THE AUSTERITY measures initiated by many European governments are affecting their societies in multiple ways and very few countries in the EU or in NATO, including Slovakia, have been able to increase their defence budgets in the face of reduced government revenue and higher budget deficits.
“We are not only spending less, we are spending dramatically less,” Tomáš Valášek, the director of the Foreign Policy and Defence Department of the Centre for European Reform, a London-based think tank, told an April 13 press conference during the Bratislava Global Security Forum (GLOBSEC).
Several countries in Europe have been trying to remedy declining resources for defence by developing strategies aimed at regional cooperation and spending available funds more effectively.
Existing cooperation between the Netherlands and Nordic countries as well as between Great Britain and France will soon be followed by more cooperation between the countries of the Visegrad Group (V4).
Members of the Slovak Atlantic Commission, together with their partners from Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, have established a programme to strengthen joint defence initiatives and strategies within central Europe. Titled Defence Austerity: A New Paradigm for Defence and Security Cooperation in the Visegrad Region, and informally known as DAV4, it is based on a sharing and pooling policy, or ‘smart defence’ as it is called by NATO.
It has two main principles: to explore the most cost-effective, practically feasible and militarily useful areas of cooperation; and to establish regional defence collaboration as one of the top priorities of the V4.
Jan Jireš, director of the CEVRO Institute, a private college founded in Prague in 2005, told the press conference that the strategy does not mean saving money in the sense of reducing an individual country’s defence budgets but rather spending available funds in a better, more coordinated way.
“We do not want to give our finance ministers a pretext for cuts in defence expenditures by promoting regional defence cooperation,” Jireš stated at the press conference.
Jireš added that DAV4 wants to strengthen both NATO and EU defence capabilities by contributing more to the joint capacities of the two organisations “to prove that we are mature and reliable allies”.
Preparation of the programme document has involved several phases. First, a group of experts composed of several current and former government officials and defence analysts from the V4 countries travelled to other EU countries to learn from their experiences with defence cooperation. Later, the group toured the V4 countries to discuss the potential advantages of the DAV4 strategy.
Currently the group is considering more specific joint projects that can be undertaken within the framework of cooperation as well as analysing difficulties that the individual countries could face, Valášek told the press conference.
One principle of the new V4 defence strategy is that all the countries, for example, will not be required to cooperate at the same level on the same project since they are of different sizes and have different defence equipment and capabilities. This principle, that DAV4 calls ‘variable geometry’, will allow a particular country to refuse to participate in a particular joint project and also permit countries outside the V4 to participate if they so desire.
Damon Wilson, a US security expert and vice-president of the Atlantic Council, a think tank founded in the US in 1961, told The Slovak Spectator that the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) project established by Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland, can serve as a model for Slovakia and the other V4 countries.
“One of the things [the V4] can learn is that NORDEFCO is based on pragmatic, practical cooperation,” Wilson said. “You only do it when it means that you can be more effective.”
The document prepared by the DAV4 expert group states that the V4 countries should focus on initiatives that will bring them tangible benefits, like financial savings or access to capabilities they would otherwise not be able to procure on their own.
It also states that the V4 countries need to find a way to cooperate on awarding contracts to defence companies by adopting the principle of ‘global balance’, meaning that a country should accept that some joint orders could go to a company in another country, while firms in each country should expect to receive a proportionally fair share of orders.
The document from the expert group stresses that a crucial requirement for defence cooperation is mutual trust between the partners.
“Twenty years ago there was no such trust among some V4 members,” István Gyarmati, the president and CEO of the International Centre for Democratic Transition in Budapest, told the press conference. “Now we have become used to working together. Maybe we do not trust each other 100 percent, but then no one does.”
Jireš added that when trust is established joint projects can lead to what he called a “real pooling and sharing” policy.
Wilson agreed that multinational defence cooperation must be built on trust as well as common strategies for procurement and defence budgeting and stated that cooperation in defence cannot start overnight without facing any problems.
“There will be setbacks, there will be some failures; but do not let failure be seen as a collapse of multinational defence cooperation within the V4,” Wilson told The Slovak Spectator. “Use it [a setback] as a way to learn how to do it better.”
23. Apr 2012 at 0:00 | Radka Minarechová