Transforming NATO Forces: European Perspectives
By: C. Richard Nelson, Jason S. Purcell
The evident and growing transatlantic military capabilities gap has given birth to a litany of U.S. recommendations as to how NATO’s European members might spend, procure and think differently in order to be better able to confront the challenges facing the Alliance. Many of these recommendations are sensible: the European Allies should spend their defense budgets as wisely as possible, while developing transformed rapid reaction units that can be deployed quickly to wherever needed and that will be able to operate effectively with their U.S. counterparts.
European governments certainly recognize the existence of the gap and they agree that measures must be taken in order to reduce it. However, these governments face a variety of concerns and constraints, which are both incompletely understood by many U.S. commentators and substantially varied among the different countries that comprise “NATO Europe”. If the two sides of the Atlantic are to cooperate effectively in upgrading Alliance capabilities, U.S. officials and experts must fully understand European positions and be willing to support initiatives designed by Europeans, for Europeans. The United States should also take steps to change those of its policies that reduce the ability of European governments, planners and industry leaders to pursue transformation fully.
Understanding the prospects for transforming NATO forces with new capabilities requires informed judgments about how European members will respond to the challenge. The following papers represent an important contribution to furthering this understanding. Together with the discussion they stimulated, the papers pointed toward a general consensus on both sides of the Atlantic about the need for new capabilities. Most experts agree that the ability of NATO forces to work well together has eroded substantially since the end of the Cold War. Interoperability at every level – tactical, operational and strategic – is threatened.
Many factors contribute to this interoperability problem. Most often, the problem is described in terms of a growing gap in capabilities between the United States and other NATO members, which, in turn, is attributed to different levels of defense spending. As priorities shifted away from military security (and as the threats to that security seemed less and less evident following the end of the Cold War), both the United States and European members reduced defense spending substantially. However, the problem goes even deeper because the product of European defense spending amounts to much less than the sum of its parts in terms of national defense budgets and total deployable forces. Spending defense funds more wisely would be helpful in raising the effectiveness of European contributions to NATO. This could involve combining defense training and procurement infrastructure, pooling resources, moving from conscription-based to all-volunteer force structures and developing niche capabilities. Of course, in moving in this direction, care must be taken so that the Alliance does not overly depend on one member with critical capabilities. viii TRANSFORMING NATO FORCES: EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES
Reasonable duplication of niche capabilities might therefore be necessary in order to avoid the risk of having a single point of failure.
The United States has also contributed to the problem of declining interoperability. For example, strong barriers have been erected by the U.S. government to protect military and dual-use technology. This discourages close transatlantic industrial cooperation. Furthermore, weapons, equipment and materiel are procured almost entirely from U.S. firms, reducing the potential benefits of broader competition. More importantly, the U.S. acquisition process has largely ignored requirements for NATO interoperability. This, in part, is due to the inefficient bureaucratic process of setting NATO standards, which often results in tailoring those standards to the technological pace of the slowest members. Nevertheless, common standards are needed to enable European forces to “plug in” and take advantage of rapidly changing technology.