Escaping European Shortsightedness and U.S. Impatience
BERLIN — NATO members meeting in Chicago faced a crowded agenda, but one item — while not formally featured — cast an important and ever-present shadow over the summit. More than one year after then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates publicly berated NATO’s European members for their diminishing defense capabilities and commitments, observers in the United States and beyond are right to be wondering whether Europe got the message.
After a decade of underinvestment in European defense — with spending falling by more than €24 billion in the last three years alone — are Europe’s NATO member states ready to see past the capability gaps so obviously exposed by their intervention in Libya? While Washington understands that its European allies are probably unable to spend more on defense, the question may be whether they are prepared to spend smarter, even if this means addressing sensitive issues such as national sovereignty.
The 20 or so collaborative defense projects announced at Chicago under the Smart Defense initiative of NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen are just a start. As stand-alone announcements, they fall well short of the mark. With the notable exception of ballistic missile defense, these projects are really only consequential if they mark a shift in the mindset of European defense establishments and industries, bringing genuine political sponsorship to the pooling and sharing of resources. Likewise, during discussions in Chicago on Afghanistan after 2014, concerns will remain about the contribution and role of European NATO states.
The United States has made its expectations clear. The Afghan National Security Forces will require $4.1 billion in financial support per year, of which $1.3 billion must be met by non-U.S. NATO members and their partners. But the math didn’t add up in Chicago. Hopefully, the signals will be more positive for the donors’ conference in Tokyo this July. NATO’s declarations at Chicago on subjects ranging from Afghanistan to the Middle East matter because they are made by a powerful and successful security alliance. Beyond Chicago, NATO’s European members will need to demonstrate to the United States that they understand the role they are required to play in the future projection of NATO power.
Meanwhile, the United States will need to do a better job at appreciating the contributions its European allies are already offering, not just on the provision of hard security capabilities but on issues such as crisis management and the support of security sector reform. It is sometimes said that NATO is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. But the truth is that there is no shortage of work out there for the alliance. Instead, the real challenge for NATO is to avoid becoming a victim of European shortsightedness and U.S. impatience.
Sarah Raine, Non-resident Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. Image by NATO.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.