Pooling and sharing: The effort to enhance allied defense capabilities

Article Highlights

  • The transatlantic nations have the collective resources to ensure a credible and robust defense capability.

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  • Recent developments in Ukraine and Crimea remind us that military forces remains a fact of international life.

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  • Pooling and sharing need not always emanate from NATO or the EU.

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Key points in this Outlook:

  • In the face of declining defense budgets, transatlantic allies have shown increased interest in pooling and sharing defense efforts.
  • The results have been mixed, with some notable successes, such as the Strategic Airlift Capability, and other less-successful efforts, such as the EU's attempt to establish a common training program for jet pilots.
  • Large-scale pooling and sharing tends to infringe on national sovereignty issues. Consequently, successful programs are most likely tied to discrete areas of cooperation and are often carried out by smaller groups of nations.


W. Bruce Weinrod is intimately familiar with the inner workings of the transatlantic defense alliance, having held senior positions both in the Pentagon and at NATO headquarters during two different American administrations. As much as anyone could, he knows not only the possibilities but also the limitations of programs designed to enhance military cooperation. In the following National Security Outlook, the 13th in AEI's Hard Power series, Weinrod examines the history and prospects for increased pooling and sharing of allied defense efforts. With a majority of European defense budgets in a death spiral, the need to do more with less through multilateral and alliance-wide cooperative programs is more pressing than ever. And, indeed, the Outlook provides examples of defense cooperation in which the results have been positive. Yet, as the concluding recommendations make clear, pooling and sharing's success will rest on a series of policy reforms and judgments that have proven difficult to undertake in the past, even as they have become more urgent today.

—Gary Schmitt, Director, Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at AEI


Recent developments in Crimea and Ukraine highlight the crucial importance of robust transatlantic military capabilities. However, these capabilities are on a downward trajectory. If current trends continue, the weakening of collective defenses may reach a tipping point where significant collective power projection would be problematic at best.

This need not happen. The transatlantic nations have the collective resources to ensure a credible and robust defense capability, and allied governments continue to proclaim the need for a capable national defense while believing that their own security can best be ensured by joining in common defense commitments and programs.

To these ends, transatlantic defense officials are giving increased attention to ways in which defense budgets can be more efficiently and effectively allocated. Most allies are largely rejecting budget increases as unfeasible in today's economic climate and are looking to each other to better utilize existing resources through pooling-and-sharing efforts.

This exploration is all the more urgent given that the United States may not always provide substantially more than its fair share of transatlantic military resources. (According to most recent figures, the US share of allied defense expenditures was over 70 percent.[1]) The September 2014 NATO summit in Wales presents the most promising overall opportunity for the highest levels of allied governments to provide an impetus for the full development and implementation of pooling-and-sharing initiatives.


"Pooling" and "sharing" are complementary terms applied to various cooperative defense arrangements for bringing together the resources of two or more nations to enhance effectiveness or lessen costs. Pooling and sharing can be accomplished within a transatlantic or European-wide framework (such as NATO or the EU) or though dedicated bilateral or multilateral arrangements.

Although pooling-and-sharing defense programs have attracted substantial attention in recent years, such arrangements existed before the emergence of the term. What is new is the high priority being placed on pooling-and-sharing projects as a way to reduce costs to individual nations while ensuring the existence of necessary military capacities.

At the same time, implementing pooling-and-sharing programs on a large sale is challenging. For example, programs tied to logistics or to tactical intelligence are relatively easy to implement. However, activities that delve more deeply into operational capabilities can become more politically and economically complex. Further, nations considering pooling and sharing can face difficult decisions regarding the allocation of defense resources that impact national defense industries and that rely on other nations to provide necessary military capabilities in times of crisis or conflict.

NATO Pooling and Sharing

Pooling and sharing is a priority objective for NATO and is included in its broad Smart Defence initiative, which was launched by current and outgoing NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2011 and was affirmed at the 2012 NATO summit.[2] Pooling and sharing has a number of antecedents within NATO.[3] The best known is the NATO airborne early warning and control system (AWACS), which became operational in December 1978. The force consists of 17 E-3A aircraft and is supported by 18 participating NATO nations, which share operational costs. The United Kingdom makes an in-kind contribution of its E-3D aircraft. The AWACS has proven to be a successful, cooperative program that has provided an important operational capability, including-most recently-its deployment in the Afghan theater of operations.

Separately, NATO operates a jet-fuel pipeline linking 13 NATO nations to provide for NATO requirements. NATO also utilizes the NATO Support Agency, which handles the organization's logistics and procurement. The pipeline and support agency are examples of pooling-and-sharing initiatives launched in the early days of the alliance.

A more recent cooperative program that fulfills a key operational need for participating nations is the Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC), a 12-member consortium that at present deploys three C-17 transport aircraft. SAC aircraft are available to contributing nations to meet their national military needs, including those related to NATO and EU commitments. SAC consortium nations include 10 NATO nations and NATO Partnership for Peace members Finland and Sweden. Based in Hungary, SAC aircraft utilize multinational crews and are supported by personnel from all participating nations.

SAC members need the lift capability of large aircraft, but most do not have the financial resources to acquire or maintain such a major capability. Thus, the SAC offers a cost-effective approach that permits participants to purchase specific sets of flying hours as needed. All SAC partners pay operational costs and can utilize the SAC for any purpose such as airdrops and assault landings. The consortium has already been used for operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya and for peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations.

The SAC also provides an alternative structural model to the AWACS. While AWACS aircraft are owned by NATO and are thus part of NATO's overall structure, SAC aircraft are owned by a legally separate consortium of nations that includes both NATO and non-NATO countries and that has an arrangement that allows the SAC to use NATO support structures. One advantage of SAC arrangements is that while the AWACS program requires unanimous consent by its partners for use, the SAC does not have such a requirement.

NATO is also currently developing another commonly supported capability known as the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system, which is to include five Global Hawk high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), with operations expected to begin in several years. These UAVs will be deployed with sophisticated radars and will allow NATO to monitor ground activities over wide areas and under all weather conditions.

The AGS will be purchased by 14 NATO nations. Its infrastructure and operational support will be funded through NATO's common funding program, which is composed of financial contributions from all NATO members. In addition, France and the United Kingdom will provide in-kind service support while other nations will supplement the AGS with national air surveillance capabilities as required. Industries from all of the AGS nations will participate in the AGS program, and all NATO nations will have access to AGS-acquired information. As with the AWACS, AGS will be a NATO system with the international status of a formal subsidiary organization of NATO. Program management will be provided by the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency.

The aforementioned programs reflect the fact that pooling-and-sharing activities can involve establishing a dedicated coordinating framework. Indeed, NATO has established specific bureaucratic structures for the AWACS and SAC. Other dedicated bureaucratic structures that were launched in the early days of the alliance, such as the NATO pipeline and NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency, are also examples of successful pooling-and-sharing programs.

There are also a number of more recently established NATO pooling-and-sharing arrangements. For example, multiple NATO nations take turns providing fighter aircraft to patrol the airspace over the three Baltic allied states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. As a result, these smaller nations do not need to acquire this capability and can spend their defense resources on other priorities. Similarly, Germany provides maritime surveillance in the North Sea, thus alleviating the need for such a capability on the part of the Netherlands.

Near-term projects envisioned by NATO include the development of a multinational cyber defense capability; creation of a multinational chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear battalion with pooled equipment and training; establishment of a multinational aviation training center for helicopter pilots and ground crews; and pooling of allied maritime patrol aircraft.

EU Pooling and Sharing

Just as NATO has capitalized on the pooling and sharing of resources, the EU has adopted pooling and sharing as a focal point for efforts to develop common European security programs. In 2004, the EU established the European Defence Agency (EDA) as a framework for coordinating European defense cooperation activities.[4] EU-EDA pooling- and-sharing efforts have consisted of a modest number of specific projects and a variety of planned initiatives.

An important ongoing program area facilitated by the EDA involves military air transport. In 2010, the EDA began operation of the European Air Transport Command (EATC), based in the Netherlands. The EATC coordinates military transport fleets of its five member nations (France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg) and undertakes occasional exercises and training programs. In 2013, eight nations-four EATC states plus the Czech Republic, Italy, Sweden, and Spain, the host nation-participated in the European Air Transport Training Exercise.

In addition, the EDA has established the framework for a European Air Transport Fleet (EATF). The EATF has 20 members but is currently more of a notional structure than an operational enterprise. Over time, the EDA would like the EATF to expand to include the exchange or acquisition of aircraft and supporting capacities, including maintenance, cargo handling, and common training.[5]   

An important recent development was the Ghent Initiative, presented to the EU in September 2010 by Sweden and Germany. The initiative proposed that the EDA could, in close cooperation with other organizations, coordinate and potentially link various EU pooling-and-sharing efforts. The initiative also urged EU nations to divide their military capabilities into several categories: capabilities that are indispensable to the state's security and need to be maintained exclusively by the state, capabilities that could be maintained in closer cooperation with partners without the state losing authority over them (pooling), and capabilities that could be eliminated when provided by other states (sharing).

Over the past few years, EU member states have put forward many ideas for enhanced pooling and sharing in areas that are key military and operational enablers: strategic transport, air-to-air refueling, medical support, surveillance and reconnaissance, maritime surveillance, pilot training, naval logistics, and military communication satellites. As yet, however, there has been halting progress in implementing these ideas at the EU level.[6]

Independently, the EDA has offered to assist EU nations with pooling and sharing in areas such as shared use of fixed military infrastructure and in defense acquisition and manufacturing. The EDA is also assessing potential projects in maritime surveillance capabilities, surveillance and reconnaissance, military satellite communications, smart munitions, and naval logistics. Further, in November 2012, the EDA promulgated a voluntary code of conduct whose stated purpose is to support cooperative efforts to develop defense capabilities.

That said, a substantial part of EDA activities have thus far consisted of studies and recommendations as opposed to actual programs. The absence of more definitive defense projects is a result of several factors: 1) the lack of major financial commitments for such projects, 2) the view in most EU nations that national interests-including sustaining national defense industrial bases-take priority over cooperative endeavors, and 3) the United Kingdom's firm position that EDA programs must be limited in scope and cost.

Bilateral and Multilateral Efforts

In addition to pooling-and-sharing activities within NATO and EU frameworks, various European nations have developed bilateral or multilateral defense relationships that include pooling and sharing. Such arrangements typically involve nations in geographical proximity. The following subsections detail some of these arrangements.

Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO). Established in 2009, the NORDEFCO framework has reinforced an already-existing history of cooperation among the Nordic countries of Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. Defense cooperation has focused on joint training, exercises, and capability development.

Indeed, NORDEFCO holds promise to be the most advanced regional grouping in the years ahead. At a December 2013 meeting, NORDEFCO nations agreed on a future plan of action, outlined in the Nordic Defence Cooperation 2020.[7] The plan calls for air surveillance patrols (by Sweden, Finland, and NATO members Norway and Denmark) over Iceland.

NORDEFCO also announced its Cooperation Air Transportation initiative for using air transport assets and, possibly, in the future, pooled efforts in the areas of maintenance, spare parts, and procurement. Nordic countries will also, according the December 2013 plan, focus on developing joint rapid deployment capabilities, including for Arctic missions, along with developing new rules and processes for enhancing prospects for joint procurements.

The Visegrad Group (VG). The VG, established in 1991, consists of the Central European nations of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. The VG was formed to increase cooperation among the four countries in a range of policy areas, including defense.

Early VG efforts to enhance collaboration on defense projects were unsuccessful. More recently, catalyzed by the EU Ghent Initiative and the NATO Smart Defence program, the VG has given increased attention to cooperation in this area. One tangible result has been an agreement to develop the Visegrad Battlegroup, with an operational target date in the first half of 2016.[8] The group is projected to consist of approximately 3,000 troops, and Poland will serve as its lead nation. In addition, the VG has helped coordinate training for helicopter pilots under the NATO HIP helicopter support program.[9] Separately, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (both VG nations) have joined with the United States and Croatia to develop a Multinational Aviation Training Centre to train crews of Russian-made, Mi-8-type helicopters.[10]

The Weimar Triangle (WT). The WT was established in 1991 as a mechanism for cooperation among France, Germany, and Poland. As with the VG, the WT has focused principally on political, economic, and cultural relationships. Defense efforts have consisted mainly of meetings and communiqués. However, as with the VG, the WT agreed to develop a Weimar Triangle Battlegroup consisting of 1,500 troops ready for rapid deployment, which became operational in 2013.[11]

The France-UK Defense Treaty. Seeking to work around constrained defense budgets, in 2010, the United Kingdom and France reached an agreement envisioning significant pooling-and-sharing efforts in which the two nations would share nuclear-weapons testing facilities, defense research, and aircraft carriers. The agreement also called for developing a joint expeditionary force and for cooperation in maintenance, training, and logistics in connection with the French and British air forces' acquisition of the A400M transport aircraft.[12]

Implementation of the agreement has been thus far incomplete but has included regular joint military exercises. Some British officers have been deployed on a French aircraft carrier,[13] and pilots from each country have flown the other's fighter jets as an initial step toward establishing a combined joint expeditionary force by 2016.[14] France has also agreed to a British proposal to jointly develop and build a new anti-ship missile and a new generation of advanced unmanned aircraft.[15]

Benelux Defense Cooperation. Defense cooperation between Belgian and Dutch naval forces began in the early post-World War II period and has included the establishment of a single commanding officer for the two navies, of an integrated naval staff, and of integrated support structures.[16] An accord was signed in 2012 for increased joint naval training between Belgian commandos and the Dutch Airmobile Brigade. The two air forces also agreed to cooperate more closely in using each other's airfields, in joint deployments, and in integration of materiel support. Future areas of cooperation include logistics and maintenance, military education, defense acquisition, and joint military operations.[17]

Another multilateral arrangement involving Belgium and the Netherlands is the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) program, which also includes Denmark and Norway. EPAF emerged from the initial acquisition of F-16s by these nations. In the ensuing years, the nations have trained together and used common logistics facilities. Although not formally a part of NATO, EPAF fighters have deployed on NATO missions in the Balkans and Afghanistan.[18]

Key Challenges for Pooling and Sharing

Pooling and sharing can be an important mechanism for maintaining transatlantic military capabilities over the longer term. At the same time, economic, technological, military, and political challenges exist. Any of these challenges, much less a combination of them, can make the successful development and implementation of pooling-and-sharing projects difficult to accomplish.[19]

Economic issues can delay or even block pooling-and-sharing programs. Domestic-based defense industries can place great pressure on their respective governments to gain the largest possible share of work in any cooperative project. And resolving the conflicting interests may take lengthy negotiations that can substantially delay, or even render futile, the development of a new initiative.

For example, the AGS program discussed in the previous section was first proposed by NATO in the late 1980s. Despite AGS having been the top priority for NATO military leaders, it took a decade and a half for NATO leaders to reach the agreement to deploy AGS, with the delay due largely to discussions about which defense companies in which countries would get what share of the work.

In addition, nations working together do not always produce a more cost-effective outcome or a more effective capability. With shrinking defense budgets, there is even more pressure to distribute development dollars and acquisition dollars to keep companies afloat. In some instances, this can lead to the division of project work in inefficient or not-cost-effective ways, including requirements that a certain percentage of work be allocated to specific nations to assuage domestic constituencies.

For example, the NH90 helicopter, developed under a multilateral program by NATO nations, witnessed significant delays and a series of technical problems in development, with further complications arising from the fact that the helicopter was being designed for use by different military services and had different design configurations for some nations. The result was a significant increase in expected costs-probably well above what the system would have cost if the helicopter had been developed by one nation. A similar story can be told regarding the multinational programs to develop and build the Eurofighter Typhoon and A400M transport plane.

Coordination of pooling-and-sharing projects among participants can also prove challenging. Nations have different planning, programming, and budgeting cycles. For example, budget cycle variances were the principal cause of France's hesitation and delays in agreeing to a UK request to jointly develop an anti-ship missile system.

Moreover, nations participating in pooling-and-sharing efforts need to reach agreements on such matters as system ownership, military command structures, the use of bases, and possible national caveats regarding the conduct of actual military operations.

The proposed Advanced European Jet Pilot Training System illustrates some of these difficulties. The program, whose planning began a decade ago and which was approved by the EDA in 2009, contemplated using European bases for pilots to train on a common fleet of aircraft. However, national differences about key elements of the project-including which bases and aircraft should be used-and about training methods have prevented the program from moving forward. Interestingly, a similar program already exists within NATO, which for many years has conducted jet-pilot training for 13 nations at Shepherd Air Force Base in Texas.

 Domestic considerations can also delay or block the implementation of a project, even after a government agrees to join a specific program.[20] Finance ministries or individual military services may balk at providing the funding necessary to implement an agreement. For example, the United States pledged at an early point to participate in the NATO SAC program, but it delayed signing the required memorandum of understanding to begin American participation because the US Air Force was reluctant to provide the necessary funding from its budget. It finally did, but only after being ordered to do so.[21]

It must also be kept in mind that both NATO and the EU can only undertake those projects that member nations authorize and are willing to fund. In addition, there is at present an inherent limit on EDA activities, given the differing EU member views on the nature and extent of the EU's role in security matters.

Pooling and sharing requires the cooperation of national militaries, and while multinational coordination has occurred successfully at times, such arrangements face hurdles in overcoming differences in capabilities, in military doctrines, in weapons systems, in training, and in personnel and command structures.

In addition, pooling and sharing has the potential to constrain collective military capabilities. If, for example, a nation entirely gives up a certain capability in deference to another nation with similar capabilities, the loss of redundancy could be a problem in protracted or large-scale conflict operations. Also, interoperability gaps may make it challenging for a nation with advanced capabilities to work effectively with a smaller nation that possesses a similar but less-developed capability.

And, of course, a critical concern is whether shared capabilities will be available when needed. If a nation possessing a necessary capability refuses to participate in a collective military action, this will obviously make it more difficult to carry out an operation and could even alter the calculus of whether to undertake the operation altogether.

Furthermore, a fundamental concern standing in the way of large-scale pooling and sharing is how it infringes on national sovereignty. By eliminating a particular capability, it is argued that a nation becomes dependent on other nations to provide capabilities necessary for its own security and, in turn, risks its ability to carry out a core task of a nation-state.

Making Pooling and Sharing Work

Even considering the limitations and challenges outlined previously, pooling and sharing has the potential to be an important instrument for helping sustain necessary transatlantic military capabilities, especially in the current constrained economic environment. Pooling-and-sharing efforts can be most successful if they follow the guidelines outlined in the following list.

1. NATO should be open to creative pooling-and-sharing arrangements, such as the SAC, which includes NATO (and non-NATO) members but is not within NATO.

2. Although rarely popular in member states' capitals, common funding (for example, NATO nations' financial contributions for common endeavors) is necessary to carry out new programs.

3. NATO should reform its decision-making processes (especially those NATO procedures that currently call for unanimity on all major decisions) to ensure that one nation cannot block or delay a project indefinitely.

4. NATO should explore pooling-and-sharing arrangements that are developing under the recently proposed initiative to establish "frame-work nations." Under this approach, member states who have retained a broad range of military capabilities would act as lead nations in coordinating programs with an eye to meeting NATO defense planning targets on a tailor-made, multinational, but not alliance-wide basis. Smaller allied militaries would then plug into the enabling capabilities that only the
big nations can provide (for example, air-to-air refueling or strategic surveillance and reconnaissance).

5. Nations should be more forthcoming with defense plans. So far, the practice has been for individual member states to consider, decide, and announce defense cutbacks without either consulting with or informing allies or NATO. Thus, under current circumstances, important NATO capabilities can be weakened without any advance opportunity to consider how they might be maintained in different ways.

Such advance notice can allow time for an assessment to be made regarding the nature and extent of any effect of a reduction in collective transatlantic military capabilities. A dedicated evaluation center, such as a consortium of independent policy organizations, should be established. This center could assess national plans and their effect on collective capacities and could suggest alternative approaches-including pooling and sharing-that might maintain or develop a needed capability.

6. It bears repeating that the EU and NATO must avoid redundancy. There are simply insufficient resources for the organizations to be undertaking duplicative projects. At the same time, both organizations should strive to identify synergies.

In theory, both organizations recognize the need for enhanced coordination. The 2012 NATO summit specifically endorsed European programs to strengthen air-to-air refueling capacities. Further, NATO's Allied Command Transformation (ACT) has developed a number of potential pooling-and-sharing projects that consult with the EDA. In addition, NATO and the EU meet regularly in the EU-NATO Capability Group to discuss common capability requirements. NATO's ACT and the EU's EDA are also in regular contact.[22]

There may also be programs that NATO chooses not to pursue that would nonetheless enhance overall transatlantic security or provide capabilities helpful for localized contingencies. In this regard, the EDA Code of Conduct's call for giving pooling-and-sharing programs priority protection from defense cuts is sensible, and the permanent, structured cooperation arrangements envisioned under the EU Treaty of Lisbon could provide a mechanism for pooling and sharing by small groups of nations.[23]

7. Pooling and sharing should focus on practical cooperation that can truly enhance capabilities. Such cooperation also has the added virtue of often being the easiest to implement. Indeed, as described earlier, there are already a number of ongoing pooling-and-sharing arrangements in basic areas such as education, training, and exercises. More advanced efforts could focus on developing multinational logistics-and-maintenance support for selected capabilities. In any event, NATO can and should build on the cooperative efforts developed during its mission in Afghanistan.[24]

It could also make sense for multilateral programs to address core mission or functional areas, as the EATC does for airlift and air-to-air refueling. One approach would be to cluster nations by mission area (such as maritime power projection), function (airlift), or system (for example, NH90 helicopter users or F-35 users).[25]

8. Industry has an essential role in ensuring that pooling-and-sharing projects are cost effective and of requisite quality. To facilitate that goal, a focus on industrial issues must begin at the conceptual stage of a project to work out arrangements that ensure positive industry participation that continues throughout the program's operations or life cycle.[26]

External factors-including a more open European defense market, more cross-border cooperation, or mergers among European defense companies-can also facilitate industry involvement in pooling and sharing. And since most of the government-to-government frameworks for international defense cooperation have thus far been bilateral, the regulations and procedures for armaments cooperation need to be adapted for multinational procurement and cooperation.

 9. Enhanced coordination of national defense programing timetables is also essential for significant pooling and sharing to succeed. Nations must exchange information on projected national procurement processes to ensure that production cycles in such areas as requirements, development, procurement, and maintenance are in sync. All such coordination should also be linked to NATO defense planning, as appropriate.

Further, the number of variants of military systems should be minimized. This will make maintenance and training, coordination of doctrine and operational concepts, and the use of common logistics easier and less costly. Of course, the most effective allied cooperation requires that military systems be interoperable, with common standards and certifications.

10. Bottom-up involvement in pooling and sharing is likely to be the most successful approach. As described previously, pooling-and-sharing activities by small groups of nations have been ongoing, for decades in some instances, and such regional and subregional arrangements will likely be the major engine for more of these arrangements. Experience indicates that projects organized by nations that are geographically close, that generally share common values, and that have similar threat percep-tions are more likely to be developed and actually implemented. At the same time, such groups can take in additional participants when practical and when likely to enhance capabilities.[27]

However, a challenge for such bottom-up initiatives is to ensure coordination with NATO. A multiplication of separate multinational arrangements might not enhance overall transatlantic military capabilities, so these efforts should be coordinated within a NATO framework to ensure maximum results.

11. A key aspect of 21st-century NATO that is growing in importance is NATO's partnership structure. Non-NATO nations have in recent years assumed an increasing role in NATO programs and activities. Thus, it is essential to enhance NATO's relationship with its most militarily capable partner nations and to identify further pooling-and-sharing programs in which such partners can participate. Countries such as Finland and Sweden bring much to the table and are already working closely with NATO.[28]

12. Finally, and most crucially, concerns about the potential availability of military assets during a time of crisis or conflict understandably exist in a number of nations. Unless or until this issue is resolved, it will likely place inherent limits on the nature and extent of pooling and sharing and, thus, pooling and sharing will of necessity need to focus on discrete and manageable capabilities.


The protection of US and transatlantic national security interests and, indeed, the furtherance of crucial foreign policy objectives in general cannot be successfully managed without underlying credible and robust military capability.[29] While specific required military capabilities may be different than those of the past, the need for a highly capable and ready military remains. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea is a useful reminder that military force remains a fact of international life-if a reminder was even needed.

Ensuring necessary defense capabilities has become much more challenging because of the economic downturn and the absence of a shared consensus about the threats the democratic West faces. As a result, European military capabilities are without a doubt in decline. However, collective European military resources can still produce capable military forces if exploited in an effective manner. Such forces could handle security issues within the European region and adjacent areas, with the United States cooperating as appropriate, and be in a position to participate in international security coalitions addressing broader threats involving larger-scale cooperation between the United States and transatlantic nations.

The September 2014 NATO summit should endorse a specific pathway for the development of a robust transatlantic pooling-and-sharing program. NATO and the EU can both provide structural frameworks for pooling-and-sharing activities, but NATO can and should remain the principal mechanism for transatlantic military cooperation. NATO remains the strongest global military organization and is also the institutional link connecting the United States directly to transatlantic security.

That said, as previously noted, pooling and sharing need not always emanate from NATO or the EU. Various regional groupings are already playing a role in enhancing cooperation, and these organizations may well prove to be more effective in this regard than either NATO or the EU. But this should be accomplished within broader institutional frameworks and in a consistent manner with broader alliance-capability requirements.

At the end of the day, it is most important that the requisite military capabilities exist and are available when needed to protect transatlantic security interests. If nations have the political will to allocate necessary funds and address coordination issues, pooling and sharing can be a key mechanism for the development of necessary technologies and weapons systems and can play an important role in the maintenance of essential transatlantic military capabilities.

1. North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Secretary General’s Annual Report (January 27, 2014), www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/opinions_106247.htm.
2. NATO describes Smart Defence as “a renewed culture of cooperation that encourages allies to cooperate in developing, acquiring and maintaining military capabilities to undertake the Alliance’s essential core tasks. . . . That means pooling and sharing capabilities, setting priorities and coordinating efforts better.” For details on the Smart Defence initiative, see North Atlantic Trade Organization, “Smart Defence,” www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/78125.htm.
3. For example, in 2002, NATO’s Prague Capabilities Commitment called for “multinational commitments and pooling of funds.” For more information on the Prague Capabilities Commitment, see Carl Ek, NATO’s Prague Capabilities Commitment (January 24, 2007), www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS21659.pdf.
4. It should be noted as context that within the EU, there are differences regarding the nature and extent of European-only defense activities. The United Kingdom in particular has voiced a string of concerns about any EU defense projects or capabilities that would undermine the primacy of NATO or its own capabilities. That said, there is general acceptance by EU members of the concept of pooling and sharing as an appropriate EU activity.
5. The EDA envisions that the EATF “will consist of a framework federating different projects identified, different structures and different types of assets, in order to create synergies through far-reaching cooperation and coordination. It will be a flexible and inclusive partnership between national and multinational military air transport fleets and organizations in Europe, aimed at the enhancement of standardized air transport services through cost-effective pooling, sharing, exchange and/or acquisition of various capabilities, including aircraft, training programs, cross-servicing activities, cargo handling, maintenance activities, spare parts, etc.” See European Defence Agency, European Air Transport Fleet (EATF) Fact Sheet (May 19, 2011), www.eda.europa.eu/docs/documents/factsheet_-EATF_final.
6. See European Council, Joint Statement on the Common Security and Defense Policy (December 19, 2013), www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/140214.pdf.
7. Interestingly, the Baltic states, Poland, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, the EDA, and NATO’s Allied Command Transformation attended the meeting, and there was specific discussion of developing cooperation with the Baltic nations. See Nordic Defence Cooperation 2020 (December 4, 2013), www.nordefco.org/Nordic-Defence-Cooperation-2020.
8. A battle group is a multinational rapid-reaction force with separate internal command and logistics capabilities intended to provide a quick reaction capability.
9. HIP is a NATO designation for the Soviet-era Mi-8 transport helicopter.
10. See Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces of the Czech Republic, Multinational Aviation Training Centre Document Signed by Four Nations (February 25, 2013), www.army.cz/en/ministry-of-defense/newsroom/news/multinational-aviation-training-centre-document-signed-by-four-nations-80184/.
11. The Weimar Battle Group entered operational standby for the first time in spring 2013.
12. See UK Ministry of Defence, UK-France Defence Co-operation Treaty Announced (November 2, 2010), www.gov.uk/government /news/uk-france-defence-co-operation-treaty-announced--2.
13. See Royal Navy, Royal Navy Officers Join French Flagship’s Gulf Deployment (March 3, 2014), www.royalnavy.mod .uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2014/march/03/140303-rn-french.
14. See Ministry of Defence, Double First for French and British Fast Jet Pilots (February 11, 2013), www.gov.uk/government/news /double-first-for-french-and-british-fast-jet-pilots.
15. See Pierre Tran, “UK, French Leaders Agree to Cooperate on Drone, Missile and More,” Defense News, February 1, 2014, www.defensenews.com/article/20140201/DEFREG01/302010025/UK-French-Leaders-Agree-Cooperate-Drone-Missile-More.
16. For more information on the Belgium-Netherlands defense cooperation accords, see Advisory Council on International Affairs, European Defence: Cooperation Sovereignty and the Capacity to Act (January 2012), www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system /uploads/attachment_data/file/224227/evidence-adviesraad -internationale-vaagstukken-european-defence-cooperation.pdf.
17. See “Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg Enhance Defence Co-operation,” Dutch Daily News, April 26, 2012, www.dutchdailynews.com/netherlands-belgium-and-luxembourg-enhance-defence-co-operation/.
18. For a concept paper regarding an expanded EPAF, see Joint Air Power Competence Centre, Regional Fighter Partnership: Options for Cooperation and Cost Sharing (March 2012), www.japcc.org/publications/report/Report/2012-04-17_Regional_Fighter_Partnership_Options_for_Cooperation_and_Cost_Sharing.pdf.
19. This paper focuses on Europe’s role in pooling and sharing. The United States and Canada can of course participate in such programs, but a primary objective should be to enhance European capabilities. Canada has played an outsized role in NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan and takes its defense capabilities very seriously. For a Canadian perspective, see Mike Greenley, Canadian Views on Smart Defence (Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, October 30, 2011), www.ndia.org/Divisions/Divisions /International/Documents/_Greenley_CADSI_-_Greenley_-_Quadrilateral_-_Oct_2012[1].pdf.
20. It must also be kept in mind that both NATO and the EU can only undertake those projects that member nations authorize and are willing to fund. In addition, there is at present an inherent limit on EDA activities, given the differing EU member views on the nature and extent of the EU security role.
21. This made it somewhat awkward for US officials at NATO who were urging other nations to join the program while the US was not doing so.
22. However, while there is regular interaction between NATO and the EU, much of it has been pro forma. Any truly significant enhancement of their relationship will most likely have to await resolution of underlying political issues such as the Turkey-Cyprus question.
23. This provision permits a few nations, rather than all EU nations, to cooperate. As noted earlier, to date, much of the EU pooling-and-sharing effort has consisted of analyses, communiqués, speeches, and initiatives. At the same time, through this process, the EU and the EDA have developed a wide-ranging and very ambitious menu of program priorities, with some more practical than others. Of course, the fact remains that all EDA efforts are wholly dependent on having adequate resources made available and, as importantly, on national government decisions to provide funding and actual participation in specific activities. It remains to be seen how much of this agenda can and will go beyond studies and planning documents and be translated into active programs.
24. NATO is in fact developing a Connected Forces Initiative to build on connections established in Afghanistan.
25. Multinational storage of Grippen aircraft spare parts is already taking place among Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Such pooling and sharing among European allies could also facilitate better burden sharing with the United States in meeting NATO capability and force generation requirements. There might be instances where the pooling and sharing should include the United States, such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; special operations forces; and ballistic missile defense.
26. The principal NATO mechanisms for addressing industrial matters are the Conference of National Armaments Directors and the office of the NATO assistant secretary general for defense investment.
27. As noted previously, NORDEFCO is developing activities with Baltic nations. A forthcoming opportunity for cooperation will arrive with the acquisition by several European nations of the F-35 jet fighter. Norway and Britain have agreed to cooperate on their maintenance and use, and Norway will seek to extend that cooperation to the Netherlands.
28. For example, the very first signer of the memorandum of understanding for the SAC program was partner nation Sweden, and both Sweden and Finland have been active in various NATO military missions and activities.
29. It should be kept in mind that strong European military capabilities are in the US national interest and have the potential to lessen the US defense burden, especially given that US defense capacities are becoming increasingly stretched. The United States does have very important allies and friends in Asia. Nonetheless, it remains the case that when push comes to shove, it is above all  European nations that are most likely to join forces to assist the United States in military operations when US security interests are at stake. In addition, NATO is the optimum mechanism for enhancing the military capacity of non-NATO nations that could contribute military forces to US-led coalition military operations.

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