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The Dismal Present and Future of Smart Defence

The Dismal Present and Future of Smart Defence

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This policy brief discusses the limitations of specialization as a part of NATO’s Smart Defence program.
This policy brief discusses the limitations of specialization as a part of NATO’s Smart Defence program.

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Categories:Types, Brochures
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Jun 13, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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This paper discusses the limitations of specializa-tion as a part of NATO’s Smart Defence program. The author outlines three different political trends that are limiting the process of specialization, and uses the examples of recent military operations in Libya and Afghanistan to underline the
operational difculties of this
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brie 
 The Dismal Present and Future of Smart Defence
by Stephen Saideman
German Marshall Fund o the United States-Paris 71 Boulevard Raspail 75006 Paris : +33 1 47 23 47 18 E: inoparis@gmus.org
June 2014
Members o the North Atlantic reaty Organization (NAO) have long argued about how to provide or the common deense. In response to the 2008 financial crisis and the resulting austerity measures, countries sought to cut their spending on deense programs. NAO’s response was the
Smart Defence
 program, where members try to better coordinate their procurement programs in order to save money on the program’s three key efforts: prioritization, specializa-tion, and cooperation. While one could write much about coopera-tive efforts that may or may not save money via economies o scale — with the F-35 being the most visible ailure — the ocus here is on specialization. Tis reers to a designed division o labor where countries coordinate regarding which kinds o military capabilities each will develop so that there is less duplication across the Alliance. In principle, this effort makes a great deal o sense. Indeed, this is not the first effort to develop such a division o labor. However, as in the past, the effort to rationalize procurement across the Alliance via specializa-tion has run into several strong and enduring political dynamics: ordinary bureaucratic politics, the new-ish industrial policies o deense procure-ment, and the hard-earned lessons o distrust rom NAO’s recent campaigns in Aghanistan and over Libya. Focusing on these three sets o polit-ical processes here will make it clear that Smart Deence is doomed to ail. First, any decision to cut some capa-bilities and keep others means that there will be winners and losers in the armed orces o each member. Tose likely to lose may put up a fight to protect their branch o the armed orces. Tis is what we have long expected bureaucracies to do — protect their budgets, their port-olios, and their autonomy. Perhaps the United States is the most visible case o various elements o the armed services successully fighting to keep buying troubled deense systems, but other members o NAO have seen and will see the various sub-units o their militaries fighting to prevent their respective systems rom being cut. One way to resist specializa-tion via budget cuts is to logroll — meaning to have each branch o the military support each other in their campaigns to keep what they have and invest in similar equipment in the uture. Te Canadian Armed Forces have been most skilled at this over time, presenting a united ront.
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brief
Specialization by design is better than specialization by default.
Second, deense procurement decisions are ofen made not with the national interest in mind but with domestic politics as key driver. Tat is, many legislators and other politicians will fight deense procurement cuts i they affect politically powerul companies and/or the jobs o their constituents. Again, cutting some programs would mean losers, and among the losers would be those who expected to be employed by deense contractors. Likewise, again, this is not new, but there has been a growing perspective to see deense policy as “industrial policy.” o be clear, this means directing deense contracts to domestic producers where the avowed “jobs created” become critical or justiying the procurement o the weapons system. Canada, or instance, is now committed to buying ships built in Canada or the “re-capitalization” o its Navy, despite the reality that these ships will cost more than those built elsewhere, including those made by NAO allies. As a result, governments will be reluctant to cut programs or even cooperatively build them i it means sacrificing potential jobs at home.Tird, as NAO members and partners learned during the Aghanistan and Libyan missions, not all allies show up or participate with the same level o effort during a NAO mission. Te premise o Smart Deence is that countries will not need to have all capabilities as long as another ally can provide it, but we have learned again that “orce generation is begging.”
 NAO’s spreadsheet o the units and assets needed or each mission, the Combined Joint Statement o Requirements, is always only partially filled. In 2001-02, NAO was still trying to fill holes in the Stabilization Force in Bosnia.
 In Aghanistan, some countries brought ew helicopters (Germany, Italy to name the obvious ones), and others brought none at all at first (Canada). Te more obvious challenge posed to Smart Deence by the Aghanistan mission is that countries ollowed different rules o engagement. Tis is also not new as there were caveats placed on various contingents restricting what they could and could not do in Bosnia and Kosovo, but  just more obvious and consequential in Aghanistan. With some countries willing to engage in offensive operations and others not, cooperation on the battlefield was compli-cated. When countries asked or help, it was ofen not
1 Said by an ofcer at NATO headquarters in Mons, Belgium, cited in David P. Auerswald and Stephen M. Saideman,
NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).2 I witnessed this myself during a fellowship in the U.S. Joint Staff’s Directorate of Strategic Planning and Policy, on the Bosnia desk.
orthcoming. When the Norwegians were nearly overrun in Faryab in the spring o 2006, they asked or help, only to have German commander decline, with the British eventu-ally managing to send relie in time.
 When the Canadians engaged in serious combat in Kandahar later that year, only a ew NAO members provided assistance. NAO members and partners learned quickly that their allies were o varying reliability. Indeed, NAO commanders in Kabul in 2004 had developed a ranking o flexibility and reliability o the various contingents. Te Libya mission also made clear that specialization does not work that well when allies are not so reliable. Te opening shots o any war these days involve efforts to take down the other side’s air deenses. NAO had already specialized in the specific capability o missiles designed to attack radar stations, as only the United States, Germany, and Italy possessed such systems. Germany did not partici-pate at all in the mission, and Italy dithered. Tis meant that the United States had to pull its weight, despite its avowed desire to lead rom behind. Both recent conflicts remind us that relying on allies is a risky proposition. Making procurement decisions today requires an assessment o which allies will provide key assets not just next year, but 10, 20, or 40 years later, as many weapons systems endure or decades (the United States is still flying planes built in the late 1950s — the B-52s — and the Canadians still rely on helicopters that are much older than their pilots.). ogether, these dynamics suggest that NAO’s Smart Deence initiative is going to all short. Indeed, it already has, as countries are making mostly unilateral decisions about what parts o their militaries they are cutting, which capabilities they are investing in, and what their militaries can do next year and well into the uture. Still, the basic idea o Smart Deence is correct — that specialization by design is better than specialization by deault. Te best recommendation I can make is or countries to assess which allies are more likely to behave similar to themselves in uture conflicts (our book suggests that coalition govern-
3 Auerswald and Saideman, 2014.

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