority is to have deployable, usable forces ready for international operations.

Perhaps the biggest question related to deployable forces is whether they are really available for use. This issue arose in last year’s Libya operation when NATO’s own AWACS surveillance planes, supposedly a shared capability, flew without German personnel because of Berlin’s refusal to take part in the mission. In Chicago, leaders agreed to examine better ways to deal with the ‘presumption of availability’; and top defence officials from each country are due to meet soon on the issue. They also agreed to look at making common funding of NATO capabilities more efficient, and to make Allied forces operate better alongside those of non-member countries taking part in NATO missions. Leaders stressed that Smart Defence and the European Union’s ‘pooling and sharing’ initiative must be ‘complementary and mutually reinforcing’.

NATO officials said they were pleased with the commitment to Smart Defence shown at the summit, but political leadership will be essential if closer cooperation is really to be achieved. A weak point was the failure so far to involve the defence industry more closely in the project. This is to be addressed in the coming months.


3 Comments on “Chicago moves ‘Smart Defence’ forward”

  1. [...] on YouTube Chicago moves ‘Smart Defence’ forward [...]

  2. [...] International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) signaleert dat er weliswaar steun was voor Rasmussen’s ‘Smart Defence’ programma, maar dat [...]

  3. [...] of the tenor of Gates comments and NATO’s “Smart Defence Initiative” there is little chance of Europe really addressing the capability gaps that remained [...]

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