The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Some (different) thoughts on NATO - Part II

As promised, some more thoughts/responses on NATO and more specifically the bigger picture, notably relations with the EU.

It is undeniable that some Allies (more than just the US and Britain, incidentally) want the NATO mechanism to become better suited to expeditionary missions, whereas others (primarily new members) joined for the purpose of territorial defence (yes, against the Russkies). I would caveat that by suggesting that new Allies’ perceived reluctance to contribute greatly to the Afghan mission, for example, may have as much to do with issues of domestic defence reform as with doubts about the mission. In other words, they simply may not have the assets/capabilities to contribute as much as they or others would like.

Having said that, the likes of Poland, Romania and Estonia – who have punched well above their weight in Afghanistan (check the figures!) – would undoubtedly and justifiably take offence at the suggestion that they are not really interested in expeditionary missions.

Right now, common ground is reflected in the common realisation that NATO is the best and the only place in which all these considerations (also including the High North, on which still more Allies would like to see increased focus) will be addressed. Granted, not always to the extent which they may wish but surely that also applies to other organisations of which these nations are also members?

You will find gaps that are hard to bridge in any association that groups together 27 or 28 members. That is a simple fact of life and to question NATO’s relevance purely on that basis simply does not stand up to reason.

To say that NATO clearly does not work very well in overseas operations is unfair for reasons I expounded in a previous post. Moreover, it fails to take into account the relative success of previous out-of-area operations, notably in the Balkans. Above all, it does not address the question I asked yesterday – if NATO will not do this, then who will?

The European Union currently seems to be labouring under the serious misconception that the Lisbon Treaty will provide the tools necessary for its own overseas missions. Firstly, on this issue, the EU is simply a mechanism, just like NATO, which members may choose to apply to a particular situation. Given that 21 nations are members of both organisations, simple logic dictates that the EU would experience exactly the same problems in, notably, force generation as NATO does.

Furthermore, recent experience shows this to be absolutely true. EUPOL in Afghanistan has a maximum ceiling of 400 personnel, which is embarrassingly unambitious in itself but even more so when you consider that this figure has never been reached. The current deployment stands at around 225 I believe. It took the EU six months to find 16 helicopters for Chad. In counter-piracy, NATO’s standing assets had to fill the gap for six months in late 2008 while the EU mobilised its own fleet (and Ban Ki-Moon’s request to NATO to deploy its naval groups pretty much said exactly that). Even then, while NATO has consistently maintained a permanent presence of 4-5 ships off the Horn of Africa, the EU deployment has fluctuated from 8 to a mere 2 over the Christmas holidays.

In short, the EU mechanism is only as good as the sum of its parts, just like NATO.

To argue that NATO should only focus on what it is good at and drop the rest seems very strange to me. If NATO, or any other organisation for that matter, were to ignore its deficiencies then wouldn’t that equate to simply ignoring emerging threats and challenges? It is undeniable that the global security environment has changed radically since the end of the Cold War so it stands to reason that the organisations and insitutions which we set up during that time must also change. Translation: NATO has no choice but to change and must simply improve in ways which were not previously envisaged. Again, if NATO doesn’t then who will?

As for the Russian proposal of a European Security Treaty, how exactly was NATO supposed to respond? NATO does not have a legal personality and cannot therefore sign a treaty itself. NATO can only be a forum for discussion among Allies. Again, I think we’re attacking the puppet here, not the puppeteers.

I would agree that we – Europe – are indeed missing a chance to team up with Russia against common threats. However, I think Russia takes a fair measure of the blame for that. Leaving aside minor incidents like the invasion of Georgia, it is an established fact that Russia cleverly exploits differences between European nations precisely in order to prevent them uniting and making a common front with/against Russia (see the ECFR power audit of EU-Russia relations from November 2007.)

As regards mindsets/mentalities, it might be true to say that some NATO officials have been indelibly marked by their Cold War experiences – to state this as a "matter of fact" is stretching considerably though. However, I firmly believe this is too often drastically exaggerated as many NATO officials consistently make a strong case that NATO must change and has changed, for example in leading out-of-area expeditionary missions. It seems to me that it is a basic contradiction to criticise NATO for undertaking such missions, which the Alliance never did during the Cold War, and then criticise it for remaining fixed in Cold War mindset.

Moreover, I don’t believe that the Turkey-Cyprus issue is the only reason why NATO and the EU will never have a healthy relationship – although I do agree with the latter part of that statement. The European Union, and their innumerable bureacrats in Brussels, by and large represent a constituency that represents a certain strand of anti-Americanism in Europe and, moreover, that regards any ‘Cold War institutions’ as a means for the projection of American hard power. It is through this lens that NATO is perceived in Brussels and this is a factor which must be considered because it greatly distorts any discussion over the duplication of labour.

For example, why should America, Britain or anybody else simply accept that the EU build up its own capabilities at the expense of others? When the EU has proved itself capable of undertaking expeditionary operations (which it hasn’t, as I’ve illustrated above), then and only then can this issue be properly discussed.

Even if I were to accept the basic premise that NATO is a constituency with a Cold War mindset (which I don’t because i/ it isn’t true and ii/ because NATO is merely a mechanism, not an institution in the fashion of the EU) I would nonetheless maintain that the biggest obstacle to healthy NATO-EU cooperation – at least at the strategic level – is the mindset of EU officialdom.

This post has become a discussion about the EU as well as NATO but I think that simply reflects the reality of today. However, for all the reasons expounded above – and many more besides – the famous EU vs NATO debate is far from over.

1 comment:

  1. I am sold on nailing down the idea of NATO being a mechanism, a sum of its parts, as you put it. This is all the more important in the context of the debate on NATO's adaptation to new threats and challenges. Also, I would disagree with the premise that NATO is static and stuck in a Cold War mindset.

    What is meant by being stuck in a Cold War mindset? If anything, the expansion of NATO membership to include former Soviet satellites demonstrates that we are past a point. Does NATO's Cold War mindset refer to the tit-for-tat show of teeth between Eastern Europe and Russia? This show of teeth is a contemporary issue - but very much rooted in the past, I agree. In very general terms, I would say that Eastern European Allies are piggy-back ridding on NATO to bark up to Russia, and Russia elegantly pays back in kind. This is reflective of the internal political discourse within respective nations - and I would hope to see an overhaul of this discourse in the next 10 to 15 years. [NB: I would actually discourage reference to the end of the Cold War as a watershed. NATO is not operating in a post-Cold War context; it's operating in a post-9/11 one.]

    Secondly, on adaptation, I would argue against the view that NATO has been static is responding to what we refer to as new threats and challenges. The process of adaptation is (has been) taking place at all levels, starting at the highest politcal to that of practical cooperation between Allies and with NATO partners. The new Strategic Concept will come as a culmination to the former - it will be a key political, strategic and overarching document. The thruth of the matter, however, is that Allies and NATO partners are already cooperating on terrorism, cyber and energy security, etc. - at the very practical level. NATO has been able to draw on its capabilities and expertise (which is and will remain a military one).