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Smart Partnerships for Smart Defense

WASHINGTON, DC – When NATO leaders gather in Chicago next week, they will have an historic opportunity to bring the Alliance’s relations with non-member states into alignment with twenty-first-century realities. Given NATO’s current lack of strategic coherence, and disparities in its members’ military capabilities – which have been aggravated by budget cuts in the wake of the global financial crisis – cooperation with non-members is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity.

NATO’s experiences in Afghanistan and Libya make clear that the Alliance can no longer afford to go it alone. In both cases, contributions from capable, non-member countries proved important; indeed, in Libya, they were vital to NATO’s success.

Given this, NATO must step up its cooperation with a broad range of global players, including the Gulf Cooperation Council, the European Union, and Russia, as well as rising powers such as China. Moreover, it must engage those partners that are not currently on track to become members, but are willing and able to contribute to its missions. Countries that fit this description include Austria, Finland, and Sweden, and, outside Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea.

These partners’ value cannot be overstated. Consider Sweden, which participated more actively than many NATO members during the recent campaign in Libya, sending 122 personnel and eight Gripen aircraft, at a monthly cost of $22 million. In Afghanistan, Sweden has maintained – and even gradually increased – its troop presence in the northern province of Mazar-e-Sharif, where, together with Finland, it leads a Provincial Reconstruction Team.