Smart Defence

  • Last updated: 20 Feb. 2017 13:31

In these times of austerity, each euro, dollar or pound sterling counts. Smart Defence is a cooperative way of thinking about generating the modern defence capabilities that the Alliance needs for the future. In this renewed culture of cooperation, Allies are encouraged to work together to develop, acquire, operate and maintain military capabilities to undertake the Alliance’s essential core tasks agreed in NATO’s Strategic Concept. That means harmonising requirements, pooling and sharing capabilities, setting priorities and coordinating efforts better.


  • Smart Defence is a cooperative way of generating modern defence capabilities that the Alliance needs, in a more cost-efficient, effective and coherent manner. 
  • Allies are encouraged to work together to develop, acquire, operate and maintain military capabilities to undertake the Alliance’s core tasks.
  • Projects cover a wide range of efforts addressing the most critical capability requirements such as precision-guided munitions, cyber defence, ballistic missile defence, and Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance to name a few.

  • Context

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

    Furthermore, the Alliance's security environment has been changing, and has become more diverse and unpredictable. The most recent crisis in Ukraine serves as a reminder that peace and stability cannot be taken for granted, and that the Alliance needs to invest in sufficient defence capabilities.

    Rebalancing defence spending and the capabilities that are generated between the European member countries, Canada and the United States is a necessity now more than ever. 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 one of NATO's tools to meet this challenge.

  • Components

    Allied nations must give priority to those capabilities which NATO needs most, specialise in what they do best, and look for multinational solutions to shared problems. NATO can act as intermediary, helping the nations to establish and build on what they can do together at lower cost.


    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 often make unilateral decisions when shaping their equipment plans. When this happens, other nations can fall under an increased obligation to maintain certain capabilities. Such specialisation "by default" is the inevitable result of uncoordinated budget cuts. NATO should encourage specialisation "by design" so that members concentrate on their national strengths and agree to coordinate planned defence budget cuts with the Allies.  


    Acting together, nations can develop capabilities which they could not afford individually, for example by sharing the often considerable development costs of complex military capabilities, and achieving savings simply through economies of scale. Cooperating groups of nations may take different forms, such as a small group of nations led by another nation, or strategic sharing by those who are close together in terms of geography, culture or common equipment requirements.

  • Mechanisms

    Special Envoys

    The NATO Secretary General has designated the Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation (SACT), General Denis Mercier, and the Deputy Secretary General, Ms Rose Gottemoeller, as Special Envoys for Smart Defence. National support is essential, regarding both the concept of Smart Defence and the development of concrete multinational projects. The Special Envoys engage with senior military and political leaders to encourage participation by Allied nations.

    Coordination with partners

    Working together as Allies also means seeking cooperation with players outside NATO. NATO and the European Union (EU) are facing a similar challenge, that of reconciling the urgency of savings with the financial challenges of maintaining a modern and capable defence capability. NATO and the EU, specifically the European Defence Agency, are coordinating their efforts to avoid needless duplication of work and to seek synergies. Concrete opportunities for cooperation have already been identified, in particular in the areas of medical support, combating improvised explosive devices (IEDs), as well as nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The Alliance is also involving partner nations in specific Smart Defence efforts when the participating nations agree.

    Smart Defence also benefits from innovative multinational cooperation by industry. Our industrial partners are essential players in this enterprise, and work is underway within the Framework for NATO-Industry Engagement to develop new ways of harnessing the innovation and creativity that our suppliers can provide.

  • Smart Defence in the long term

    At the Chicago Summit in May 2012, NATO leaders agreed to embrace Smart Defence to ensure that the Alliance can develop, acquire and maintain the capabilities required to achieve the goals of ‘NATO Forces 2020’: modern, tightly connected forces that are properly equipped, trained, exercised and led.

    Since then, Smart Defence has developed into a major consideration by Allies to deliver needed capabilities in a cost-effective and efficient manner. This is reflected through an extensive portfolio of evolving projects and proposals and an ever-growing number of successfully completed efforts. The latter have been delivering real benefits to Allies through the formula of doing things together instead of doing them alone.

    The Smart Defence mindset has started to take hold. NATO will continue to capitalise on the momentum gained over the last few years through implementation and evolution of Smart Defence projects.