One of the major ways NATO has tried to make itself more accountable to the wider population is through the release of its annual reports. The goal of a NATO Annual Report is to showcase the organization’s progress over the past calendar year, to highlight areas for improvement and to highlight future initiatives for the upcoming year and beyond. It is freely accessible to anyone who cares about the Alliance and is interested in the Alliance’s relevance to the international community in this day and age. In keeping with its time-honored tradition, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently released the Annual Report for 2013. After a thorough read, I offer some interesting points that need to be highlighted as the year progresses. This is also a useful summary for those who have not had the time to read it or for those who did not even know something like this existed.
Cost Efficiency is The Name Of The Game
The major take-away from the Annual Report is that NATO, in conjunction with all its members, is now making a concerted push towards optimal efficiency and this must be applauded. NATO members have learnt from the 2008 financial crisis and have emerged iron-willed and much smarter, and cost-efficiency has become the mantra of not just the Secretary General, but all members of the Alliance. We are seeing streamlining across the board in major operations. Even NATO’s flagship mission in Afghanistan has not been spared. In 2013, the majority of the responsibility for Afghan National security was finally handed over to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) with most of ISAF now adopting a supportive and training role in the country. This is not just because of political considerations but also because of a realization by members that the rate of financial contribution to the Afghanistan effort cannot continue at the pace it has maintained since 2001 especially in light of the already mentioned financial crisis. In Kosovo, the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) commissioned in July, 2013 has taken over the job of Civil protection from the Alliance, saving it even more money.
Administratively, NATO is also making a big push to try to streamline its command structure and its agencies. In 2013 alone, NATO reduced the number of its operational entities from thirteen in 2010 to seven. NATO also consolidated all the good work that its agencies do into four main bodies from the fourteen bodies that existed in 2011. All aimed at improving performance efficiently. NATO Headquarters has not been spared either. The organization is aiming to cut down the size of its international staff, currently just above 1,000, by 20 percent by 2018. It has also put its International Military Staff under review with the aim to streamline it further and its committee structure has been streamlined by 65 percent since 2010.
However, the project that best exemplifies the NATO drive towards optimal efficiency is without doubt the Smart Defence Initiative that was readily adopted by all alliance members at the 2010 Lisbon Summit. It is an initiative aimed at improving the overall defence capability of Alliance members while saving them a lot of money at the same time.
In 2013, members began to reap the rewards of the SDI. Allies are now saving millions by jointly maintaining helicopters used in the Afghanistan Mission , unlike in the past when they had to maintain them individually. In 2013, members also found a much more efficient way to dispose of military equipment they no longer need thanks to the SDI.
Furthermore, in 2013, NATO expanded the programs under the SDI and made significant progress on a number of programs that should see allies saving money on everything from Cyber Defence Capability Development to Maritime Patrol Aircraft Capability in the near future.
The Financial Crisis and Burden Sharing are Still Big Issues
In spite of NATO’s relentless drive towards optimal efficiency, there is no denying that the organization and its members are still feeling the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis forced many member countries to adopt austerity measures in order to restore their economies to their pre-2008 glories. NATO commitments were not spared and the overall reneging on commitments amongst members has made burden-sharing a major issue for the organization and 2013 was no different. 2013 saw a continuous decrease in European and Canadian contributions to NATO defence expenditure with Europe and Canada now contributing just 27% of defence funds compared to 32% just before the financial crisis in 2007.
The United States has had to shoulder most of the financial burden for the organization. It shouldered even more (73%) in 2013. It is no wonder that it is the major proponent of increased burden-sharing measures. The report also revealed that member states are doing even worse jobs in terms of meeting the guidelines that were to facilitate “an equitable sharing of roles, risks and responsibilities.” The financial commitments are two fold. Members agreed to set aside at least 2% of GDP to defence. They also agreed that at least 20% of that defence fund should go towards major equipment. Statistics showed that out of 28 members, only the United States, Great Britain and Greece set aside at least 2% of GDP for defence in 2013 and only Norway, France, Spain, Turkey, Great Britain and the United States allocated 20% of their defence budget to major equipment. Canadian contribution further dipped in 2013 with the country only allocating about 1% of GDP to defence and refusing to contribute more than 15% of the defence budge towards heavy equipment. In light of these statistics, it is safe to say that burden sharing will remain a major topic in NATO in the coming years.