NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Smart Defence

In these times of austerity, each euro, dollar or pound sterling counts. Smart defence is a new way of thinking about generating the modern defence capabilities the Alliance needs for the coming decade and beyond. It is a renewed culture of cooperation that encourages Allies to cooperate in developing, acquiring and maintaining military capabilities to undertake the Alliance’s essential core tasks agreed in the new NATO strategic concept. That means pooling and sharing capabilities, setting priorities and coordinating efforts better.

From 2008 the world economy has been facing its worst period since the end of the Second World War. Governments are applying budgetary restrictions to tackle this serious recession, which is having a considerable effect on defence spending.

Furthermore, in the course of this crisis the Alliance's security environment has been changing, and has become more diverse and unpredictable. The crisis in Libya is a recent example, underlining the unforeseeable nature of conflicts, but also showing the need for modern systems and facilities, and for less reliance on the United States for costly advanced capabilities.

In these crisis times, rebalancing defence spending between the European nations and the United States is more than ever a necessity. The other Allies must reduce the gap with the United States by equipping themselves with capabilities that are deemed to be critical, deployable and sustainable, and must demonstrate political determination to achieve that goal. There must be equitable sharing of the defence burden. Smart defence is NATO's response to this.

  • The constituents of Smart Defence

    Smart defence is based on capability areas that are critical for NATO, in particular as established at the Lisbon summit in 2010. Ballistic missile defence, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, maintenance of readiness, training and force preparation, effective engagement and force protection – these are all on the list.

    For the purposes of smart defence, the Alliance nations must give priority to those capabilities which NATO needs most, specialize in what they do best, and look for multinational solutions to shared problems. NATO can act as intermediary, helping the nations to establish what they can do together at lower cost, more efficiently and with less risk.


    Aligning national capability priorities with those of NATO has been a challenge for some years. Smart defence is the opportunity for a transparent, cooperative and cost-effective approach to meet essential capability requirements.


    With budgets under pressure, nations make unilateral decisions to abandon certain capabilities. When that happens the other nations fall under an increased obligation to maintain those capabilities. Such specialization "by default" is the inevitable result of uncoordinated budget cuts. NATO should encourage specialization "by design" so that members concentrate on their national strengths and agree to coordinate planned defence budget cuts with the Allies, while maintaining national sovereignty for their final decision.  


    Acting together, the nations can have access to capabilities which they could not afford individually, and achieve economies of scale. Cooperation may take different forms, such as a small group of nations led by another nation, or strategic sharing by those who are close in terms of geography, culture or common equipment.

  • The mechanisms of Smart Defence

    The designation of special representatives

    The NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has designated the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, General Jean-Paul Paloméros, and the Deputy Secretary General, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, as special representatives for smart defence. National support is essential, both as regards the concept of smart defence and the development of concrete multinational projects. As such they visit many capitals.

    Coordination with Partners

    Working together as Allies also means seeking cooperation with players outside NATO. NATO and the EU are facing a similar challenge, that of reconciling the urgency of savings with a modern defence. NATO and the European Union, in particular the European Defence Agency, are working together to avoid needless duplication with the pooling and sharing initiative Concrete opportunities for cooperation have already been identified, in particular combating improvised explosive devices, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and medical support.
    The Alliance should also cooperate with Partners case by case, in accordance with its normal principles and procedures.

    But smart defence also presupposes innovative multinational cooperation by industry. Our industrial partners are essential players in this enterprise.

  • Smart Defence in the long term

    At the Chicago Summit in May 2012, NATO leaders agreed to embrace Smart Defence as a changed outlook to ensure that the Alliance can develop, acquire and maintain the capabilities required to achieve its goals for NATO Forces 2020.

    The Summit was a first but essential step in implementing this Smart Defence initiative. NATO Heads of State and Government approved a concrete package of multinational projects, including for better protection of NATO forces, better surveillance and better training. These projects will deliver improved operational effectiveness, economies of scale, and closer connections between NATO forces.  They will also provide experience for more such Smart Defence projects in the long term.

Last updated: 26-Apr-2012 18:35