Where Is the Industrial Agenda for the NATO Summit?

NATO defense secretaries meet during the NATO summit in Wales, on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014.

DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett

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NATO defense secretaries meet during the NATO summit in Wales, on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014.

Defense leaders have much to discuss at the NATO Summit; it’s time they included the industries that support them. By Hugo Rosemont

Much ink has been spilt over the volume and complexity of the almost overwhelming set of security challenges facing Western leaders as they convene in Wales for the 2014 NATO Summit. Missing from that agenda: industry.

Searching discussions are underway about the alliance’s approach towards an increasingly belligerent Russia; how to handle returning foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq; the appropriate level of defense spending by NATO members; and how countries should cooperate on the apparently ever-increasing cyber threat. At the risk of being seen to want to add to an already packed agenda, it is vital that the industrial aspects of NATO’s security agenda should be taken into account during the course of the remaining discussions.

Industry’s contributions to defense and security rarely feature prominently on the agenda of international political summits. Discussions at such events naturally tend to focus on the immediate geopolitical issues of the day and how to forge the most effective response to them, with governments rarely seeing the need to consult industry in the run-up to the discussions or during them. In announcing its agenda for the 2014 NATO Summit, for example, the UK Government explained that one of its five main priorities would be around “strengthening partnerships”; this was certainly an encouraging notion, yet it was not clear that it viewed the private sector as one such partner to the discussion.

It is unfortunate that the industrial aspects of security are so often looked upon as a secondary issue because, from a technological standpoint, both members of NATO and the alliance itself rely upon companies to develop the military and security capabilities that they need. Some parties may find this undesirable, and the level of dependency does create risks, but this is the reality widely recognized amongst operational practitioners. In this context, industry needs clarity from NATO collectively on how to focus its own efforts and investment. Without greater transparency on the character of new threats, a seat at the table on how to address them and an understanding on the level of funding that will be available, how can defense company leaders be expected to fulfil their role in developing the appropriate capabilities? The attempts to rekindle a discussion on the appropriate levels of defense spending by NATO members cannot be underestimated against this backdrop.

On some of the key emerging security issues of our time, such as terrorism and the threat of cyber insecurity, operationally governments and alliances like NATO often completely depend on companies to implement their security objectives. Whilst there has been a proliferation of operational initiatives in recent years designed to harness the private sector’s contributions on such issues, a worrying lack of coordination is emerging around them. A genuine strategic discussion has not yet emerged between the public and private sectors on how to address contemporary security threats in the most effective way.

Questions that deserve urgent attention as part of this proposed industrial agenda include, for example, how the competitive urges of both individual companies and the national industrial bases of allied countries might be harnessed towards more collaborative ends; how greater coherence could be applied to the export control processes of Western nations in an extremely troubling strategic landscape; and how to structure public-private cooperation around each security issue most effectively, both domestically and internationally.

In fairness, there have been some signs that industrial considerations are featuring more prominently than usual at the 2014 NATO Summit. It has already been reported, for example, that the establishment of a ‘NATO cyber industry partnership’ is being discussed in and around the event. On more traditional capability issues, the UK Government announced in the run-up to the event that a several companies would be ‘official supporters’ of the event and that it has placed an order for 589 new armored fighting vehicles from General Dynamics. The French Government’s high profile decision to postpone the delivery of a warship to Russia also presents industrial implications.

Discussions over industry’s support to NATO members should extend beyond high level statements on the need for public-private cooperation and the letting and cancelling of individual contracts, however. What is needed is a genuinely open and focused discussion, involving companies and other interested parties, around future requirements and capabilities, and the level of investment in them. While the 2014 agenda does not leave much room for such discussions, it is crucial that the NATO Summit – and future NATO meetings – devotes some of its attention towards the private sector’s contributions to international security.

Hugo Rosemont is an independent security analyst and PhD Candidate at King’s College, London.

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