Despite Russian aggression in Ukraine and growing threats along NATO’s southern flank, many European allies find it difficult to increase their defense capabilities and meet the commitments they made at the Wales Summit. To address this important challenge, the Atlantic Council produced its Alliance at Risk report, which draws together noted experts and former senior officials to examine the vulnerabilities in European defense and provide recommendations on the way forward. The project highlights six leading nations from NATO’s north, south, east, and west, which also serves to illuminate the many perspectives and diverse defense priorities that exists within the Alliance today.
The authors are noted experts and practitioners in the six NATO nations examined in the Alliance at Risk report.
United Kingdom: Gen. Richard Shirreff (ret.), former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
France: François Heisbourg, Special Advisor at the Foundation pour la Recherché Strategies
Germany: Patrick Keller, Coordinator of Foreign and Security Policy at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation
Norway: Rolf Tamnes, Professor at the Institute for Defense Studies in Oslo
Poland: Tomasz Szatkowski, Deputy Defense Minister of Poland, and former President of the National Center for Strategic Studies in Warsaw
Italy: Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola (ret.), former Minister of Defense
The transatlantic community faces a long-term future of turbulence and competition, which features both state and nonstarter adversaries, as well as strategic shocks and sudden change. Strengthening European defense capabilities will be a key building block to ensure that NATO can remain relevant and able to defend the values and interests of its members, and provide for peace and stability in Europe. As former NATO Secretary General Jalap de Hoop Scheffer wrote about this project, “I welcome this report because we will all benefit from its goal of strengthening European defense. In these perilous times, there is no better investment for our democracies than to defend the safety of their citizens and peace in Europe.”
“To deter any Russian move into the Baltic States, NATO should establish a permanent presence there.”
UK military “hollowed out to such an extent that the deployment of a brigade, let alone a division, at credible readiness would be a major challenge.”
German defense spending “does not even begin to match the requirements” as the German armed forces “have been chronically underfunded since 1990.” Inspector General of the Army, Bruno Kasdorf
“Germany cannot ‘pool and share’ its way out of the crisis of an underfunded Bundeswehr—in the end, you need to buy things.”
The French defense budget “may not be good enough to maintain an adequate force structure and posture, particularly in a much more challenging threat environment.”
France will not be able “to significantly increase defense spending without breaking the EU Commission’s expenditure benchmark and risking a crisis with Berlin.”
“Italy’s current military structure is clearly unsustainable and burdened with legacy processes and approaches.”
”The Polish military should create a robust, cost effective reconnaissance strike force based on the Russian and Chinese models.”
“Norway cannot meet its defense obligations without a significant increase in its defense expenditures and a major reallocation of defense resources in favor of operations.”
“Norway is becoming increasingly vulnerable to Russia’s growing inventory of long-range, precision-guided weapons, and to advances in Moscow’s offensive cyber capabilities.”
For more than six decades, NATO has provided the shield behind which the democracies of Europe have prospered in peace. By standing together, the allies prevented another major conflict in Europe so their societies could rebuild from the catastrophic destruction of World War II. Investing in strong defense and deterrence did not prevent the members of NATO from improving their respective economies. On the contrary, the safety and security provided by NATO was one of the factors that made it possible for the Western democracies to recover from war and achieve greater levels of economic prosperity than ever before in the history of Europe.
Although the allies faced many challenges, crises, and confrontations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, national commitments to deterrence and strong defense through NATO kept the peace. The generations that created NATO and won the Cold War did so with fewer resources than we have today. Today, the transatlantic community faces a world that is more turbulent and threatening than at any period since the end of the Cold War. The crumbling order in the Middle East has spawned refugee flows not seen since World War II, and has given rise to potent nonstate groups with the reach and power to not only destabilize countries in the region, but also carry out terrorist attacks in Europe. Russia’s continued aggression and assertiveness threatens the European security order based on the premise of a Europe whole, free, and at peace. In spite of this new security environment and pledges made at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014 to invest in defense, the recent record on European defense spending and investment is arguably very mixed, to put it mildly.
Now is our time to invest responsibly in the Alliance, not in spite of our economic interests and challenges, but because NATO protects both our security and economic interests. Every member of NATO is more prosperous and secure today than the day it joined NATO. NATO provides all of its members with more defense capabilities for less money than they would have individually. Through NATO, every euro invested in defense provides each nation with more than a euro’s worth of defense capabilities. For example, thanks to NATO the Baltic republics benefit from air defense capabilities they could not afford, Turkey benefits from Patriot missile defense systems it does not own, and Great Britain benefits from antisubmarine capabilities it no longer possesses. To quote the motto of the US forces in Europe, NATO makes all of its members “Stronger Together.”
NATO provides all of its members with more defense capabilities for less money than they would have individually.
In a few months, NATO’s leaders will gather for a summit meeting in Warsaw, Poland. They will discuss many challenges faced by the Alliance. Strengthening European defense will be a common element that contributes to overcoming these multiple threats to NATO. Strengthening European defense will provide the resources to help deter the threat from the East and prevail over the dangers from the South. Strengthening European defense will also provide the capabilities to tackle new threats, such as cyberattacks and the spread of ballistic missiles. And strengthening European defense will help restore balance to the transatlantic relationship and facilitate continued investments in European security from our allies in North America.
I welcome this report because we will all benefit from its goal of strengthening European defense. In these perilous times, there is no better investment for our democracies than to defend the safety of their citizens and peace in Europe.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer Former Secretary General of NATO
Alliance at Risk: Strengthening European Defense in an Age of Turbulence and Competition.
The broader transatlantic community faces a new and dynamic security environment, which includes a newly assertive Russia intent on altering the European security order in its favor and a turbulent and violence wracked Middle East and North Africa that has, among other things, spawned the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and refugee flows not seen since the end of World War II. Europe’s security climate is arguably at its worst in over twenty-five years.
To respond to these new security challenges, the members of NATO committed themselves at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales to increased defense spending after a long period of defense austerity across the Alliance, and to a greater focus on defense investment. To date, however, the results of these new commitments have been mixed at best. The lack of broad progress is especially worrying as the Alliance approaches the Warsaw Summit during the summer of 2016, a milestone where many hope that NATO can begin to build a new and robust long-term approach to the new security challenges to NATO’s east and south.
To highlight the challenges in defense spending, and provide recommendations on the way forward, the Atlantic Council launched its “Alliance at Risk” project, which draws together noted experts and former senior officials to provide analysis and recommendations for how the Alliance should think about defense spending and defense investments in these turbulent times. The project highlights six leading NATO nations from the Alliance’s north, south, east, and west, which also serves to illuminate the many perspectives and diverse defense priorities that exists within the Alliance today. Defense spending and investment is complex, and can hardly be judged on numbers alone. In terms of generating capabilities and ready forces, it is often just as important how the funding gets spent, as how much of it is put into the defense budget. This project therefore looks beyond the raw numbers, and provides analysis and recommendations from experts and practitioners that are intimately familiar with the nations covered in this report.
The transatlantic community faces a long-term future of turbulence and competition, which features both state and non-state adversaries, as well as strategic shocks and sudden change. Strengthening European defense capabilities will be a key building block to ensure that NATO can remain relevant and able to defend the values and interests of its members, and provide for peace and stability in Europe. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized; “We are facing the biggest security challenges in a generation. They are complex, interrelated and come from many directions. . . . So now is the time to invest in our defense.”