On 17 June 2013 ISIS Europe attended the “Renewed Ambitions for NATO” event, organised by Carnegie Europe in partnership with the US Mission to NATO. The event marked the end of Ambassador Ivo H. Daalder’s tenure as US Permanent Representative to NATO.
Beginning with a cocktail reception in the sumptuous venue of the Cercle Royal Gaulois, the event gathered a large crowd of the “Brussels bubble”. After a short introductory speech by Jan Techau, Executive Director of Carnegie Europe, Ambassador Daalder talked about the “extraordinary accomplishments” of NATO since 2010, i.e. the drafting of a new Strategic Concept and the successes in Afghanistan and Libya.
In his words, the 2010 Lisbon Summit resulted in a “reinvigorated Alliance” as a community of values committed to collective defence, cooperative security and common structures and capabilities. Afghanistan, on its part, was presented as the success-story of NATO, largely because of the large support it received from all NATO Allies but also from 22 NATO partners. With transition to Afghan soldiers and police being launched today in the fifth and final group of Afghan provinces, Afghanistan “will soon be standing on its own two feet”. Finally, Libya demonstrated NATO’s speed and capacity to act decisively as opposed to the long hesitations that had surrounded the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. However, the case of Libya simultaneously demonstrated the “consequences of a decade of European under-investment”, as, although a vast majority of the strikes were undertaken by European NATO Allies, they relied on critical US capabilities such as air-to-air refueling.
The unsustainable balance between US and European defence spending, and the general trends in defence spending across the Alliance were naturally at the core of the challenges identified by Ambassador Daalder. Yet, by stating that “a bleak future should not be the one of NATO”, one could legitimately wonder where the whole talk about ambitions suddenly went…
Where is the ambition?
If the Ambassador’s intervention took stalk of the changes and achievements of the Alliance since 2010, little was said about its future. In a context where NATO’s major operation’s closure is looming, triggering much questioning due to the Alliance’s operation-driven transformation since the end of the Cold War, one would have expected to hear about where NATO will be heading post-2014.
Although the changing energy markets and cyber security were vaguely mentioned as key challenges of the future, it was little in terms of ambition, let alone renewal.
While underlying the plummeting of European defence budgets already years before the crisis (figures given for European Allies were 2000: 2% of GDP for defence, 2007: 1,4%) brought EU states to their knees, as opposed to the Alliance’s “strong momentum”, “reinvigoration”, and “great unity”, I could not help but wonder if Smart Defence had finally made miracles or if some logical link was missing. After all, shouldn’t there be some serious questioning about the real reasons why most European Allies decided to reduce their defence spending, even at times when their economies were growing? What does that say about concrete European commitments to NATO?
You can find more information on the event here