NATO After Afghanistan

“NATO is much more than Afghanistan,” former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the Atlantic Council on May 19. Supreme Allied Commander Admiral Jim Stravidis agreed, noting that although Afghanistan is important, the alliance is a “very, very active” fighting force engaged in missions all over the world.

Albright was invited by Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in February to lead a panel that will make recommendations on the alliance’s future. The challenge ahead for NATO, she said at the time, is to determine how an alliance, “that unifies peoples and values under a common defense, created to defend against a threat that no longer exists [can] find relevance against a whole new set of threats.” The question is all the more pressing because part of that alliance doesn’t count waging war in the Middle East among its priorities anymore.

Admiral Stavridis maintains that NATO has done “a good job of getting 28 member nations together” on Afghanistan but that’s not the whole story. The German government has been under pressure for months on the Afghanistan issue while the ruling coalition in the Netherlands even collapsed last February when it proved unable to decide whether or not to prolong the Dutch participation in ISAF. What’s more, NATO has been deeply divided over the war in Iraq with particularly France objecting staunchly to unilateral military action on the part of the United States.

Sarwar Kashmeri at the New Atlanticist is more realistic in his assessment. NATO, he warns, is “increasingly dysfunctional” and “still searching for a new role two decades after the end of the Cold War.”

Left dangling in this state NATO will soon become irrelevant to the security needs of the Euro-Atlantic area. Worse, its internal tensions will continue to damage the already frayed transatlantic ties.

The answer, Kashmeri believes, is to “bridge the alliance with the European Union’s Common Security and Defense Policy” which would augment NATO’s military power with civilian, legal and police tools while boosting legitimacy of American-led endeavors among European allies.

The problem, as always, is Europe’s willingness — or lack thereof — to participate in missions overseas. Most European NATO members spend less than the required 2 percent of GDP on defense while decades of peace and stability on the continent have left Western Europe with little appetite for war. Much of the West prefers to free ride on American power instead and for the last half century or so, America has been comfortable with that situation. Increasing financial pressure at home and military overstretch in the Middle East are forcing the United States to cut back however. Europe will have to shoulder its part of the burden soon.

Not all NATO partners always shrink from doing their bit. Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom all maintain sizable armed forces while France still likes to think itself a great power. Smaller nations like the Netherlands and Norway invest particularly in their navies while Austria and Canada for instance maintain respectable and specialized air forces. European countries have been quite willing to participate in peacekeeping operations in former Yugoslavia and several are currently engaged in anti-piracy efforts off the Horn of Africa — the obvious difference between Yugoslavia and anti-piracy on the one hand and Afghanistan on the other being that Europe doesn’t consider the latter to be so much in its own interest though. The United States may be happy to fight for peace and democracy all over the globe; Europe isn’t.

Part of the solution is to let Europe operate more on its own in order to avoid resentment toward perceived American unilateralism. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem. In the years ahead the United States’ focus will logically turn to the Pacific. American policymakers continue to worry about China’s naval ascendancy and will likely persist in their efforts to counterbalance that largely imaginary threat by strengthening their ties with Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea. Europe would have to cover the Atlantic and Africa.

The tricky part is to persuade Europe that it should. Closer integration of EU and NATO security policies is desirable in this regard, not just because the potential of European might is slim indeed. As Robert Kaplan predicated last year, “America will have no choice but to yank Europe kicking and screaming into conflict zones.” Better if it feels that it has something to say about where it is being dragged into combat.

Russian Foreign Arms Purchases Are Good for Regional Stability

A great deal of ink has been spilled recently about how terrible it is that a number of European NATO members are considering selling arms and military equipment to Russia. Many commentators vehemently argue against such arms sales. The reasons for the opposition are rarely stated openly, but when they are they tend to focus on the fear that such deals would tie West European states more closely to Russia, preventing them from standing firm against Russian policies that the commentators oppose. A secondary reason is that these deals would improve Russian military capabilities.

Both of these reasons are fundamentally misguided. First of all, countless studies have shown that greater ties between states reduce the likelihood of conflict between them. If France or Germany sell military equipment to Russia, they not only establish closer ties between their militaries, but they also make the Russian military more dependent on NATO military equipment. Cold warriors seem to think that the dependency argument only runs in one direction — Western states who sell to Russia wouldn’t want to lose sales, so they’ll do whatever Russia wants. But the road of mutual dependence is a two way street. If Russia starts buying certain categories of military equipment from abroad, its domestic defense industry will likely lose whatever capability it still has to produce that category of equipment. Russia will then depend on NATO states for the procurement (and perhaps maintenance) of its military equipment. In that situation, Russian leaders will have to think twice before undertaking any actions toward NATO that are sufficiently hostile as to result in it being cut off from access to such equipment. This form of dependence is much more serious. After all, if Russia gets upset with France and stops buying its military equipment, French arms manufacturers will lose some money and perhaps some French people will lose their jobs. But if France cuts off military sales to Russia in a situation where Russia is dependent on France for certain types of equipment, Russian security will suffer.

Some analysts fear that Russia could use equipment purchased from NATO, such as the Mistral ships, to attack its neighbors. The 2008 Georgia war showed that even without NATO equipment the Russian military is plenty strong enough to defeat a small and weak army of the kind that just about all of its immediate neighbors possess. Western arms sales are not necessary for Russia to be able to successfully undertake hostile action against a country like Georgia. But again, if NATO arms sales to Russia become ubiquitous, Russia may well become more hesitant to undertake actions that could potentially result in the cut-off of such arms sales. In other words, Western leverage over Russian actions will actually increase.

Second, if Russia starts using NATO equipment, this will improve interoperability between Russian and NATO military forces, making their efforts at military cooperation more effective. Since the two sides are much more likely to work together on potential issues such piracy, smuggling and counterterrorism than they are to actually fight each other, it seems to me that selling NATO equipment to Russia can only lead to improvements in security for NATO states.

Russian leaders have recently contemplated a large number of potential arms purchases from abroad, including both basic equipment, such as uniforms, weaponry, such as sniper rifles, and major platforms, such as amphibious assault ships and armored vehicles. This shows that these leaders no longer trust the capabilities of Russia’s domestic defense industry to rebuild the Russian army, which is equipped almost entirely with aging Soviet era technology. They have come to understand that foreign ties are only way to rebuild their military capabilities in a reasonable time frame.

Western leaders should encourage this trend, because it will only enhance regional and global security. Rather than “eroding the effectiveness of NATO policies toward Russia and in NATO’s own eastern neighborhood,” extensive arms sales by NATO states to Russia will increase Russian dependence on the West, decreasing the likelihood that Russia would take unilateral military action contrary to Western interests, while enhancing regional security by improving the ability of Russian forces to cooperate with NATO forces against threats to their mutual security.

This story first appeared on Russian Military Reform, May 12, 2010.

Free Riding on American Power

Over at Defense Tech, Greg points out that a debate is underway about the question whether Western Europe and parts of East Asia are “free riding” on American military power.

Michael Auslin, director of Japan Studies with the American Enterprise Institute, started the discussion earlier this month with a contribution entitled “Three Strikes against US Global Presence” in which he warned of the “coming end of America’s overseas basing and ability to project power.” He seems rather to overestimate Japan’s unwillingness to allow a continued American military presence on its soil, but his fear that ever burgeoning financial commitments at home will inevitably diminish American prowess, at least in part, is credible.

Add to that two ongoing wars in the Middle East, and even the world’s only superpower is hard stressed to maintain global predominance. Read more “Free Riding on American Power”

Cold Response

Between February 17 and March 4, Norway hosted the Cold Response 2010 military exercise in Troms county, above the Arctic Circle. More than 8,500 troops as well as 1,000 special forces from fourteen different nations participated, including soldiers from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The exercise, the first of its kind to take place exclusively in the minus thirty degree Celsius temperatures above the Arctic Circle, tested cold weather amphibious operations as well as interoperability between expeditionary forces. Ground operations ranged from company-sized maneuvering to a brigade-sized beach assault. Both American and Royal Marines hit the beaches in landing craft, with air and naval support, responding to the “invasion” of fictitious Northland by the enemy from Eastland. Read more “Cold Response”

Rethinking NATO’s Future

It wasn’t too long ago that NATO’s post-Cold War purpose seemed perfectly clear. During the Clinton Administration, the United Stated led allies in humanitarian efforts around the world but in Europe’s backyard especially. Up to this very day, Western forces are actively engaged in peacekeeping in former Yugoslavia and, of course, in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan mission however, within the context of counterterrorism and -insurgency, has cast doubt upon NATO’s proper role. European allies are increasingly weary about risking soldiers’ lives for the sake of ensuring peace and stability in regions far beyond their borders. Many countries contribute only modestly to ISAF; others, like Canada and the Netherlands, are preparing to pull out altogether while in the United States, traditionally the most supportive of military endeavors overseas, public support for the war is shrinking.

At the same time, former Cold War rival Russia isn’t at all enthusiastic about NATO’s eastward expansion. The Russian Bear roars anew, intend on safeguarding its former spheres of influence.

No wonder then that Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is planning for the NATO of tomorrow. He has invited former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to chair a panel that will make recommendations about the organization’s future. Albright is thrilled to do it. “NATO has been a thread throughout my life,” she told Politico last week.

Albright describes NATO’s challenge as follows: “How does an alliance that unifies peoples and values under a common defense, created to defend against a threat that no longer exists find relevance against a whole new set of threats?” Especially when at least part of that alliance doesn’t considering fighting wars in the Middle East directly in its own interest.

In NATO’s ill-defined twenty-first century role — serving as something of an international police force while trying to bring peace and democracy to other parts of the world — Western European member states, in spite of all their admiration for President Barack Obama, have been reluctant to pitch in. For a new Atlantic order to take shape, the alliance must find a way to get Europe more involved.

That is why current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Washington DC yesterday, stressed that the EU is no competitor of NATO. “We see a strong Europe as an essential partner,” she said.

“NATO’s success in providing a security foundation for Europe’s transformation is one of the great accomplishments not only of NATO but, as many of you also believe, of any political-military alliance in history.” The alliance has fostered political and economic reform and “helped create the stable, democratic Europe we see today,” according to Clinton. As such, the alliance should “continue to keep its door open to new members.”

Clinton is aware of Russia’s unease with NATO expansion. “While Russia faces challenges to its security,” she said, “NATO is not among them.” The secretary called on Russia to collaborate with the alliance on the missile defense of Europe and the fight against nuclear proliferation. “European security will benefit if NATO and Russia are more open about our armaments, our military facilities, and our exercises.”

As the United States see it, the original tenets of NATO’s mission — “defending our nations, strengthening transatlantic ties, and fostering European integration” — still hold. But in an interconnected world, the alliance cannot accomplish that mission by crouching behind its geographic boundaries. “Reality has redefined the area in which we operate.”

For the organization to survive into the twenty-first century, said Clinton, “we’ll need to ensure that the evolution of NATO’s political capabilities keeps pace with its operational capabilities.”

This means that it may also have to provide civilian capabilities, especially in the early phases of a crisis when it is the only institution in the field. For too long, our alliance has been hamstrung by those who argue that NATO is an exclusively military organization and oppose attempts to develop — or in some cases even to discuss — the alliance’s capacity to take on civilian responsibilities.

The war in Afghanistan has shown that NATO cannot fulfill its new, broader purpose without developing non-military means to resolve conflicts. “If we are going to succeed in counterinsurgency warfare,” said Clinton, “NATO must continue developing mechanisms to draw on the existing security-oriented civilian capacities of its member states.”

Can We Win in Afghanistan?

Writing in July 2008, retired United States Army General Barry McCaffrey, a Gulf War veteran and critic of the initial American strategy in Iraq, assessed the war in Afghanistan and concluded the following.

  1. “Afghanistan is in misery.” Life expectancy is low and violence and crime are rampant. At the time, McCaffrey expected Afghan governance to worsen at least until the summer of 2010.
  2. An enormous majority of the Afghan people reject the Taliban but have little faith in the government’s ability to provide them with security and jobs. They do trust the foreign forces but are suspicious about their long-term commitment.
  3. Afghan and NATO forces are militarily superior to the insurgents but they “cannot win through a war of attrition.”
  4. The war has basically run into a stalemate while Afghanistan’s political elite is “focused more on the struggle for power than governance.”
  5. Additional forces are required to break the deadlock.
  6. There is no “sensible coordination of all political and military elements of the Afghan theater of operations” which is hampering the war effort.

General McCaffrey specifically called on NATO to provide more troops. International cooperation was, and is, of the utmost importance in winning the war, he wrote — more than a year ago.

In a similar finding last November, the general appeared all the more pessimistic. “The Taliban believe they are winning,” he wrote and the Afghan people “do not know who will prevail.” Their trust in the Afghan government has declined further while allied casualties have “gone up dramatically.”

There is some reason to be hopeful though. “The Afghan National Army is a growing success story,” and “ISAF is reinforcing just in time to rescue the deteriorating tactical situation.”

David Betz at Kings of War is skeptical however. He notes that none of McCaffrey’s original six concerns have really been addressed. That seems only partly true.

Yes, Afghanistan is still in a deplorable state. Civilian casualties and unemployment figures remain high while the military and ideological power base of the Taliban might well be gaining strength. They are waging a successful propaganda campaign that portrays the Taliban as a disciplined and truly Islamic alternative to the corrupt and incapable Kabul government and to the Western troops which they claim intend to occupy the country indefinitely.

President Obama attempted to counter this claim when he announced a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces; a decision that General McCaffrey thinks was the wrong one:

Our focus must now not be on an exit strategy — but effective execution of the political, economic, and military measures required to achieve our purpose.

The United States cannot appear to be “scuttling from Afghanistan,” agrees Betz. “We most definitely should, however, have our eyes on the exit and how to achieve the most seemly passage through it as is possible.” Why, yes, eventually. But right now, foreign troops are all that stand between Afghanistan and the Taliban ruling it once again.

The president’s date for the ‘beginning of the end’ will not see the immediate and complete evacuation of NATO forces. Rather, as Secretaries Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates explained on December 2 while testifying before the Senate Armed Services and House Foreign Affairs Committees, the United States is in Afghanistan for the long run — even though it will be with fewer troops

Throughout his election campaign, President Obama stressed the importance of winning the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan, he knew, was the ground where the real War on Terror was being waged. He was right. With the recent inclusion of Pakistan in the administration’s approach to the war, the United States has the ability, and must gather the will, to defeat the forces of extremism that operate from the mountainous border region between the two South Asian states and from where they continue to threaten the stability of that entire region.

The Potential of European Might

War, said Clausewitz is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse, with the mixture of other means. If your politics or those of some other propel you to military action, then that is what must be done.

The recent appointment (not election) of a European president unifies the European Union, politically more than has been seen before, with the addition of a “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy” providing the bloc with a mouthpiece on strategic affairs which one presumes will include out of area operations of a military nature and a unified approach to the strategic defense of the EU as a whole. Read more “The Potential of European Might”

The New Atlantic Order

The financial collapse of 2008 and the subsequent global economic downturn have left American prestige badly damaged. For years its free-trade rhetoric dominated debate within fora like the World Trade Organization and urged second-rate powers to privatize and reduce tariffs. Whatever its political course, American economic leadership seemed unchallenged. It was the era of the Washington Consensus.

Today, the American economy lies in shambles and eight years of George W. Bush have obliterated a great amount of the international leverage and respect that the country could previously count on. American management of globalization is contested as is American predominance on the world stage. Rising powers as Brazil, China and India and old world players as Europe and Russia all demand a place in the Obama Administration’s “multilateral” game.

Serious attempts are made in that direction. The G20 is a fine example of what Henry Kissinger called for last January in “The chance for a new world order“: “creating an international political regulatory system with the same reach as that of the economic world.” A promise that the United Nations has never been able to fulfill, the G20 now revives by shaping the political and financial framework of the future. Read more “The New Atlantic Order”

Will NATO Pitch In?

Responding to President Barack Obama’s renewed commitment to the war in Afghanistan, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen of NATO pledged 5,000 additional Western troops to support the 42,000 NATO soldiers already on the ground.

His promise seems a bit uncertain however. France and Germany announced that they will both wait until the Afghanistan conference in London next January before making a decision while Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland, the only other NATO members, besides the United Kingdom, with more than a thousand troops stationed in Afghanistan currently, are troubled by rising opposition to the war effort at home. In fact, Canada and the Netherlands both intend to withdraw forces next year.

Poland has pledged an additional 600 troops nevertheless while of the remaining NATO partners only Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom appear willing to answer Obama’s call. The first have promised 250 forces each while the United Kingdom will add 500 soldiers to the 9,000-strong force is has already deployed in Afghanistan. (A figure that apparently does not include Special Forces.)