Smart defence or optimisation of security according to NATO

By Viktor Denisenko

The concept of smart defence is quite new although its principles have been discussed for several years. Today smart defence could be considered as one of the main NATO‘s philosophies which will be pursued by the Alliance at least during the recent decade.


The current financial crisis forced the majority of countries to reduce defence costs. The crisis has also threatened defensive capacity of NATO states. In view of this NATO authorities decided to introduce a smart defence concept with the aim to optimise defensive capabilities of the alliance countries and promote more rational use of these capabilities.   


The smart defence concept (as a new way of thinking about generating modern defence capabilities) was introduced at the Munich Security Confernce in 2011 by the NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The idea is simple: different NATO states shall commit to develop and deploy different defensive capabilities (especially in the areas, where they are most successful). That means pooling and sharing capabilities - first of all with the EU where security interests in principle coincide with the NATO security interests.


In Munich Rasmussen said that smart defence is a tool aimed at „ensuring greater security for less money, by working togehter with more flexibility“. Secretary General of NATO emphasised the necessity to invest in science and technology, and create greater coherence within the EU by ensuring security and defence interests. These are the main principles of smart defence, but how this concept will be implemented in reality?


Smart defense requires from NATO states closer cooperation and mutual trust. According to expert on military security J. L. MacDonald, several projects already comply with the smart defence principles: military logistics centre opened in Prague in 2010, also the Allied Ground Surveillance programme for joint developoment of the unmanned aerial vehicles in NATO countries.


The mission of air police in the Baltic States could also be considered as an example of smart defence - air force pilots from different NATO countries patrol the air space of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. For Baltic States it would be too expensive to have own air forces, but the allocated funds could be used to develop the capabilities of other forces. For instance, Lithuania could invest into establishment of special operations forces for it has been quite successful in this field („Aitvaras“ squadrons have participated in multinational operations in Afghanistan).


Smart defence should be organised as follows: different NATO states concentrate their financial resources for strengthening their defence capabilities or are involved in the joint activity of certain defence clusters. Lithuania could prepare more special operations groups instead of investing into the air forces; Poland could improve its military air forces but spend less in establishing special operations teams. Yet, such an optimisation of forces has certain risks.  


The idea of smart defence has been bothering NATO leaders during the recent years, especially when military operations in Libya disclosed the gaps in the NATO system. This led to talks on NATO‘s existence without the U.S.; therefore one of the tasks of smart defence is to find the balance between the military forces of the United States and Europe.


But the principles of smart defence first of all require mutual understanding of all NATO states. By concentrating financial and intelectual resources in one or several spheres every state of the Alliance should ensure other states also keep their committments. 


Military mission in Libya demonstrated that NATO members cannot always find consensus on key issues, thus we can‘t speak about complete mutual understanding. Serious conflicts could arise even between NATO members, for instance, the conflict between Turkey and Greece in Cyprus in 1974. Disagreements of Lithuania and Poland could also be referred to such conflicts: there is no mutual trust anymore between the countries, i.e. the trust of 2004 when Baltic States joined NATO.


Ambitions of separate countries might also prevent from realising a smart defence concept. Some, especially large countries, might seek all types of military force. Ambitions of one state to dominate in certain military technology field and ignorance of other countries‘ experience or avoidance of cooperation might also prevent from joint and effective work.


Moreover, separate countries might have different attitude toward defence or security problems. 21st century has to face new challenges: not only a military agression but also information, cyber and other wars. Most importantly, these means of agression should be included into the general security concept and all countries should support the development of relevant defensive systems and concepts. Although this is a technical issue, it should be acknowledged as a political issue as well.  


Thus the concept of smart defence does not eliminate certain political and technical obstacles. If technical problems could be solved without major difficulties, political aspect seems to be a major obstacle in the road of implementation of smart defence concept.