October 11, 2013

NATO and the US: Looking Forward

Featuring Jacob Stokes, and Nora Bensahel

Source: Air Force General Counsel Blog

Journalist Richard B. Eisenberg

The Center for a New American Security has published a new report entitled NATO Matters: Ensuring the Value of the Alliance for the United States. Authors Jacob Stokes and Nora Bensahel begin with the premise that reduced defense spending and the “pivot” to Asia, put together, “mark the biggest change in U.S. defense priorities in more than a decade” and that “Americans future role in the [North Atlantic] alliance will be profoundly affected by these major shifts.”

With those stressors in mind, Stokes and Nora contend that NATO must “improve the military capabilities of the [non-US] member states” to “ensure that NATO remains relevant and effective, while fostering a more useful debate about contributions to the alliance,” as well as “demonstrating the value of what [NAT O] already provides to the United States” in order to “make the case” for continued U.S. support.

Stokes and Nora set forth several specific recommendations that fit within this strategic framework. Some of their key recommendations are as follows:

  • Ensure a robust annual exercise program to test key alliance capabilities. Robust exercises – at sea, in the air and on the ground – are the sine qua non of combat readiness. . . . Reinvigorating an annual exercise program could incentivize demanding train¬ing standards among NATO nations similar to the ways the Return of Forces to Germany (REFORGER) exercises did on a massive scale at the height of the Cold War. Such an exer-cise program would focus alliance military investment and training by maintaining clear, achievable standards that all NATO members would be expected to meet.”
  • Expand the two-percent metric to include more qualitative assessments of contributions. In 2006, alliance members recommitted to their long-standing goal of spending two percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. However, member commitment to that target continues to falter, with the United States left bearing much of the burden. . . . GDP, however, is a poor indicator of how much defense capability any individual member state can contribute to alliance missions. NATO should focus instead on ways that the allies can get more capability for the money that they do spend. . .”
  • Encourage specialization within regional clusters, rather than across the entire alliance. The alliance’s Smart Defence Initiative aims to facilitate role specialization within NATO so alliance member capabilities are complementary, as opposed to being duplicative while leaving critical capability holes. NATO can achieve progress towards that goal without a formal plan by encouraging the creation of regional clusters based on common interests. . .
  • Revitalize the military officer exchange program. . . . This program could extend beyond placing liaison officers among the member states’ militaries, and include a more robust exchange where NATO officers assume the full-time command or staff duties of their counterparts. In addition to exchanges, a strengthened International Military Education and Training program should seek opportunities to foster partnerships with officers from the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Asian countries. . . .
  • Reinvigorate efforts to synchronize capabilities between NATO and the European Union, and create institutions to foster coordination. Pursuing European common security and defense policy on a distinct track from NATO doubles efforts and divides results. . . . NATO and EU leaders should push through current stumbling blocks, including disagreement on questions of where military and civilian lines differ and issues arising from the different memberships of the two institutions. Bringing EU military efforts into a NATO exercise program would be one way to explore and strengthen mutual capabilities, while de-emphasizing institutional separation.”
  • Educate policymakers about successful NATO naval operations, particularly in counterpiracy. . . . NATO naval cooperation is robust and underappreciated, especially in counterpiracy, where some U.S. allies have better capabilities than the United States does (for example with maritime interdiction operations). NATO should work with Congress to sponsor trips for congressional delegations and other U.S. policymakers to see NATO operations in action. . . .”
  • Emphasize the value and legitimacy bestowed by NATO as a political body. NATO provides a forum where 28 democratic countries can debate the merits of possible military operations, and which operates under the principle of unanimity – meaning that any one of those 28 countries can veto a NATO military operation. This stringent requirement bestows a significant degree of legitimacy on multilateral military action. In addition, NATO partners often choose to join NATO military operations– and place their forces within the alliance’s unified command structure – which increases the political legitimacy of those operations.”

The full report is available here.


  • Jacob Stokes

    Fellow, Indo-Pacific Security Program

    Jacob Stokes is a Fellow for the Indo-Pacific Security Program at CNAS, where his work focuses on U.S.-China relations, Chinese foreign policy, East Asian security affairs, an...

  • Nora Bensahel