A Sight on European Defence

On next 19 and 20 November, NATO summit will take place in Lisbon. All the people and media interested in the future of the Alliance are longing forward the conclusions of this summit. But what conclusions? A reduction of the military structure? And so what?

The defence budgets of the NATO members exceed the unbelievable sum of 600 or 700 billion Euros. What amount of money will be saved if the structure is trimmed down? Only a few million Euros will be saved, at all. For what results?

Well, in the current situation of strongly reduced defence budgets, it is already a lot, but I would compare it with the cost of the Airbus A400M (approximately 130 Million Euros each), or the Typhoon fighter (approximately 60 Million each). Concretely, it means that the expected reduction of the heavy machinery of NATO will not change anything in the deficits and defence budgets of our countries and the few saved millions will not allow procuring any significant or even minor improvement of European military capabilities.

Therefore, I would consider this reduction of NATO military (and hopefully civilian) structure as a political need, and not a military one. The major issue of our countries is not to save a few millions. Those savings are just a token given to the public opinions and may be the growing number of NATO-sceptics.

Their main challenge is to agree on the very role of NATO and the Alliance within the next decades. However, between an international forum and a strong and military article-5 oriented alliance, the span is extremely wide.

But I do not expect a conclusive agreement to be reached, yet.

In fact there are so many and complex debates on which the members do not agree that something spectacular in Lisbon would be a major event in NATO history. A quick list of the topics that could be debated are the following ones:

-Future of the US nuclear weapons on European soil? The ambiguity of the partners does not help that much: from the public statements to the effective policy, there are great differences.

-Limits of the alliance? Should Georgia be one day or not member of the Alliance, which the implied risks? I do not think the discussions closed forever: Baltic countries have a permanent and restless look at Russia. What would be the added value of Finland and Sweden if joining one day? What has been the added value of Albania? What Balkan states will be eligible? Should the Alliance still expand, when looking at the always more complex machinery without having the new members putting in the basket any significant military capability?

-How to make more countries effectively able to accept waging war? Too many of them accepted to follow the USA in Afghanistan, but those countries are now considering, if not already decided, leaving them, even if war is not over? Question can be worse: how long can the NATO still maintain its cohesion in Afghanistan, after the Dutch withdrawal?

-Missile defence, yes but the sword? A shield is of no use, if you do not have a sword to retaliate.

-What price for missile defence? If accepted in its broad lines, how far the major European countries would accept being completely dependent of US technology and assets? Who will decide to open fire?

-Who will easily accept to lose his NATO HQ and therefore some visibility, while the effective savings will be of no efficiency to improve armed forces?

Being not a specialist of NATO, I suppose that there are many other important or critical questions I did not express. Anyway what I would rather expect from this summit is a press statement including:

-A reduction of the military structure, in order to give the European people the impression that the NATO is reforming and that the Alliance will get more flexible and responsive by losing some fat (this does not mean a change in governance).

-Some positive statement on missile defence in order to show the public opinions that the transatlantic link is still alive, but without the money to finance it.

Normally, one should read as well that:

-The solidarity of the members, their commitment to promote democracy and security, is reaffirmed,

-The allies express their strong resolve to maintain and even develop their already good relationships with Russia, despite concerns in some areas,

-The allies reaffirm their steadfast determination to stabilize Afghanistan, where the fight against the Taliban has started reaching positive and encouraging results, which would confirm the timelines of the exit strategy.

Due to all those complex issues, and as always in politics, the debate is not over with the summit and our governments will still discuss in the next years in order to really achieve this reform they are calling for, and the real work will go on far from the media attention.

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