NATO Members Plan for Smaller Defense Budgets

With defense budgets continuing to shrink, NATO will only be able to achieve its future security goals if it strictly prioritizes its resources, a top U.S. defense official said at a Feb. 28 NATO meeting in Washington, D.C.

“At a time when members are shedding force structure, the alliance must guard against the assumption that the United States will always be able to provide the required enabling capabilities,” James Miller, acting U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, said. “Such over-reliance on one member — on any one member — is not healthy for a multinational alliance.”

NATO leaders will have to identify the alliance’s most critical shortfalls and focus on those if it is going to implement the strategic roadmap agreed to at the 2010 NATO Summit in Lisbon, Miller said.

That agreement, referred to as the new Strategic Concept, envisions a NATO with “the full range of capabilities” necessary to deter and defend against any threat to the security and safety of member countries’ populations.

At the next NATO Summit, being held in Chicago in May, “we need to take a step back and ask ourselves a simple question: how will we be able to implement the Strategic Concept given this era of austerity and the cuts our nations are making to our defense budgets?” Miller said.

At the Chicago summit, NATO members will focus on a new plan dubbed Smart Defense, an initiative to focus on projects and capabilities that maximize NATO’s increasingly limited resources.

“In Chicago, I expect us to put Smart Defense firmly into practice through a package of multinational projects addressing key capability areas,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at the Feb. 28 meeting. For example, shortfalls identified during NATO combat operations in Libya included joint ISR and air-to-air refueling, Rasmussen said.

The buzz words behind the Smart Defense plan are prioritization, cooperation and specialization.

“Smart Defense is not a one-off summit slogan, and it is most definitely not an excuse for further cuts,” Rasmussen said.

The Smart Defense plan includes an initial package of more than 20 agreed-upon multinational projects, deemed “tier-one projects,” which would address critical capability shortfalls.

This list of tier-one projects needs to be expanded and ranked in order of priority, Miller said.

Between now and the Chicago summit, NATO should also come up with a list of “flagship, high-visibility, multinational programs,” Miller said.

These could include a NATO ISR hub and ballistic missile defense radar-data sharing, he said.

According to Rasmussen, longer-term multinational projects already in the pipeline are missile defense, alliance ground surveillance and air-policing.

These multinational projects need to be complemented by other efforts to increase cooperation, including improving the way countries use their equipment together, Rasmussen said.

“This does not mean buying the same equipment, but it means greater trans-Atlantic defense cooperation, common industrial standards, and more widespread use of adapters that allow nations to connect up their different makes and generations of equipment,” Rasmussen said.

In his remarks, Miller acknowledged that some European observers are worried that the Pentagon’s new strategic guidance, introduced by President Barack Obama in January, may emphasize the Asia Pacific region at the expense of the NATO alliance. Miller echoed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s rebuttal of that view, saying the United States’ military footprint in Europe will remain larger than in any other region in the world.

By KATE BRANNEN Defense News

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