Kaisa Siren / REUTERS

NATO's Enormous Arms Clutter

Why More Uniformity Is Needed

In the past several weeks, NATO allies have been deploying troops to the Baltic States and Poland, where they are participating in the alliance’s inaugural Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP). The EFP, which involves some 1,000 NATO soldiers on permanent rotation in each of the host countries, is NATO’s answer to Russian aggression in the neighborhood. With the troops has come a wide assortment of equipment made in many different countries. Europe might have a common currency, but it most certainly does not have uniform military equipment. Today EU member states—most of which are also NATO members—operate 154 different weapons systems. The United States, by contrast, has only 27. (A weapons system is a major piece of military equipment, including aircraft, tanks, helicopters, and large naval vessels.)

“Since we don’t have an integrated European defense industry, each country invents its own equipment,” Vincenzo Camporini, a retired Italian Air Force general and a former chief of defense, told me. “As a result, the name of the game is reinventing the wheel.” The United States has only one fighter jet in production, the F-35, which will also be exported to other countries including Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. By contrast, EU member states have a total of three fighter jets in production: France’s Rafale, Sweden’s Gripen, and the Eurofighter, which is flown by Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Likewise, the U.S. Army uses only type of tank, General Dynamics’ M1 Abrams, while EU member states operate 19 different types. Germany’s Bundeswehr, for example, drives the German-made Leopard, the French army drives the French-made AMX Leclerc, the Italian army drives the Italian-made Ariete, the British Army uses the U.K.-made Challenger tank, and the Swedish army drives the Stridsvagn 122, a Swedish version of the Leopard. The same lack of uniformity plagues every European weapons system.

No politician would argue that duplicating military equipment is a good idea. On average, NATO countries spend around 20 percent of their defense budgets on equipment. Using fewer models could make that money go farther. According to the European Commission, the lack of military cooperation costs the EU’s member states 25 billion euros ($26.4 billion) each year. Streamlining military equipment could result in significant savings, which would be very welcome given that the United States recently delivered an ultimatum to its NATO allies on defense spending. “Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told NATO defense ministers at a summit in Brussels.

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