NATO must stop trying to do more with less

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said ahead of the NATO Defence Ministers meetings: We will take decisions to further increase the strength and the capability of the NATO Response Force. The second decision I expect ministers to make related to how we are increasing the readiness and the responsiveness of our forces, is that we will speed up our political and military decision-making And third, we will set up a new logistics headquarters within the NATO command structure. But Stoltenberg also said: Overall, we expect total NATO defence expenditure to continue to decrease in 2015 by 1.5 percent.


1. Would you say that he relatively big plans NATO are still colliding with the political will of spending more on defence?

2. In overall, how you see NATO’s measures Stoltenberg is talking about?


Garret Martin, Professorial Lecturer, School of International Service, Editor at Large at the European Institute, American University

1. The continuing decline in defence expenditure on the part of most NATO members is problematic, but it is not necessarily an obstacle to Stoltenberg’s plans. The key challenge for NATO members is how to better spend their dwindling resources, so to avoid duplication, as well as improve readiness and deployability.

2. The measures proposed by Secretary General Stoltenberg – increasing the capacity of the Rapid Reaction Force, speeding up the decision-making process and setting up logistics headquarters – are steps in the right direction insofar as making NATO more prepared for dealing with the hybrid and rapid attacks Russia engaged in through its annexation of Crimea. But they are not sufficient on their own. First, responding to Russia will still require political will and unity among the 28 members of the Alliance, no easy feat. Second, NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force, and its new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), will improve the Alliance’s ability to quickly react to crises, with a capacity for initial troops to be deployed within 48 hours. But even that might not be sufficient. The Baltics might not be able to resist that long if Russia were to initiate a limited military action.

Stanley SloanDirector, Atlantic Community Initiative

1. The Secretary General’s job is to inspire and lead. These objectives are perfectly consistent with the mandates approved at the Wales summit. Some of them (for example, taking steps to speed up political and military decision-making) can be achieved with little or no additional expenditures – always a NATO favorite. The recent commitments by the United States add credibility to the goal of creating the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), and most of the forces are being provided by European members. There is no question that the political will and financial prospects for increased defense spending are weak in many NATO countries, but in Poland and the Baltic states there certainly is the kind of support required for measures such as those advocated by Stoltenberg. His task is to try to spread that attitude to the alliance more generally.

2. These are sensible steps both to reassure those allies that feel most threatened by Russia’s current policies toward its neighbors and to send the message to Moscow (deterrence) that attempting to bully its neighbors will produce support from other NATO allies. It is important to keep such measures balanced, so as to not add unnecessary fuel to the NATO/Russia fire. But at this point it is most important to show allied unity facing Moscow, something that is not easy given attitudes and interests in some parts of the alliance.

John R. Deni*, Research Professor of National Security Studies, Strategic Studies Institute

I’m not convinced NATO’s ‘big plans’ are colliding with the political reality of still-low defense spending. First, let’s remember that many allies have been increasing and/or continue to increase defense spending — and NATO can thank Vladimir Putin for that phenomenon. Does more need to be done, particularly by the UK and Germany? Certainly, but the notion that all of America’s European allies are defense spending slackers isn’t true today and it wasn’t true at the height of the Great Recession — the picture is far more nuanced than critics would have us believe.

But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I’m not convinced the announcements of this week are entirely dependent on big defense budgets. I think the plans announced to date — that is, an increase in the size of the NRF, some degree of increased mission preparation authority for SACEUR, and the development of a logistics headquarters within the NATO Command Structure — are important, positive, perhaps even necessary, steps. And yet they are also relatively modest. For instance, increasing the size of the NRF simply means that more member state forces will be identified as available to the NRF — but remember that the NRF has rarely ever been used (certainly not in the wake of Russia’s invasion of the Donbas as a way of fortifying the Baltic states or Poland), and so it’s not clear to me that this will mean significant new demands on member state forces across the entire alliance.

Meanwhile, increasing the authority of SACEUR is something I have called for, yet until we see more details on specific modalities, it’s unclear if what NATO will agree to this week is significant or not — in any case, it doesn’t cost the allies’ treasuries anything to augment SACEUR’s authority. Finally, on the establishment of a logistics command within the NATO command structure, this is potentially the most significant development of this week’s ministerial. Moving materiel across multiple allied borders — or across continents and oceans — as well as sharing equipment and supplies is critically important to allied collective defense and crisis management mission sets. What remains to be seen though is how the alliance can stand up a new command structure element in a NATO HQ environment of zero-growth budgets and manpower cuts. To do this, NATO (and here I’m speaking specifically of the alliance organization, not its member states) must indeed stop trying to do more with less — it will need to better prioritize and rationalize its remaining, capped and/or shrinking resources.

* These views do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government.

Sean KayProfessor, Department of Politics and Government, Ohio Wesleyan University

It is important to remember that NATO is ultimately the combined collective will of it’s member states. To make decisions that are “NATO” – all of the allies must be in consensus. This is especially problematic in dealing with the Russian challenge, because of the divergence of immediate interests within the NATO alliance, and Moscow surely understands that this is an asymmetrical way to tie NATO up in knots in the consensus process. The NATO allies, in seeking to provide continued reassurance to the new members to the East are looking for some creative ways to streamline the process and the capabilities. In terms of the process, that would be highly difficult to achieve because few members would likely give up their informal “veto” power within the alliance for risk of being dragged into conflicts that they wish to avoid. At the same time, it is the cohesion of the west, and NATO and the EU especially, that is the greatest strength. This is why its self-defeating to push ideas like arming Ukraine for even the foreseeable future. The reaction force is a good model, especially if it puts European allies in the lead responsibility for their immediate security concerns, backed up by the United States. Nevertheless, it will not likely satisfy some of the new members who would prefer to see much larger forward deployed deterrence rather than a commitment to meet and consider what to do if one of them is attacked, which is effectively the current plan as there is no automatic guarantee in Article V of the NATO treaty, rather it is the presence of forces which have always made it credible. In this case, however, to go too far in that direction risks further escalation with Russia. Consequently, the allies are likely to continue to emphasize more symbolic rotational forces and accelerate the timeline for planning for the spearhead reaction force and any follow on capabilities in planning and exercising. This is appropriate at this time given that the balance of power overwhelmingly favors the West in any potential conflict, and the allies would clearly prefer some kind of long-term diplomatic and political settlement over Ukraine. In terms of the spending, the number one crisis in Europe remains the Eurozone and southern NATO allies have other interests greater than Eastern Ukraine as immediate priorities. Ultimately, there is no reason to expect the European members of NATO to spend more money so long as they believe the US will pick up the slack. So the challenge is really for Washington, D.C. – how to incentivize the allies to assume greater responsibility, not through more spending on defense and random percentages of spending for, it. Lecturing the allies in Europe to spend more never worked in the Cold War, so the idea that it would work now, when interests are far more divergent, is not realistic at all. It’s also not good policy given the real need is to get the combined capacity of the European allies to work more efficiently through pooling of resources, especially enabling forces for force projection. This will be especially important as the United States continues, appropriately, with its pivot to Asia.


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