NATO should buy the two Mistral warships France is building for export to the Russian Federation this year and make them a commonly shared asset. This bold action would prevent a powerful military capability from falling into the hands of an assertive Russia, bolster NATO’s capabilities, demonstrate political solidarity among NATO allies and offer the alliance a flagship symbol of multinational defense cooperation. . . .
Paris has come under renewed pressure to cancel the contract in light of Russia’s actions over the past few weeks. As of this writing Paris will decide whether to go forward with the sale in October, when the first of the two ships is scheduled for delivery to Russia. Facing enough economic challenges as it is, Paris is loath to eat the nearly $2 billion cost of the ships and see 1,000 shipbuilders lose their jobs.
The United States should propose that NATO allies collectively buy the Mistrals and make them a common asset dedicated to the NATO Response Force. This move would have powerful, positive effects on NATO at a time when many within Europe are feeling a renewed sense of appreciation for the alliance.
First, and perhaps most important, this would prevent the ships from falling into the hands of Russia.
Second, the sale would keep the ship and its capabilities within the alliance. NATO has been in a defense depression over the past five years, with many European allies cutting core capabilities. By buying this multidimensional ship and dedicating it to the NATO Response Force, allies would show they are serious about defense in an era of renewed geopolitical competition.
Third, a NATO purchase of the ships would demonstrate powerful solidarity among allies. The Central and East European allies, as well as partners like Georgia and Ukraine, would be relieved to see the ships not become part of the Russian Navy. . . .
Finally, the warships would become the flagship symbol of NATO’s Smart Defense initiative to foster cooperation among allies on defense projects. Until now, Smart Defense has been criticized as a means of enabling allies to cut capabilities together to minimize loss. A common NATO purchase of the two Mistral ships would show that Smart Defense isn’t just a policy of addition by subtraction.
Jeff Lightfoot, a senior associate with the Jones Group International and former deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. He writes in a personal capacity.