Executive Summary: Principles and Proposals for NATO Reform

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Executive Summary: Principles and Proposals for NATO Reform

December 11, 2008 3 min read Download Report
Sally McNamara
Sally McNamara

Sally McNamara is a Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, NATO has had to confront the possibility of major asymmetric attacks as well as the threat of tra­ditional military confrontation. However, the alli­ance has been found wanting in many respects, challenged by both some members' lack of leader­ship and others' lack of commitment.

NATO remains essential to transatlantic security and a vital element of America's alliance architec­ture. But it will require strong U.S. leadership and a substantial reform effort to inject the energy neces­sary to revitalize the flagging alliance.

NATO's membership and organization must not remain static. With regard to its size and struc­ture, NATO needs to make better decisions, faster. It also needs to focus on confronting new challenges, such as ballistic missile attack, cyberterrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Underpinning these reforms must be a new agree­ment among alliance members to share the burdens of common defense more fairly.

Radical problems require radical solutions. Glo­bal security and stability can only be realistically pursued if America and Europe remain strong and reliable allies to one another. Therefore, the NATO Alliance must reform and revitalize itself if it is to be as strategically relevant as it was in defeating the Soviet Empire.

Burden Sharing. The heart and soul of NATO continues to rest on the deterrence value of its Arti­cle V commitment, in which an attack on one mem­ber constitutes an attack on the entire alliance. If Article V is to have value both as a deterrent and as a shared defense commitment, military capacity and preparedness matter significantly.

Yet just 2.7 percent of Europe's 2 million mili­tary personnel are capable of overseas deployment, compared to NATO's goal that 40 percent of its land forces be deployable.

Defense spending is also lagging. Just four (Bulgaria, France, Greece, and the U.K.) of the 21 EU-NATO members spend the NATO benchmark of 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense, and average EU defense spending has significantly decreased over the past 10 years.

NATO also needs to address the question of national caveats. The mission in Afghanistan is virtu­ally creating a two-tiered alliance, in which many nations commit troops only with specific provisos, including that their troops not be sent into combat zones. This is significantly harming the overall health of the alliance and is an absurd way to fight a war.

What NATO Members Should Do.To reform and revitalize NATO to meet the challenges and threats of the 21st century, NATO should:

  • Agree to a Declaration on Allied Security at the Strasbourg Summit in 2009 that includes a new threat perception restating existing threats as well as new ones, such as cyberterrorism and ballistic missile attack. The declaration should also make concrete recommendations to address each threat.
  • Follow the U.S. example of explicitly restating NATO's open-door policy and endorsing this message by working closely with Georgia and Ukraine to ensure timely accessions where appropriate.
  • Reaffirm NATO as the cornerstone of the trans­atlantic alliance and the primary actor in Euro­pean security.
  • Readmit France into NATO's integrated military command structures only if Paris is willing to uphold the primacy of NATO in European defense cooperation and if the alliance can be confident that France will be a cooperative rather than confrontational partner.
  • Agree to new decision-making rules based on a "coalitions-of-the-willing-and-able" approach, in which contributors to a coalition are authorized to undertake the planning and management of the operation among themselves.
  • Agree to new burden-sharing rules. Specifically, the benchmark of spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense by NATO members should be an enforced requirement for gaining member­ship and for retaining full voting rights within the alliance.

In addition to these actions by NATO as a whole:

  • Each alliance member should commit to elimi­nate the vast majority of operational caveats on its missions.
  • The European Union should announce that the European Security and Defense Policy will be a civilian component in Europe's security architec­ture and will provide additional resources.
  • The U.S. should reserve NATO resources exclu­sively for NATO missions. All European military missions should be funded exclusively by EU member states.

Conclusion. NATO remains central to transat­lantic security and the crowning glory of America's alliance architecture. Few formal alliances, if any, can boast the successes that NATO has enjoyed throughout its history. However, NATO is an alli­ance in need of reform and revitalization to accom­modate new security policies and defense strategies. This will require both Europe and America to put their full weight behind this process. Europe needs to demonstrate its commitment to NATO in terms of both spending and manpower. A small number of NATO members cannot continue to bear a dis­proportionate share of the burden, such as in Afghanistan, if the alliance is to remain unified. For its part, the United States must continue to exercise strong leadership of both existing and new transfor­mation initiatives, so that the alliance is ready to confront current and emerging threats.

In the past decade, NATO has undertaken out-of-area missions, invoked Article V, and enlarged to 26 members. The next decade will likely see equally big challenges for NATO--challenges that the alliance must defeat for the sake of global secu­rity and stability.

Sally McNamara is Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. The author is grateful to Erica Munkwitz and Morgan L. Roach for their assistance in preparing this paper.


Sally McNamara
Sally McNamara