'Smart Defense': Should Europe's MilitariesSpecialize?
By Joshua Foust
The NATO defense collective wants to do less with more by having member states developmilitary specialties, like workers on an assembly line.
An inescapable fact of modern defense planning is budget austerity. Smaller budgets areprompting some tough thinking across Europe and in the U.S. about how these countries canmaintain their global security posture with less money. Under normal circumstances, less moneywould mean less equipment, fewer people, fewer activities, and fewer operations.NATO, however, seems to think it can get around the limitations of a smaller budget. "SmartDefense," as they call it, is based around a simple idea: specialization and cooperation, inaccordance with the principles first established at the 2010 Lisbon Summit.Adam Smith wrote
of the economies of scale that a factory might achieve by specializing labor, and NATO wants toapply this idea by encouraging national militaries to specialize in specific mission areas willallow them to cooperate together to achieve a much greater, more capable, NATO force.The Smart Defense framework rests on a couple of assumptions, however, that could be tricky toapply. Cooperation is not always easy, as with NATO's experience in Libya. Last year, it was noteasy to build even a tentative consensus about the alliance's role in intervening there -- and if itweren't for U.S. equipment and logistics support, the intervention could have taken adramatically different shape (if it happened at all).Before national specialization, a relatively cheap, quick campaign like the Libya interventionwas already straining NATO, which is also still fighting in Afghanistan. Within the alliance, not
all member countries were enthusiastic about the bombing campaign. This poses a criticalquestion for future NATO operations: once countries specialize so much that they depend on oneanother to carry out a military campaign, what happens to NATO's military effectiveness if itspolitical leaders start disagreeing?The UK and France are discussing the prospect of sharing their aircraft carriers. It sounds like a
clever way of pooling resources so that both countries can spend less without sacrificing toomuch in the way of capabilities, and as long as they share relevant foreign and military policies,that's true. But what if the two nations disagree about whether, or how, to use those carriers? It'snot impossible. Think of the 2003 decision to invade Iraq: France opposed it, and the UKsupported it.