Overcoming Friendly Force Dilemmas: How the US Can Strengthen NATO and the EU

In just two months, NATO leaders will gather for their first formal summit in two years. The agenda will include revising NATO’s Command Structure, ensuring fair burden-sharing, increasing cooperation between NATO and the EU, and augmenting the Alliance’s role in projecting stability and fighting terrorism. These are necessary steps on the path to strengthening Western security, but it remains unclear whether they will succeed in fully safeguarding the transatlantic community. In addition to change within NATO, Western leaders – especially those in Washington – need to give thought as to how they can more comprehensively buttress both the Alliance and the EU in order to promote collective security. Shortcomings in interoperability, capability, decision-making, and other areas comprise major hurdles as NATO and the EU attempt to ameliorate the process of addressing security threats.

Over the last several years, major new challenges have confronted European security. Russia’s illegal land grab in Ukraine and ISIS-inspired transnational terrorism are two of the most obvious examples. However, climate change, destabilizing migration, insufficient energy resources, a weakened European identity, and manipulation of public opinion through information operations also greatly complicate an already threatening security environment.

Two of the most powerful and successful intergovernmental security institutions – NATO and the European Union – have each taken steps to address insecurity in Europe. NATO’s and the EU’s  are just two examples of how the transatlantic community and the countries of Europe have sought to leverage their collective strength to achieve security gains for all. 

Although these and other initiatives undertaken to date have been necessary, they have nonetheless proven insufficient in mitigating the aforementioned security challenges. A study sponsored by the U.S. Army and undertaken by student and faculty researchers at the U.S. Army War College has sought to address this fundamental puzzle. Specifically, the study identifies political divisions, tedious decision-making procedures, insufficient interoperability, a lack of shared threat perceptions, inadequate resourcing, insufficient capabilities and capacity, an incomplete operational picture, and inadequate maneuverability as the most problematic of the institutional shortcomings that collectively frustrate the ability of NATO and the EU to meet their security-related goals.

These institutional shortcomings are critically important to the United States, given how prominently Europe sits within U.S. vital national security interests. The  is clear on how a strong and free Europe is vital to the United States, on how NATO, in particular, forms one of America’s great advantages over its competitors, and on how a fractured NATO and a weakened EU only benefit the U.S.’ adversaries. 

Unfortunately, several of the institutional challenges identified in this study seem stubbornly persistent – for instance, disagreements over adequate resourcing of NATO are nearly as old as the alliance itself. Moreover, many of these problems might appear to lie beyond the influence of the U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Army.  

Nevertheless, this report has put forth a number of recommendations in four broad areas where DoD and Army engagement can help overcome the thorny problems identified in this study, and thereby drive a more coherent security response from NATO and the EU. First, the study identifies needed improvements in NATO and wider European capability development, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe. In particular, the study recommends that the United States refocus foreign military sales, reinforce EU defense consolidation, and build capacity in both the military sphere and in Europe’s ability to respond to disaster relief operations.  

Second, the study recognizes the key role that the Chief of Staff of the Army plays on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, encouraging Army leadership to use its influence to press for structural and policy changes within NATO. In particular, the study recommends that the Army and DoD use their influence in the interagency to address NATO’s unwieldy decision-making process, foster greater commitment to the NATO Defense Planning Process, and promote the development of a division of labor strategy that would reduce duplication of effort between Europe and the United States.    

Third, the study identifies critical improvements necessary in European infrastructure that would improve mobility and provide rapid reinforcement in the event of a crisis in Europe. In this context, the United States should continue to pressure European countries toward implementing the initiatives already put forward in the  and the extant Readiness Action Plan. Washington should also consider earmarking more  funding for infrastructure projects to reduce redundancy and improve resilience in European transport networks, especially those that connect ports and airports with pre-positioned stocks.

Fourth, the study recommends that Washington consider a number of steps that would reduce risk, generate a more robust deterrence, and enable greater cohesion among its European partners. In particular, the report suggests that the United States should reframe the intelligence classification process to emphasize sharing among allies, station additional forces in Europe to strengthen deterrence, and prepare to unilaterally deploy forces forward in advance of any decisions made by the North Atlantic Council (NAC).

Throughout, what sets this study apart from other analyses produced for senior Army and DoD leadership is that it is largely based on the informed assessments, research, and analysis of America’s allies and partners. The team that authored this study includes military officers from some of America’s closest security and foreign policy partners – Austria, Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The officers that comprise the study team collectively offer a unique perspective on the topics examined in this study, one that senior DoD and Army leadership do not typically hear from.

Given the importance the United States has long placed on leveraging its relationships with its allies and partners to address the most pressing security challenges of the day, it is vital to consider and heed their perspectives. The security of North America and of Europe remain interdependent – as leaders of the transatlantic community prepare to gather in Brussels this coming July, they should strive to more comprehensively strengthen the key institutions that serve their citizens’ interests.

The authors are resident students at the U.S. Army War College, with the exception of Colonel Calvo, who is a faculty member. At 2 p.m. on 23 May, they will conduct a roll-out event at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, VA.  and open to the public. http://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/events/details.cfm?q=186