Publication: The Military Balance 2014
05 February 2014
Since the economic and financial crisis hit Europe in 2008, the capability challenge facing European nations has been out in the open and increasingly well understood by NATO and EU member states: there will be a growing gap between security demand and capability supply. Not least because of the re-orientation of US defence policy towards the Asia-Pacific, European governments will need to assume a greater share of the burden for international security, particularly in Europe’s fragile vicinity to the south and the east, at a time when defence spending is shrinking. The multinational level of ambition, as expressed in EU and NATO strategic guidance, has remained largely unchanged, while leaders recognise that they face an increasingly complex security environment. Syria also exposed another side to the capability challenge: the need for governments to define a convincing narrative for the continued use of armed forces in crisis management.
NATO’s ‘smart defence’ initiative and the EU’s equipment pooling and sharing approach, both designed to increase systematic and closer defence cooperation among the member states of these organisations, continue to be plagued by patchy progress. In July 2013, NATO allies completed one of 29 multinational smart-defence projects, developing a logistics partnership on helicopter maintenance in Afghanistan (under US leadership): the first project both launched and completed after the May 2012 Chicago Summit. The project allows allies to pool spare parts, tools and technicians to generate cost savings and reduce repair time for helicopters. Another important NATO endeavour dating back to the 2012 summit and slowly taking shape is the Connected Forces Initiative (CFI). Although NATO allies have made significant progress on interoperability as a result of operations, including those in Afghanistan, this progress will be difficult to maintain in the face of decreasing spending and the lower operational tempo many observers expect following the 2014 ISAF drawdown.
Attempts to revitalise the NATO Response Force (NRF) and a renewed focus on high-visibility live exercises will play a key part in CFI implementation. In the post-ISAF environment, the CFI is likely to concentrate on combat effectiveness, by focusing on training and exercises in particular. In this context, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT), General Jean-Paul Paloméros, explained the purpose of the CFI in September 2013 as ‘[maintaining] military effectiveness through the preservation of our readiness and interoperability by exercising and training together and with partners’.