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Trans-Atlantic Security: four imperatives for NATO

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Following up on Egmont’s joint event with the German Marshall Fund the day before the NATO Special Meeting in Brussels of 25 May, Chris Lombardi outlines his recipes for the future of the Alliance.

(Photo credit: Chris Lombardi)


Trans-Atlantic Security: Four Imperatives for NATO

In seeking the U.S. Senate’s ratification of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, President Harry S. Truman said, “Events in this century have taught us that we cannot achieve peace independently.” His words ring even truer today: in a world of growing tension and uncertainty, no country acting alone has the means to guarantee peace and prosperity. But, collectively, there are four imperative actions NATO members must take to ensure the organization’s well-being.

  1. Every member must share the burden

Recently in Europe, threats to security and stability have escalated to levels we have not seen in a generation. New and destabilizing challenges are a reminder on both sides of the Atlantic that security is something we must still actively strive for. As threats evolve, so must our ability to work together to find sustainable solutions.

In this context of international turbulence, NATO remains a cornerstone of the trans-Atlantic relationship in both security and values. Allied nations are showing a willingness to boost defense spending, opening up new opportunities to collaborate on regional security.

  1. Use resources efficiently by playing smarter defense

Strategic and efficient use of resources is fundamental to address emerging threats. To be truly effective in the face of 21st century challenges, this must be done pragmatically. It should be applied to the amount of resources, how they are spent and what they are spent on.

It is equally essential that policy-makers have a solid strategic vision in place to facilitate “smart defense.” To this end, industry members can be valuable partners, bringing extensive international experience and technical expertise to the table, from the beginning of the planning process to the implementation and execution of long-term strategies.

If governments encourage inclusive dialogue with partners and experts from industry in a structured way, they will see higher returns on defense spending and more efficient capabilities across the board. In addition, this process will build an even stronger European strategic culture and foster economic, industrial, political, and social ties.

Members of the defense industry must be more than just vendors: they should be partners who help assess and address vulnerabilities, create and advance new technologies and use their experience to help challenge assumptions or approaches.

For example, the industry was already producing studies and demonstrations for NATO and allied nations well before the Lisbon Summit in 2010. That practice was a significant factor in building the institutional confidence and support that NATO needed to add territorial defense as one of its core tasks.

There is also great potential at the European Union level. Organizations like the European Defence Agency are taking on an important role as coordinators and facilitators of dialogue, as the nucleus of a smart defense platform that brings together NATO, EU member states, civil society and industry.

  1. Build interoperability into every capability

By working together, allied countries will not only identify capability gaps and potential shortfalls, but actively address security challenges in a collaborative manner. This reduces duplication, while improving interoperability, which opens up greater strategic flexibility. The end result is more efficient and effective national military capabilities across the board.

Interoperable systems help distribute future investment and maintenance costs, enable joint training exercises and procurement strategies, reduce crisis response times, and foster a more cohesive strategic culture. Capabilities that are designed to be interoperable, like radar platforms or missile defense systems, form a solid base for genuine burden sharing. They also create a mix of shared and supplementary forces that magnify the contribution and security of any individual nation.

  1. Create sustainable long-term planning mechanisms that ensure better coordination

Finally, to remain relevant, NATO must commit to sustained and proactive coordination. This way allies can ensure that the range of available capabilities is comprehensive enough to meet their needs and respond effectively. Diligent long-term planning will provide vision, direction, and structure to consolidating European industries and Ministries of Defense, and help ensure that European defense contributes to meaningful protection, credible deterrence, and a strong commitment to collective security.

Winston Churchill once said, “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.” While political leaders may occasionally question the relevance of NATO for the sake of political expedience, escalating threats to global stability underscore the organization’s long-term importance. Indeed, a partnership as strong as NATO should thrive for many years to come, provided its member nations continue to take proper steps to ensure its sustainability and effectiveness.

Chris Lombardi, Vice-President, Raytheon European Business Development