The Heritage Foundation

Executive Summary #1360es on Europe

April 27, 2000

April 27, 2000 | Executive Summary on Europe

Executive Summary: A Grand Bargain with Europe: Preserving NATO for the 21st Century

Leadership by the United States is indispensable if the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is to be revitalized to meet the challenges of the new century. One of the major truisms of the Cold War era was that Western Europe was an American interest too vital (and in a position too perilous) for the United States to make its allies carry more of NATO's defense burden. This may well have been good policy at the time, but the disparity in burden sharing today, so well illustrated by the Kosovo intervention, is undermining the alliance.

Today, Americans resent being asked to shoulder more than their fair share of Europe's military burden, while Europeans resent being dictated to by the United States. Burden sharing and power sharing, always overarching issues for the alliance, are becoming treacherous. How the alliance addresses these issues could very well determine its prospects for survival. It is time to adopt a Grand Bargain that offers Europeans more decision-making power in exchange for carrying more of the defense burden.

NATO's Security Burden.
Burden-sharing problems became more evident during the Kosovo crisis. European military hardware is significantly inferior to that of the United States in strategic transport and logistics, intelligence, and high-tech weaponry. Problems with compatibility are growing worse as U.S. technology advances. The difference between the U.S. and the European capability to transport an army at will, perhaps the key component for fighting a war in the post-Cold War era, is drastic. The United States is the only NATO country in a position to deploy large numbers of forces well beyond its national borders and sustain them for an extended time. Europeans depend heavily on the United States for force projection, even in places as close as the Balkans.

A major reason for these deficiencies is that European allies do not devote enough of their resources to defense-related research and development. In Kosovo, U.S. intelligence assets identified almost all of the bombing targets, and U.S. aircraft flew two-thirds of the strike missions and launched nearly every precision-guided missile. European forces lacked computerized weapons, night-vision equipment, and advanced communications resources, making it risky to use European aircraft in the campaign.

Kosovo illustrates that this gap is widening. If left unchecked, this trend will have devastating consequences. If the United States maintains the only genuine army within NATO and is forced to play a major role even in peacekeeping operations, the differences in burden will lead to massively different policy outlooks. It is difficult to see how NATO can survive without a more unified outlook.

Solving the Problem.
The starting place for genuine reform lies in acknowledging the inextricable link between burden sharing and power sharing. This means that the European pillar must increase its financial and military contributions to the alliance while claiming a greater amount of decision-making power within NATO. Likewise, while the United States would benefit from being able to decrease its transatlantic defense burden, it must consent to giving the Europeans a greater role in determining how the alliance is run. This fundamental trade-off must underlie all the specific planks of any successful NATO reform proposal.

There is little doubt that altering NATO's command structure will be a major political concession by the United States. Yet such a bold reform is unquestionably in U.S. strategic interests as the world enters a new century with threats far different than the one posed by the former Soviet Union. The new Grand Bargain for NATO would allow the United States to meet its global responsibilities without sacrificing its European interests or commitments. Moreover, it would:

  1. Free up limited U.S. resources for other global contingencies, giving America the freedom and flexibility to focus on other global interests without diminishing NATO's capabilities.

  2. Reduce the need to supply the lion's share of NATO's military wherewithal

  3. Create a more cooperative political environment within the alliance.

At a minimum, giving more power to the European allies would mean raising their defense spending levels--a good target is 3 percent of their gross domestic product each year, placing an emphasis on expenditures that will decrease the technological gap--and committing to professionalizing their armies.

As recently as April 1999, the NATO member states vowed "to improve our defense capabilities to fulfill the full range of the Alliance's Twenty-first Century missions." The Europeans must concentrate on buying unglamorous but essential items that will correct their deficiencies in lift, logistics, and command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) capabilities.

In exchange for considerable European efforts to roughly match the United States militarily within the scope of the alliance, the United States should agree to give the Europeans a greater say in how the alliance is run. For example, the Southern Command in Naples as well as a number of theater commands could be given to the Europeans.

The timing of the implementation of the Grand Bargain should establish a momentum for real change. Each step must build politically on the successful completion of another, moving from rhetorical and symbolic aspects to tangible deliverables. Reciprocity--the central concept behind the whole enterprise--should be the final outcome. The Grand Bargain will be complete when the
alliance is roughly equal in terms of military capabilities, power sharing, and overall financial inputs with regard to the two pillars.

Conclusion. The NATO alliance has served the world well for the better part of 50 years as a bulwark of freedom against foes in an uncertain and often hostile world. Certainly, such an organization is worth modernizing, revitalizing, and preserving to meet the challenges of the future.

John C. Hulsman, Ph.D., is Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

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