Better Than the Sum of Its Parts: Making NATO Reserves an Alliance Resource

commentary

Jun 24, 2024

NATO member flags fly near Vistula river during NATO's Dragon-24 exercise in Korzeniewo, Poland, March 4, 2024, photo by Dominika Zarzycka/Reuters

NATO member flags fly near Vistula river during NATO's Dragon-24 exercise in Korzeniewo, Poland, March 4, 2024

Photo by Dominika Zarzycka/Reuters

This commentary originally appeared on Modern War Institute (West Point) on June 24, 2024.

This piece is part of a commentary series on the upcoming NATO summit in Washington in which RAND researchers explore important strategic questions for the alliance as NATO confronts a historic moment, navigating both promise and peril.

In response to mounting security challenges, NATO countries are trying to recruit and retain more service members, both active and reserve. At the same time, NATO is attempting to make its formations increasingly interoperable and multinational. There is one initiative that can help address both goals: integrating reserve capabilities. In doing so, NATO can both grow its forces and teach those forces how best to fight as a multinational force.

NATO has not been ignoring the potential of reserves. Many countries, especially those with conscription, have large national reserves. Finland, for instance, has only 24,000 active personnel but can reach 280,000 soldiers during wartime thanks to its active reserves. Our interview sources and reporting on individual exercises and components (PDF) suggest reserves already constitute 30–40 percent of the personnel involved in some NATO exercises and make a significant contribution to multinational operations. As with most military activities, they are doing this through ad hoc task forces, fundamental skills, and can-do spirit, not a deliberate program of training.…

The remainder of this commentary is available at mwi.westpoint.edu.


Stephen Dalzell is a senior defense policy researcher at nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND. Paul Cormarie is a policy analyst at RAND.