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Research Report

Alliance at Risk: Strengthening European Defense in an Age of Turbulence and Competition

Giampaolo Di Paola
François Heisbourg
Patrick Keller
Richard Shirreff
Tomasz Szatkowski
Rolf Tamnes
Jorge Benitez
Copyright Date: Feb. 1, 2016
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 52
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)

    For more than six decades, NATO has provided the shield behind which the democracies of Europe have prospered in peace. By standing together, the allies prevented another major conflict in Europe so their societies could rebuild from the catastrophic destruction of World War II. Investing in strong defense and deterrence did not prevent the members of NATO from improving their respective economies. On the contrary, the safety and security provided by NATO was one of the factors that made it possible for the Western democracies to recover from war and achieve greater levels of economic prosperity than ever before in...

  2. (pp. 3-4)

    The broader transatlantic community faces a new and dynamic security environment, which includes a newly assertive Russia intent on altering the European security order in its favor and a turbulent and violence wracked Middle East and North Africa that has, among other things, spawned the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and refugee flows not seen since the end of World War II. Europe’s security climate is arguably at its worst in over twenty-five years.

    To respond to these new security challenges, the members of NATO committed themselves at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales to...

  3. (pp. 5-10)
    Richard Shirreff

    The publication of the 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) is a watershed moment for the United Kingdom (UK).¹ It offers the opportunity to rebuild capabilities lost in the past decade of resources-driven defense reviews and to arrest the weakening trend in defense and foreign policy that has been a feature of the last five years. With strong political leadership and a willingness to think and act strategically, the David Cameron government has the chance to re-establish the UK as a force for good in defense and security and a respected European contributor to NATO.

    Even before the SDSR...

  4. (pp. 11-16)
    François Heisbourg

    Unlike most European countries, France enjoys the unusual situation of not being overly constrained in its defense policy and military spending by an unwilling electorate or stingy taxpayers. It is not that the French are particularly bellicose as a people: During the 2003 Iraq crisis, opinion polls showed levels of disaffection for the Iraq war were as great as those in other European countries. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the French were similarly opposed to military intervention in Libya, with some 63 percent of the public against it on the eve of military operations.¹

    Instead, simply put, the French tend to...

  5. (pp. 17-22)
    Patrick Keller

    German defense spending “does not even begin to match the requirements” of the German armed forces, which “have been chronically underfunded since 1990,” according to Inspector General of the German Army Bruno Kasdorf.¹ Although it is rare for a German officer to publicly voice such concerns, Gen. Kasdorf had little reason to worry about the political leadership’s reaction—and not just because he gave the interview two months before his retirement. In fact, defense experts from all major parties in parliament, from the Christian Democrats to the Greens, agree with his assessment.² The Bundeswehr, despite its world-class officer corps and...

  6. (pp. 23-26)
    Tomasz Szatkowski

    In the coming years, Poland’s strategic defense policy outlook will be determined by the threat posed by Russia’s aggressive attitude in its “near neighborhood.” Although the Mediterranean refugee crisis has for the first time created direct implications for Polish security that stem from outside the traditional geopolitical East-West Axis on the Northern European Plain, this out-of-area security challenge will remain a secondary mission for the Polish Armed Forces. Therefore, even if Warsaw steps up its involvement in the anti-Daesh campaign, the main purpose of such an endeavor would be to strengthen solidarity between allies, with expectation of reciprocity with regard...

  7. (pp. 27-30)
    Giampaolo Di Paola

    Italy’s defense budget and priorities have been profoundly affected by the ongoing economic crisis across Europe, and continued slow growth within Italy. Seven years of economic recession, high unemployment, deteriorating living conditions and social safety nets, and tight fiscal policies have inevitably driven cuts in defense spending. This is true across Europe, but it is especially pronounced across southern Europe and, in particular, in Italy. Therefore, Italy’s ability to live up to the commitments on defense spending levels and military capabilities made at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales must be understood within this broader context. In other words, from...

  8. (pp. 31-36)
    Rolf Tamnes

    From a Norwegian security-policy perspective, a strong and credible NATO is crucial, first and foremost, to balance Russia. Russia will remain the defining factor in Norwegian defense planning because its military actions in Ukraine ended the deep peace in Europe, and because Russia’s military buildup increases the disparity in its power relationship with Norway. According to the Expert Commission on Norwegian Security and Defense Policy, the Norwegian Armed Forces, the society at large, and Norway’s allies need to join forces in a unified effort to create a “new normal.”

    Norway and NATO must face the threats from major geopolitical shifts,...