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NATO Chicago Summit: roundtable maps out important new proposals for May 2012


By dxw

US and European officials and experts come to Wilton Park to assess lessons of NATO’s Libya campaign and to examine how to preserve core defence capabilities in the midst of unprecedented financial pressures.

Re-engineering the transatlantic security and defence relationship

Monday 12 – Wednesday 14 September 2011  (WP1129)

The senior officials and experts participating in this roundtable discussion noted that it came at a very timely juncture following the fall of the Qaddafi regime in Libya and the start of detailed policy deliberations regarding the agenda and goals for next year’s NATO Summit. The summit will take place in Chicago, President Obama’s hometown, and with the US presidential campaign in full swing, which provides both challenges and opportunities in presenting a compelling message to the American body politic and public opinion regarding the Alliance’s contribution to US security. 

The Libya campaign reflected NATO’s strength as a flexible and effective framework for combining the capabilities of European and North American allies on behalf of transatlantic values and interests. With the United States playing only a supporting rather than a leading role, Libya represented a fundamental change from the way that NATO has conducted previous military operations, and brought into play the possibility of new forms of “burden-sharing” within the Alliance. Yet, Libya also provided important lessons concerning defence priorities, as NATO struggled to deploy and sustain the full suite of operational capabilities needed for the campaign. The Alliance passed a relatively modest “stress test” with not very much margin.

NATO plane
Image: 2Tales


At a time of diminishing defence spending on both sides of the Atlantic, it is urgent for NATO and its members to determine a set of ‘core capabilities’ that cannot be allowed to disappear, and to make those capabilities the highest priority for available resources. The creation of ‘Mission Focus Groups’ (MFGs), organised around core capability requirements, could provide a valuable ‘Smart Defence’ tool to strengthen NATO’s defence planning process. NATO’s benchmark for member state defence budgets to equal at least 2% of GdP should arguably be dropped in favour of new, qualitative measures for defence spending. Economic and finance ministers should participate in the Chicago Summit to bring their expertise to bear on the very difficult choices confronting member states.

In order to deliver more effective and efficient security and defence capability at a time of structural financial crisis, it is critical for NATO and the EU to continue strengthening cooperation and coordination regarding defence capabilities as well as the use of non-military resources for crisis management. Given the impediments that exist to greater institutional cooperation, there could be much merit in the convening of an intergovernmental forum of all NATO and EU members. The forum could formulate plans for cooperative programmes on conflict prevention and building partner capacity, drawing on the military and civilian resources of all NATO and EU members as well as those of the two institutions.

The speech on NATO’s future that US Defense Secretary Bob Gates delivered in Brussels last June stressed the very important contribution that NATO has made in Afghanistan. But it also expressed great concern over the “real possibility for a dim, if not dismal future” for NATO if the decline in European defence capabilities is not halted and reversed, as future US political leaders may come to question its value. Given the political impossibility of increased defence spending, and real risk of further cuts, there is a fundamental need to break out of deeply entrenched ways of doing business in order to generate more efficient and effective defence capability with diminished resources.


Further information

Re-engineering the transatlantic security and defence relationship