Academic journal article Strategic Forum

NATO's Uncertain Future: Is Demography Destiny?

Academic journal article Strategic Forum

NATO's Uncertain Future: Is Demography Destiny?

Article excerpt

Anticipating Change

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is no stranger to controversy. Over the past 60 years, it has endured disputes over defense strategy, the role of nuclear weapons, the size and composition of its membership, and how best to respond to looming challenges beyond its immediate territory. Today, however, the Atlantic Alliance finds itself increasingly stressed by emerging socioeconomic and political changes among the Allies--changes that are fundamentally influenced by larger demographic shifts now occurring within its membership and that, taken together, will almost certainly hamper its collective ability to deploy operational forces and further strain the transatlantic relationship in the years ahead. This paper offers a preliminary assessment of these trends, focusing specifically on the kinds of impacts that each is having, or will have, upon the Allies and the challenges for Alliance solidarity that may result.

Military Capacity: How Usable?

The most immediate trend of concern is already being seen within NATO's military manpower base. The shift from large conscript forces, which were useful in the defense of European territory during the Cold War, toward smaller, all-volunteer military establishments with a more expeditionary focus has had different and somewhat unexpected political consequences in Europe and the United States.

When the Cold War ended in 1989-1990, the United States had an all-volunteer force of 2,181,000 troops, while NATO's European Allies had 3,509,000 troops (roughly 60 percent more) under arms (see table 1). All European Allies--with the sole exception of the United Kingdom, which had an all-volunteer force since 1963--maintained largely conscript forces. During the Cold War, NATO's main role was the territorial defense of Europe; it never engaged in expeditionary operations. Such missions only began in the early 1990s with air and naval operations in the Balkans and expanded dramatically in December 1995, when the Dayton Accords resulted in the deployment of a 60,000-troop Implementation Force and follow-on Stabilization Force to Bosnia-Herzegovina. After a 78-day bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999, NATO deployed a 50,000-troop Kosovo Force, 16,000 of which remain there today. In August 2003, NATO assumed command of the International Security Assistance Force, which was authorized after the events of September 11 and the start of the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom and now maintains 52,700 troops in Afghanistan.

Since 1989, when the former Soviet threat to Europe was diminishing and out-of-area risks were increasing, NATO's European armed forces declined by more than 1.5 million troops. When Europe was beginning to respond to new risks, it had already lost roughly half a million troops by 1995, then another 300,000 by 1999, and 700,000 more by 2004; by 2008, only 1,970,000 troops remained. At the same time, most of European NATO was abandoning conscription and moving toward smaller, all-volunteer forces. By 2008, seven of NATO's military establishments had become professional; of the five military establishments retaining conscription (because of long-held threat perceptions in Turkey and Greece, territorial defense traditions in Norway and Denmark, and Germany's commitment to Innere Fuhrung, or "citizens in uniform"), conscript terms have shortened because of declining social support. In sum, in 2008, the 12 Cold War European NATO countries man a force roughly equivalent

to that of the United States--about 1,400,000 professional troops.

During the post-Cold War period, NATO has added 10 new members (in 1999 and 2004) and has extended invitations to Croatia and Albania for entry in 2009. The militaries of NATO's new members have experienced the same trends as the established members (see table 2). As expeditionary operations had become the main focus of NATO's attention, the new members focused on developing this capability and participated in NATO operations to enhance their admission prospects. …

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