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NATO and the European Defence Agency - not a zero-sum game

The mantra of "together, we're stronger" is being used even more in these taxing times. But two major security organisations are already finding that although the phrase may be a cliché, it’s also true.

© Reuters/David Lewis

In May 2010, the Group of Experts, who made recommendations for NATO’s new Strategic Concept, said NATO’s transformation towards dynamic military and political capabilities requires a firm commitment on more efficient budgeting.

NATO, like other international organisations, has to confront the budgetary constraints of its member states. Collaborating in defence projects and streamlining capabilities duplication are crucial for NATO’s future success. One key area of improved collaboration could be with the European Union (EU).

Some 75 per cent of the Alliance’s members are also bound by the Treaty of Lisbon and constitute a majority of the EU. All EU member states (except Denmark) and including Norway (through administrative arrangements) actively collaborate and support projects and programmes in the European Defence Agency (EDA).

Even though the Agency was only established in July 2004, it has already realised that cooperation with NATO in capabilities development is vital for its participating member states. These are, after all, the countries that have to stretch their budgets for the Agency alongside their obligations to the transatlantic coalition.

There seems to be an implicit understanding between NATO and the EDA that advancing defence capabilities cannot be considered a zero-sum game

Fragmentation of defence budgets of agencies and programmes can dangerously undermine countries’ security objectives.

Fortunately, there seems to be an implicit understanding between NATO and the EDA that advancing defence capabilities cannot be considered a zero-sum game. They realise that collaboration would maximise payoffs for both of them.

Within the NATO-EU Agreed Framework, the Coherent Capability Development mechanism was agreed to enhance cooperation between the two organisations. Therefore, even the fiercest budgetary critics have to admit that the two entities are at least seeking opportunities to find value for money together.

Comparing apples and pears

One of the key aims of the two organisations is to enhance interoperability even further. So their interests often coincide in advancing capabilities like airlift, counter-improvised explosive device (C-IED), and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) capabilities.

The EDA doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel if the Alliance has applicable military standards and concepts that are transferable. For example, in defence material standardisation practices, the EDA advocates the use of NATO’s Allied Environmental Conditions and Test Procedures for environmental testing.

However, the EDA and the NATO should be cautious about underestimating the risks emanating from more joint standardisation. While defence procurement provides economies of scale, can make for a more competitive defence market and may lower prices, it can also be counterproductive. Why? Because if left unfettered, this process could lead to oligopoly or even monopoly on the market instead of competition, - and therefore less competition - and higher prices.

© Reuters/David Lewis

In addition, excessive standardisation and harmonisation can harm innovation and increase the probability of a ‘single point of failure’. So identifying the right balance is more important in the defence and security domain than in any other sphere.

Fortunately, NATO and EDA capabilities development often complement each other.

For example, to address the mutual helicopter availability problems the two organisations are harmonising their work with member states by developing additional airlift capabilities for future missions.

The EDA assisted the Czech Republic’s Mi-crews advance their skills for more challenging terrains by conducting tactical training lessons for the helicopter crews. The EDA’s ’Gap 09: Multinational Mountain Exercise,’ which included experts from the Joint Air Power Competence Centre (JAPCC/NATO), balanced NATO’s ‘HIP Helicopter Task Force’ Initiative.

The multinational NATO project led by Czech Republic is expected to increase coalition airlifting capabilities during in-theatre deployments, by sharing helicopter resources with countries that don’t possess them.

NATO and EDA capabilities development often complement each other

Better together

When the EDA was established some wondered whether another security bureaucracy was needed. They asked whether it might have been more efficient to use NATO for realising the EU’s strategic objectives.

But NATO and the EDA have managed to develop a joined-up approach in several areas. For example, in protecting against CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) threats - where the Agency concentrates more on biological threats and NATO more on chemical threats.

If these two organisations accomplish longer term synergy, they might become a great example of constructively shared public resources.

Although the financial crisis may be the root cause, there does appear now to be a perception of defence and security capabilities as collective goods - where a non-zero-sum game has become the dominant strategy.

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