NATO lost its original mission -- deterring a Soviet attack on western Europe -- and has struggled to deal with more recent missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya. [Of course, the "real" mission of NATO, as its first Secretary General, Lord Ismay, memorably said, was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down."]
Next week at the big NATO summit in Chicago, the allies are set to approve a new "Smart Defense" plan. Based on this analysis by the respected International Institute for Strategic Studies in London , it sounds more like a set of catchy labels and wish lists. Maybe it will be more valuable and significant than that.
The problem is that European members are cutting their defense budgets and failing to coordinate and collaborate enough. As the IISS study notes:
The net effect of defence budget cuts by individual governments motivated by national priorities and political needs has been a haphazard, incoherent series of capability reductions at the European and NATO level, with little attempt at coordination. Regardless of their membership of NATO or the EU, European states guard their sovereignty jealously when it comes to security and defence. The danger of this approach, however, is that Europe's ability to respond collectively with credible force to a future security crisis could be seriously undermined. The 2011 NATO-led operation in Libya, for example, revealed shortages in key capability areas. With budget cuts certain to continue in most European countries as governments enact austerity programmes, the Smart Defence initiative seeks to persuade NATO members to bolster collective capabilities through prioritisation, cooperation and specialisation.Given the eurozone economic problems, I doubt that defense spending is going to increase. So other security enhancements have to be found. Good luck, NATO.
The defence challenges facing European states are not new: their armed forces are mostly characterised by low levels of deployable troops (in 2011 less than 3% of Europe's 1.7 million troops were deployed); there is a tendency to allocate too great a share of dwindling resources to personnel costs and too small a share to equipment procurement and research and development; states appear unwilling or unable to collaborate effectively on acquisition, resulting in duplication (for example, multiple fighter-aircraft programmes); and they have failed to deliver sufficient capability in important areas, such as strategic airlift and surveillance systems.