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October 17, 2005For centuries beset by conflicts, Europe began experiencing an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity at the end of World War II and continue—at a greater pace—after the end of the Cold War. “Never has the European continent been so whole, secure, and free,” reads the introduction of a report titled “European Defense Integration: Bridging the Gap between Strategy and Capabilities.”

The study is a product of the Center for Strategic and International Studies-chartered group co-chaired by retired USAF Gen. Joseph Ralston, a former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and retired German Gen. Klaus Naumann, a former German Defense Minister.

Their report says that Europe’s leaders have grown lax with prosperity and that if investments in integrated defense capabilities do not take place alliances such as NATO face decreasing relevancy. “Whether the transatlantic partners work together or opt to act on their own, enhancing European defense capabilities is not only in Europe’s interest but also in the interest of the United States and Canada,” reads the report’s forward.

Given the realities of spending levels and priorities across the European Union, the pair suggests that the obvious way to enhance European defense capabilities and shortfalls is through a greater degree of defense integration. They advocate an interdependent network of defense capabilities. “Failure to meaningfully improve Europe’s collective defense capabilities in the coming years would have profoundly negative impacts on the ability of European countries to partner in any meaningful way with the United States to meet shared security challenges,” the foreword concludes.

The 95-page study is broken up into three parts: New challenges need new capabilities; resource constraints require more integration of efforts; and a stronger European defense capability is good for both sides of the Atlantic. 

High on their list is modernization of NATO—from top to bottom. According to Ralston and Naumann, the alliance has to overhaul its defense planning process, starting with an independent commission’s review of defense planning processes, to design more rational integrated and agile guidelines for the member states. “Costs saved through streamlining NATO should be redirected toward investment in building up NATO’s expertise on potential theaters of operation such as the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa,” the report states. Further cooperation with the European Union also is essential for NATO’s continuing relevance. In addition to building new capabilities (such as the NATO Response Force), the two organizations should work together to de-conflict commitments to multinational forces, as well as harmonize standards and metrics for force planning.

In addition to identifying critical capabilities in military forces across Europe (especially in relation to expeditionary operations), the study concludes that countries should work to identify “clusters” of states that have an advantage and can play a leading role in addressing a shortfall in a particular area, such as special operations or C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance). Of course, Ralston and Naumann acknowledge that identifying the cluster is very subjective and includes consideration of factors that range from political leadership to national ambition and industrial capacity.

The basic premise put forth in the study is not “new think.” (Read our March 2001 article “Why the Allies Can’t Keep Up,” here.) Its import rests primarily on Ralston and Naumann, both highly respected in defense circles on both sides of the Atlantic. Their bottom line: Integration is not just an interesting idea; “it is an imperative.”