'Plug and Play' To Bridge NATO Asymmetries

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Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

By Ronald Joshua
IDN-InDepth NewsReport

MUNICH (IDN) – Confronted with budgetary constraints, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is engaged in developing a "smart defence" initiative, which would also encourage a 'plug and play' approach bringing together different types and generations of military equipment through a common connector.

The importance of such an approach was underlined by NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen while speaking before a group of 10 heads of state and 40 foreign or defence ministers on February 4 attending the 48th Munich Security Conference:

"My own country, Denmark, operates F-16 planes bought from the United States. But during the NATO-led operation for Libya, it became clear that they were not capable of carrying French munitions. So a universal ammunition adaptor is now being tested to overcome this problem. It's a bit like a plug adaptor for planes."

Rasmussen  added: "We already have this ‘plug and play’ approach. It brings together different types and generations of equipment through a common connector. For example, Missile Defence connects American and European assets into a single NATO system. This shows that the cost of developing a connector can be cheaper than developing new compatible equipment. At times, it can be the best way to minimise cost and maximise our security."

Stressing the significance of Euro-Atlantic military cooperation, U.S. Defence Secretary Leon E. Panetta quoted President John F. Kennedy's remarks at the first Munich conference in 1962, highlighting Kennedy's vision that one day the United States could partner with a revitalized Europe, "on a basis of full equality in all the great and burdensome tasks of building and defending a community of free nations."

That vision is "closer than ever" to realization, the U.S. defence secretary said, but emphasized NATO must remain prepared, as the United States has committed to remaining prepared, to deal with global threats as they occur. He challenged his European counterparts to match the U.S. in maintaining military capability in the face of budget constraints. United States would like to see European nations invest similarly in NATO's current and future capabilities, he noted.

Panetta cautioned against too-deep cuts under NATO's "smart defence" initiative, aimed at combining nations' military resources. "Approaches like smart defence help us spend together sensibly -- but they cannot be an excuse to cut budgets further," he said.

With an eye on the Chicago NATO summit in May, he added, smart defence "should be part of a longer-term plan to invest in a NATO force for 2020 that is fully trained and equipped to respond to any threat and defend our common interests."

Referring to the U.S. Congress decision to cut $487 billion in defence spending over the next decade, Panetta emphasized the need for a new strategy that will result in "a smaller but increasingly capable force, intent on emerging challenges in the cyber and space domains and focused on Asia and the Middle East, with a robust global presence and response capability".

NATO is one of the central alliances underpinning the U.S. strategy, Panetta said. "I believe that today's strategic and fiscal realities offer NATO the opportunity to build the alliance we need for the 21st century … the core of an expanding network of partnerships across the globe."

The United States offers concrete proof of its commitment to Europe and NATO, he added. As part of the phased approach to European missile defence, the U.S. will station missiles in Romania and Poland; deploy four cruisers to Rota, Spain, capable of shooting down ballistic missiles; and contribute major funding for the Alliance Ground Surveillance system – consisting of five Global Hawk intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles and ground-based control equipment – agreed at the NATO defence ministers meetings on February 2 and 3.

According to U.S. defence officials, U.S. Army forces in Europe will however be reduced from roughly 47,000 soldiers to 37,000, with a total U.S. assigned troop strength in Europe of around 80,000, including Air Force, Navy and Marine troops.

Nevertheless, the United States will identify a brigade to serve as the nation's land force contribution to the NATO response force (NRF), Panetta assured. "The NRF was designed to be an agile, rapidly deployable, multinational force that can respond to crises when and where necessary," he noted. "The United States has endorsed the NRF but has not made a tangible contribution due to the demands of the wars -- until now."

A U.S. Army battalion will rotate twice a year to Europe for training, while two army heavy brigades will be removed from European basing. Still, according to Panetta, the U.S. Army presence in Europe will remain the largest anywhere in the world outside the United States.

Highlighting another important aspect, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen stressed that "Euro-Atlantic security is interlinked with and a corner stone of global security." He added: "During the last two and a half years we have made substantial progress in the NATO-Russia relationship. But it has not yet reached its full potential. Far from it. But . . . a successful cooperation between NATO and Russia on missile defence would be a game changer." [IDN-InDepthNews – February 05, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: Clinton, Panetta and Rasmussen at Munich Conference | Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

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