Terrorism , defense budgets… What to expect from NATO meeting (with Trump)?

Read few comments.


1. Counterterrorism will be one of the main topics of the today’s NATO meeting, and it is also one of the favorite topics of President Donald Trump. But where do you see a space for NATO counterterrorism efforts and do we really need to put NATO flag on them?

2. We surely need more defense investments in Europe. But do we know into what to invest and are we ready to complement ourselves better regarding defense?


Paal Hilde, Associate Professor, Centre for Norwegian and European Security, Institute for Defence Studies/Norwegian Defence University College

1. Despite US president Trump’s claims about how he made NATO enhance its counter-terrorism efforts, the Alliance has long had such a role. The 9/11 terrorist attack saw Article 5 triggered for the first and only time, and NATO took a number of measures in autumn 2001, including operations Eagle Assist (airborne surveillance support to the US) and Active Endeavour (maritime surveillance in the Mediterranean which lasted until October 2016), to support the fight against international terrorism. Fighting terror was and still is a core motivation for NATO’s now decade-and-half engagement in Afghanistan.

For much of the time NATO has been engaged in countering terrorism, allies have disagreed about what and how big NATO’s role should be. The 28 allies have much in common, but also differ in their security concerns and needs, as well as political preferences. These differences and preferences limit the room for and scale of NATO engagement; as the case is with the current effort in countering DAESH/ISIL in the Middle East. While pushing for an increased NATO effort, the United States has never looked to NATO to lead the fight; only to function as a vehicle for mobilising support from allies. Pressure from the Trump administration, the efforts of Secretary General Stoltenberg, and tragic events like the terrorist attack in Manchester earlier this week, are likely to lead to an increased NATO counter-terror effort. The 25 May 2017 special meeting – mini-summit – in Brussels will likely announce new initiatives under the banner Projecting Stability. NATO groups its counter-terrorism effort in three categories: awareness, capabilities and engagement. Within these intelligence sharing (awareness) and defence capacity building (engagement) seem likely to remain the most important.

2. Defence spending in Europe is slowly growing. Several factors are likely behind this: An improved economic situation, the deterioration of the security situation in both the East and South, and increased US pressure for more equitable transatlantic burden sharing. The size of European defence budgets is only part of the problem, however. European countries could get more ‘bang for their defence bucks’ through cooperation and coordination. The question “are we investing in the right capabilities”, is always worthwhile asking. The answer is most likely quite different in for instance Portugal and Poland, or Norway and Turkey, and was different in 2007 than it is today. Yet, the combination of national and common – notably NATO – capability requirements may be seen to provide a reasonable answer to this question. Cooperation and coordination to the point where countries’ military capabilities complement each other rather than overlap, is much harder. Several initiatives have aimed to increase complementarity, including in later years Smart Defence and the Framework Nation Concept. One of the most difficult obstacles is that countries use defence spending to promote and defend national defence industries. Another is the desire most countries have to preserve sovereignty through owning rather than relying on other countries to provide military capabilities, even if this means the capability will be very limited. Overcoming these obstacles will be difficult, and increased defence spending might make it harder if countries use the increased spending to shore up the traditional approach to them.

Denitsa Raynova, Project Manager and Research Associate, European Leadership Network (ELN)

In spite of Trump’s pronouncements otherwise, NATO has been involved in counterterrorism efforts for nearly 15 years including the ISAF force in Afghanistan and the subsequent NATO-led mission Resolute Support. Currently, there is an array of further counterterrorism actions that are under consideration.

The Alliance has already announced the launch of a new centre in Naples dedicated to on intelligence gathering and defence capacity building in states such as Iraq and Libya as part of its counterterrorism efforts. Further reports have suggested that NATO is considering President Donald Trump’s demands that the Alliance should ‘do more’ and could appoint a senior official to oversee counterterrorism activities. However, we are yet to know to what extent this new position will affect the Alliance’s efforts in this area as members may need to expand the organization’s mandate.

Another set of proposals concerns stepping up efforts in training, capacity building, institution building, exercises to increasing home capabilities in partner countries or joining a coalition to fight the so called ‘Islamic State’. However, there is still no clear cut agreement on what these enhanced efforts will actually entail, nor is there evidence that the Alliance is ready to endorse any of them. Two main concerns dominate the debate:

One, expanding the Alliance’s mandate would be a political challenge with countries such as Germany and France still hesitant to express a concrete position. Another factor would be the funding, not least because to be effective, it would require an increase of NATO’s budget.

While these are difficult challenges, the leadership would have to assess them against the risk of a worsening the working relationship with Washington. NATO moves towards enhanced counterterrorism efforts is a signal to President Trump that Europe is ready to listen and working to address one of his key concerns.

2. Defence investment features prominently in the burden sharing debates. The issue of the 2% benchmark is a point of contention in the United States’ relationship with Europe, but is further exacerbated under a Trump administration.

As Sir Adam Thomson, ELN Director and former UK Permanent Representative to NATO has previously noted, American and the European policy makers focus on different metrics. Americans look at defence spending inputs. NATO input figures show that over 70% of total defence spending by NATO Allies is US, that only some 21% of it will be by EU Allies after Brexit, that only four other Allies (out of 27) spend more than 2% of their GDP on defence.

Europeans in comparison focus on defence outputs.

Currently, NATO is actively trying to reduce its reliance on the US for the pool of military forces and capabilities that NATO leaders have agreed the Alliance needs. This is where the European investments can make a difference.

For the 21 areas of defence capability where NATO sees ‘gaps’ in its ability to defend member states – including air-to-air refuelling and strategic lift capabilities– the US should be expected to provide at most half.  On this, Europeans are clearly lagging behind. Stepping up European efforts through the NATO Defence Planning Process, perhaps in collaboration with the much-discussed EU’s coordinated annual review on defence (CARD), should be a priority.

More importantly still, what is needed is a genuine European NATO defence and operational pillar as the basis for complementarity of Alliance-wide forces and capabilities. This translates into a major investment in enabling capabilities which Europe currently lacks.

Igor Merheim-Eyre, PhD Candidate in International Relations, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent

1. For NATO, terrorism was never a major area of practical cooperation and it is unlikely to become any more significant in terms of concrete steps in the future. In fact, in the transatlantic area, fighting terrorism has been largely an area which has been largely dealt with on a bilateral level and, following a series of terrorist attacks in Paris, there has been increasing activity on the European-level, notably after the creation of a new post of European Commissioner for a Security Union. There is also nothing to suggest yet that on-going attempts at cooperation between the EU and NATO will provide additional substance to this issue on a NATO level.

However, historically, terrorism does play an important political role within NATO; let us remember that the 9/11 attack was the first time NATO members invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. In the current context, given President Trump’s strong stance on fighting terrorism and his criticism of the alliance, political commitment by the member states to fighting terrorism might actually become a way to highlight NATO’s on-going relevance, although I would once again express caution about how far such declaration would move from paper to reality. The commitment to fighting terrorism through NATO may actually have a stronger political impact than leading to any concrete steps.

2. After years of declining or stagnating defence spending within European NATO countries, there is at last a consensus that spending needs to be increased given the range of treats facing the North Atlantic area. However, while the new US administration has been vocal about the need for swift and concrete results, European NATO members have been quick at pointing out the need for a more phased approach. Therefore, while overall European NATO spending has increased by circa 3.9% in the past year, European members have also been expressing their concern that the issue is not simply about spending more, but identifying the most relevant areas for spending.

For example, Slovakia’s 2016 White Paper on Defence made it clear that the 2% of GDP commitment on defence spending will not be met by 2020, but it highlighted a more phased approach of gradual increases targeting specific areas of nation defence and procurement, for example, new armoured vehicles or the replacement of the obsolete MiG-29 jets.

Such phased approach is also an important indicator of future divisions of labour within the alliance. It shows that different allies have primary interests in different parts of the Euro-Atlantic area. For example, Norway is once again increasingly focused on the Arctic and is developing necessary capabilities to work in this unhospitable area, while Greece views security threats across the Mediterranean and the Baltic states in Eastern Europe. All these different fields of operation require different equipment, from ice-breaker ships to cyber technology. Of course, it is natural that member state focus more on areas that are geographically closest, however, it also shows that, in the coming years, we are also likely to see increasing regionalisation within NATO, of member states forming clusters to address particular security challenges. On-going discussions about where each state should spend are already reflecting this trend.

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

1. I agree with you that there isn’t a great space for NATO to provide more value added to counter-terrorism efforts. Fundamentally, there are still major political and practical obstacles when it comes to turning the Alliance into a more effective counter-terrorism player. Member-states still disagree when it comes to analyzing terrorist threats and how to respond to them. The field of intelligence-sharing between the 28 is also far from optimal, hindered by concerns over source protection and leaks. Finally, it is not as if the US is willing to give NATO a leading role in the counter-terrorism field; instead, it is only calling for the Alliance to provide more value added.

With all that said, there are some limited areas where NATO can make further contributions. Building on recent decisions such as the establishment of the post of Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence and Security, or the recent creation of the “Hub of the South”, NATO could continue to focus on building the capabilities of partner states. That could mean expanding the military training program in Iraq and strengthening Libya’s security forces.

2. I completely agree that Europe needs to both spend more on defense and to use its resources in a smarter way. First, that means Europe has to focus on improving the European defense procurement process and limiting the costly duplications. Second, Europe should reduce some of its personnel investments and dedicate those resources to Research and Development. As Heidi Tworek wrote recently about Germany, targeted defense spending that focuses on technology can lead to broader innovations and economic benefits. Third, Europe can get more ‘bang for its buck’ if it increases pooling and sharing efforts, such as developing programs that seek joint research and equipment acquisition. In my view, there is more potential for such programs on a bilateral basis, as opposed to an EU wide level. Germany, for instance, has taken the lead with a number of agreements with other states, such as the joint submarine program with Norway or the drone program with France and Italy.

John R. Deni*, Research Professor of Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational (JIIM), Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College

1. It’s not clear to me that a NATO flag needs to be included among those members of the anti-IS coalition. After all, all NATO member states are already individually members of the coalition. Adding NATO’s flag will do little beyond perhaps satisfying President Trump’s desire to ‘get NATO into the fight’. From an operational perspective, it would make sense to include NATO in the coalition if NATO were to plan and conduct, but at present there’s no indication that any members of the alliance — including the United States — want the alliance to become involved in that way.

Beyond membership in the anti-IS coalition, NATO could facilitate the sharing of counter-terrorism-related intelligence — which remains a challenge in the alliance — and it could help member states to build resilience within state security organizations.

2. On your second question, as I recently argued here, I think there are plenty of needs identifiable right now within the Germany military. Within France, the needs are also fairly clear — more personnel, so that the French military isn’t stretched as thinly as it is with homeland defense. There are even greater needs within Italy and Spain, which have both seen their combat strength dwindle in recent years. Modernized C4ISR is necessary across the alliance, as is modernized infrastructure. In short, there are plenty of priorities — all that’s needed is resourcing, and of course political will.

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


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