Defense Budget Woes Should Strengthen NATO Alliance, Says U.S. Ambassador

12/2/2011
By Dan Parsons

U.S. military leaders of late havechampioned international cooperation as a way to cope with declining budgets.
The nation's ambassador to NATO agrees. With every alliance member facing military funding cuts, teamwork is essential, although the United States is still going to be doing the heavy lifting, said Ivo Daalder, the permanent U.S. representative to NATO.
“Because you don’t have the financial wherewithal nationally to pay for operations, you need to invest multi-nationally,” Daalder told a gathering of defense reporters Dec. 2 in Washington, D.C. “The only way to solve this is to work together, rather than individually.”
As proof, he cited the recent air campaign in Libya. That war proved the alliance could field an offensive military force much stronger than any of its members, save the United States, could have mustered, he said.
Libya “demonstrated for the first time that NATO is a very different alliance than it was during the Cold War,” Daalder said. “We are an operational alliance that can take on missions very rapidly in places that are totally unexpected.”
Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III, vice chief of staff and director of the Air Staff, said earlier this week that alliances like NATO could help individual nations' militaries “overcome shortfalls in material performance.”
After leading initial air strikes in Libya, the U.S. role transitioned to providing support capabilities such as air-to-air refueling and targeting. “It showed that you can have a major intervention in which the United States doesn’t have to do the bulk of the fighting,” Daalder said.
“One negative lesson is that some of these capabilities can only be provided by the United States," he said. Seventy five percent of all air-to-air refueling and 80 percent of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance was done by U.S. forces during the Libya campaign.
Though ultimately successful, the Libyan campaign did show some cracks in European preparation, such as shortages of critical munitions. Within 10 years, without major investments in weapons by all alliance members, another Libya campaign might not be possible, Daalder said.
“It really stretched some [NATO allies],” Daalder said. “We need to think about stockpiling the capability and be ready to generate forces if needed. Maybe we should stockpile [precision guided munitions] internationally.”
The United States is still the “big guy on the block,”providing 75 percent of NATO defense spending, he said. But the United States might not be up to the task of pulling that weight much longer.
“If there ever was a time in which the United States could always be counted on to fill the gaps that may emerge in European defense, that time is rapidly coming to an end,” Daalder said. The Pentagon expects to see reduced budgets beginning in fiscal year 2012. “It is a big deal,” Daalder said.
There is a right way and a wrong way to proceed as resources decline, he said.
“The wrong way is for every nation to look at its own defense budget and make cuts without regard to the fact that they are members of an alliance; without regard to the fact that others are relying on their capabilities for their security,” he said.
The right way is to collaborate, invest prudently and rely on partner nations. Denmark, for example, has no submarines. It depends instead on neighboring countries to provide boats if it ever enters a naval war.
“In NATO, we’re trying to minimize the national thinking and maximize the alliance-wide thinking, particularly when it comes to procurement decisions.”

Topics: International

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