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Policy brief | 9 July 2024

NATO’s revival of collective defence and the challenge of national commitments

In a new Policy Brief by the European Leadership Network (ELN), ELN Senior Associate Fellows Nicholas Williams and Simon Lunn analyse the re-emergence of collective defence as a focus for NATO and what it means for national governments in the alliance. 

The approval of NATO’s regional plans at the Vilnius summit in 2023 marked the most important step by NATO towards a fully-fledged collective defence for the first time in over 30 years. It was a sign of how seriously NATO leaders took the Russian threat. The regional plans are demanding and complex. They will almost certainly cost NATO members more than the current commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence, let alone 2.5% of GDP, which many now believe is necessary. They have received remarkably little public or parliamentary scrutiny. They raise several questions in terms of affordability, oversight of the military and even their compatibility with the oft-debated question of a European defence capability. It is doubtful whether the full resource and policy consequences of these plans have been fully examined or absorbed.

NATO’s regional plans should be the subject of detailed parliamentary scrutiny by the various individual national parliaments, whose role should focus on ensuring that national commitments to NATO are consistent with the resources and political aims of their respective countries. In particular,

  1. The true costs of implementing NATO’s regional defence plans, both nationally and collectively, should be identified.
  2. In light of a potential Trump presidency, the idea of a separable European military pillar within NATO should also be examined as a matter of urgency; NATO’s military authorities should also explore this idea. At the very least, given the all-embracing and intensive nature of NATO’s regional defence plans, the practical compatibility of a potential autonomous European defence with an actual NATO defence needs to be examined in further detail.
  3. The system for securing national military commitments for NATO military purposes seems to give too much power to the NATO military authorities, particularly the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). This process, again, should be the subject of detailed public and parliamentary scrutiny.

Read the full policy brief here. 

The European Leadership Network itself as an institution holds no formal policy positions. The opinions articulated in this policy brief represent the views of the author(s) rather than the European Leadership Network or its members. The ELN aims to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time, to further its charitable purposes.

We operate as a charity registered in England and Wales under Registered Charity Number 1208594.

Image credit: Flickr / ©Sergeant Paul Shaw LBIPP (Army)