European defence capabilities: pool it or lose it – the first round-table discussion of the EDA 2014 annual conference – brought together a wide range of "bottom-up" and "top-down" perspectives of the challenges of moving the process forward in Europe.
"The alternative to Pooling & Sharing is not that every country still gets to keep their own capabilities," said Ine Eriksen Søreide, Norway’s Minister of Defence. The Nordic defence cooperation (NORDEFCO) system works, she said, because cooperation is based on practicalities and a shared strategic view. "NORDEFCO does not have a telephone number."
"My fear is that we risk an uncoordinated approach between countries," she said, "and the foundation to successful cooperation is trust. The difference in planning cycles for countries can be a major obstacle." She added that it takes between 15 and 20 years to plan, specify and take delivery of a submarine, one of the most costly of all military capabilities. The best way to move the process forward is to identify best cases and focus on capability shortfalls.
There are a number of drivers behind the process, according to General Patrick de Rousiers, Chairman of the EU Military Committee. The ability to create a capability collectively which would not be possible singly is a primary driver – so a single ship may conduct anti-piracy operations under a national flag but training and maintenance back at base is conducted collectively. Improving efficiency was the driver behind the formation of the European Air Transport Command (EATC)where 150 tactical and strategic air lift aircraft from five nations now work together. And then there are the political and industrial motivations not just to produce a single platform but to ensure it to support it for 20 or 30 years.
"Pooling is the way of the future," said General Sverker Göranson, Chief of Defence, Sweden. "I’m not convinced nations will necessarily lose capabilities otherwise but they could be degraded." Experience has shown that a good way to start is with just two nations and then grow from that.
Tim Rowntree, Director of OCCAR, spoke of the need to build confidence now that the process can and will work. "We need to learn to look objectively at what we have achieved," he said. Nations risk losing sovereign capabilities if their requirements remain diverse. "We do need to plan further ahead, to align requirements between nations… Platforms such as the A400M have shown that our industry can rise to the occasion and deliver world beating solutions."
Numbers can be a powerful persuader – if you can show how much can be saved through cooperation then this can be presented to policy makers and they then can be challenged to say "no", he said. And cooperation is not just an issue of long term, large scale capability developments – around 90% of urgent operational requirements have been delivered through international cooperation because many of these could not be delivered through national budgets.
But the changed mind-set required has not yet fully happened, said Alexander Vershbow, NATO Deputy Secretary General. Nations still show a reluctance to lose jobs or compromise on requirements. But there are positive changes, such as the emergence of the framework nation concept, where some full spectrum capability nations team with smaller nations to agree areas of specialisation and prove full capabilities between them, "so both can get more bang for the buck," he said. NATO has developed a successful strategic airlift command where C-17s are operated on a time share basis."
To move defence cooperation further you will have to create incentives.