Saving NATO's Foundation

Courtesy Reuters


Transatlantic defense cooperation is a little like the weather: everybody talks about it, but nothing much seems to happen. Meanwhile, Europe is building a separate "European" defense industry, based in part on shortsighted, if not downright misguided, calculations of self-interest. For its part, the United States is tentative at best and ambivalent at worst about greater cooperation. But as the United States and Europe dither, the effectiveness of the NATO alliance -- and ultimately its future -- is increasingly at risk.

The costs of inaction mount daily. Declining defense budgets, already stretched too thin, are denied the efficiencies that greater transatlantic cooperation could yield. Both Europe and the United States have therefore had to delay the modernization of their military forces and thus have been slow to take advantage of advances in technology -- notably information technology that applies to command, control, communication, and intelligence. The air war in Kosovo demonstrated a potentially more worrisome consequence: the gap between U.S. and European military capabilities is growing, undermining both NATO's ability to undertake joint operations and the European allies' hopes to participate on an equal footing with America. At the same time, taxpayers in Europe and the United States are paying more than necessary. Most important, the industrial bases of American and European defense are growing increasingly separate, which could undermine the political basis of the alliance itself.

The stability of the Atlantic alliance is built on three mutually supporting principles: political and cultural community, common military defense, and shared burdens and risks. For many decades, improved cooperation between European and U.S. military and related aerospace industries has been seen as central to these principles; such cooperation strengthens NATO by giving it more effective armed forces that are both better equipped and interoperable. But for a variety of reasons on both sides of the Atlantic, industrial cooperation on defense has proved an elusive goal.

In the past, U.S. industry profited from selling sophisticated equipment to NATO

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