U.K. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond came to America last week to pick up Britain’s first F-35 Lightning II fighter, but he also left plenty of food for thought for leaders on both sides of the Atlantic.
In an address at the Center for a New American Security, Hammond highlighted challenges and opportunities for the Atlantic Alliance.
He called America’s “pivot” to Asia critical to re-engage a region vital to global security and commerce. Britain would remain America’s closest ally, but help lead Europe to step up its regional security game and in the Middle East as America dials back its presence.
Hammond also highlighted a major challenge facing every allied military that has operated in Afghanistan: how to preserve hard-won combat skills once troops withdraw from frontline operations in 2014.
The problem will be particularly acute for noncommissioned officers, the core of every army, as enlisted troops typically serve for fewer years than the officers who command them. Hammond urged allies to work together to preserve core skills so allied militaries remain effective as rapid reaction forces in the future.
And with budgets under pressure for the foreseeable future, he advocated collaborative programs — like the Joint Strike Fighter project — where America, Britain, France and Germany fulfill mutual capability needs. Financial reality and necessity would drive deeper cooperation, he said.
Hammond is right on all counts.
The alliance must sustain investment in high-end training, albeit on a smaller scale, to ensure counterinsurgency skills are preserved.
As Europe’s defense leaders, Britain and France must spur the region toward a more active security role in its own neighborhood, in Africa, the Middle East and beyond.
Europe should support America’s Asian pivot and boost coordination to minimize or eliminate discord in policy and action.
And nations must develop common programs, but with realistic expectations. Successful collaboration becomes more challenging as the number of participating nations increases, and this depends on genuine commitment and requirements shaped by core needs, not national caprice.
Driven by fiscal reality or not, cooperation is hard work, but Hammond deserves credit for queueing up core areas where NATO must make progress.