Smart defence: a call for further NATO integration

The establishment of the EU in 1993 marked a major step towards greater European integration. In the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis and the ongoing European Debt Crisis, EU nations have more than ever been constrained by dwindling fiscal budgets for military spending. As a means of greater fiscal consolidation, NATO nations must seek greater integration of their defence capabilities to avoid unnecessary duplication and cost overruns.

In a world where there is increasingly fragmented power, NATO is no longer facing the imminent threats it faced during the Cold War. The fall of the Soviet Union marked a transition from mass-scale warfare through the Fulda Pass to more localized conflicts. The interconnected nature of the global economy means that it is very unlikely that NATO will face a similar threat like it did with the Soviet Union. It is time for NATO to adapt to evolving threats it is currently facing and its tighter fiscal situation.
Instead of the replication of capabilities by individual nations, it is far more cost efficient for countries to specialize on their own areas of immediate need and skillsets. For instance, Bulgaria which is largely landlocked and has only naval access through the Black Sea contributed a frigate to the Libyan naval blockade in early 2011. It can be argued that given its geographic location and the small scale of its existent navy, that it would be far more cost efficient for Bulgaria to allocate its defence budget to more tangible ground forces. Bulgaria’s navy is a clear example of unnecessary defence expenditure in outdated equipment which would not standup to threats faced by more advanced adversaries. A more pertinent example of deadweight loss in defence spending is in Greece, whose Elli Class frigates do not have the capabilities possessed by the more advanced frigates of the English and French navies. It is unlikely that the naval capabilities of Greece or Bulgaria would be able to confront the threats faced by more advanced adversaries. The examples outlined above demonstrate that such capabilities are no more useful than to maintain a false sense of strategic security for a nation.

Specialisation of capabilities is very necessary given the tighter budget constraints faced by NATO members in the ongoing European Financial Crisis. In order for NATO members to move away from a diverse set of capabilities there must be agreements set in place for members to specialize and deploy their capabilities in a regional role. For instance, in order for Greece to scale back its outdated navy, a larger NATO member such as France may have to step in to guarantee regional protection for the Mediterranean. NATO members must familiarize themselves to the concept of a regional defence network as opposed to a defence limited by a member nation’s boundary. In giving up some capabilities, member states will become more tightly integrated given the need to coordinate different military assets in a regional defence scheme.

In order for a regional defence system to be coordinated, a follow on action must be a more uniform adoption of military equipment. In the past, the introduction of the NATO 5.56mm round marked a great step forward in unifying ammunition on the battlefield. More of such integration is necessary with other military capabilities such as fighter jets and ground forces. The joint development of the Eurofighter was another great development in further integration, but member states still possess different fighters in their existing fleets which make munitions sharing difficult for a truly regional defence network to be set up. Though there are economic arguments for defence manufacturers to come up with their own designs such as the French Rafale, more collaboration and joint ventures would forego this need to develop off the shelf designs as a revenue source. A broad mandate for the common adoption of newly developed fighters through defence contractor joint ventures would one allow better integration of munitions sharing and refueling capabilities. Secondly, the purchase of NATO produced equipment would keep more spending circulating amongst EU defence contractors. A notable example of defence outflows was with the Danish and Dutch purchase of F-16 fighters. Further integration will require clear mandates for NATO members to adopt common equipment such as the Eurofighter when they replace their existing aircraft fleet. Similar strategies can be implemented with ground vehicles.

In conclusion, greater NATO integration requires the establishment of a regional defence mindset. Member states must be willing to retire capabilities that are no longer competitive and specialize in areas of their strength. Secondly, there must be more joint NATO developed weapon systems and mandated adoption for member states as they begin to rollover their older military hardware. These measures will ensure a more effective NATO force in these lean times, whilst also promoting further integration and peace across the region.