Captain Bill Norris is a retired submarine officer who has been a frequent contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW. particularly in discussion of nuclear weapons matters. After retirement from the Navy, Captain Norris served for several years 011 the staff of Sandia Corporation. He is still active in the political-military-technological field.
When NATO was formed in 1949, its purpose was to be ready to stop the forceful spread of Communism. An accomplished side affect was to develop a democratic forum and model that gave internal strength to the countries of Western Europe in recovering from the second of two World Wars that had devastated much of the landscape. There was much truth in the unofficial and oft repeated comment that the purpose of NATO was to keep the Soviet Union out, the Germans down and the Americans in.
After a ten year hiatus as it searched for a new identity, today’s NA TO is a different animal. Instead of planning to combat the unthinkable next war, its forces are involved in peacemaking and peacekeeping, both in and out of its traditional area. NA TO also has an emerging competitor for missions and as the spokesperson for Europe and the European Union. Now NATO has two new threatening lSMs to worry about, the optimism that everything is possible and pessimism that very little is really possible. To paraphrase the previous unofficial purpose, today’s NATO is trying to keep Russia down but involved, a Europe united and free and the Americans a benevolent and multilateralist hegemon.
Let’s look at how we got here in a simplistic manner. The Cold War NA TO was mainly a static force in place and ready to further mobilize its armies to halt the Soviet Union in the Fulda Gap in Germany. Based on each member’s experience in the previous forty years of European history, this meant they each maintained a military that could contribute to a common defense, but never forgetting the main mission was still to be able to defend its national sovereignty. The only real mobility required was for the North American reinforcement of Europe after hostilities began.
As we moved further and further away from both World War II, the height of Cold War tensions in the early eighties and witnessed the emergence of a new and powerful European Economic Community, meeting NA TO commitments began to occupy decreasing importance in national governments. More money was diverted from military requirements to internal national needs. The demands of rising capitalism and socialism became more important to the populations.
When the Berlin Wall came crashing down on 11/9 ( 1989), it signaled the demise of the Soviet Union as a threat to Western Europe. Somewhat of a vacuum was left between the eastern borders of NATO and the Western borders of Russia. There was great uncertainty about what Russia would become. NA TO lost its historic mission and its focus while searching for a new identity. Every nation looked for a peace dividend and NA TO commitments suffered even more. Without a monolithic threat, the forces of isolationism swept the entirety of NATO, maybe especially so in the United States. In fact, several speakers opined that Russia would be irrelevant on the international landscape for the next fifteen years. At the same time, many began to categorize European political philosophy as pacifist.
The 1990s injected several new challenges. The first Gulf War of 1990-1991 brought home the economic dependence on Mideast oil as well as the disparity in the ability of nations to deploy their military forces out of national boundaries. It also began to emphasize how the US was beginning to adapt advanced technologies to military uses and that a capabilities gap was emerging. Through the middle 90s, a new force emerged, globalism. The interdependence of the world economic community was firmly established. By the end of the 90s, the continuing inability to resolve both the israeli-Palestinian problems and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans highlighted ethnic and religious differences and radical Islamic fundamentalism as world problems that must be addressed .
NA TO acceptance of its first peacekeeping/peace-making mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a part of the Dayton Accords began a new era for NATO. NATO expansion, started at NATO’s fiftieth birthday celebration, began to fill the vacuum between NA TO and Russia. This was rapidly followed by another first, the NA TO air war over Kosovo and the subsequent NA TO peacekeeping force there. The Kosovo air war further emphasized to NA TO that the Revolution in Military Affairs in progress in the US was widening the capabilities gap. It also highlighted the problem of timeliness in political control of the NA TO military leaders and their forces during a real conflict.
9/11 (2001) was the next touchstone for NATO and introduced global terrorism as a major world threat. The historic NATO invocation of Article Vin response was muted by the apparent non-use of all of NATO in the subsequent conflict in Afghanistan. Many would attribute this to the desire of a unilateralist US to not be hobbled in a manner similar to the Kosovo air war. The second Gulf War in Iraq in 2003 was fought in a more conventional mode than that of Afghanistan, but by much the same coalition of the willing. Three highlights of this conflict were the dichotomy of US military power (a real hyper power), the difference in threat perceptions across Europe and the eventual doubt cast upon the intelligence used as a basis for the war. This war also further heightened the image of the US in majority of the Islamic world as the Great Satan and, besides Israel, the real target of future terrorist events.
Today’s NATO is a much more dynamic organization than at anytime in its history. It has real forces engaged in the Balkans and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, NATO is planning to expand its role and involved forces. The new Secretary General has implied that if the new Iraqi government requests NA TO assistance on 30 June (when it is now scheduled to begin rule), that NATO will respond. There will soon be 26 NA TO members, and for the first time more members than Partners for Peace. No wonder the optimists are smiling.
So why is there anyone with skepticism or pessimism about NATO? NATO still has nearly l 00,000 troops in the Balkans with only a questionable end in sight. There are some that expect the EU will want to take over responsibility for the Balkans. But when NA TO went in, they promised to stay until there was no need. If NA TO therefore leaves, why is there even a need for EU troops? If NA TO leaves and the EU takes over, it does not necessarily free up troops for use elsewhere as in most cases the same countries would be providing troops drawn from the same pool.
European countries in NATO have about 1.5 million men and women under arms. Various speakers I have heard over the last month have said that only somewhere between 3% ( 45000) and 10% ( 150000) of these are deployable outs,ide their home country. In many cases even if ministers at NATO headquarters reach consensus to deploy NA TO forces, the actual deployment must be approved by national legislatures/parliaments.
There is now a NATO commitment to have 6,000 troops in Afghanistan. After about six months that total has not been reached. About 40% of the troops there are logisticians. It took extreme arm-twisting to get even a marginal number of helicopters to Afghanistan to support the NA TO forces there. Now NATO is looking to assume a larger role in Afghanistan, expanding their force commitment to possibly as many as 15,000. The requirement to support 15,000 troops in a country like Afghanistan requires even more helicopters and logistical effort. If the same ratio of logisticians is in the new force, it is possible that increasing the forces by a factor of2.5 could only increase the fighting force by about 2.
Time and again the speakers would emphasize that NATO is in both the Balkans and Afghanistan for the long haul (as many as 20 years) and that NATO cannot afford to fail. Three to ten percent of NATO’s troops mean that somewhere between 45,000 and 150,000 are deployable. In most cases a continuous deployment requires three times as many troops as are deployed at any one time ( 1/3 deployed, 1/3 training to deploy, and 1/3 recovering from deployment). So the requirements today are about 100,000 in the Balkans (300,000 total required) and as many as 15,000 ( 45,000 total required) for Afghanistan.
What would be the commitment for Iraq, if asked? Some say around 30,000. This would require another 90,000 total troops. The total of these three commitments would then be as many as 435,000 troops. So how does NATO find a minimum of about 285,000 additional deployable troops (and as many as 390,000) at the same time it is trying to build a 60,000 man Rapid Reaction Force and the EU is trying to build roughly the same size force from the same manpower pool? NA TO would seem to be headed to the same military overstretch now facing the US.
Deployable forces are not just troops when you are talking about operating out of area. Very, very few of the European nations of either NATO or the EU have the strategic lift to deploy and support forces out of area. Because of their threat perceptions few of the European countries are willing to increase defense expenditures to obtain this capability. Many pundits say that if the Europeans did a restructuring of their forces to fight today’s battles, to be more techno centric, they could realize savings that could then be converted to make them also more deployable. Cynicism would say that national governments would allow the military to restructure but would use any savings to meet other more pressing national needs.
One of the interesting facets of NATO expansion is that, as part of the Membership Action Plan, prospective new members receive very specific guidance on which forces they should keep and which they should delete. In many cases, the new members on joining are more ready to contribute deployable and specialized forces than existing members. In many cases, if existing members did restructure their forces to make them more deployable, they might no longer have the force they have traditionally needed to defend their national interests. This is virtually the same surrender of sovereignty that all EU nations have to consider as they surrender some of their national sovereignty over economic, civil and judicial matters. It may be one thing to surrender some sovereignty for economic gain and quite another to place your national defense in the hands of others. One is reminded of one of DeGaulle’s justification for an independent French nuclear force which is roughly, “Would the US sacrifice Detroit to save Lyon?
The formation of the NATO Reaction Force called for at the Prague Summit is another example of the tight between optimism and pessimism. Some would say that this was America’s last offer to NATO to remain relevant as a military alliance. In today’s world many characterize America as Clause witzian. Its forays into Afghanistan and Iraq were the continuation of policy by other means. Europe on the other hand believes that war should be the continuation of law by other means. This is not unlike the “hard power (Kagan) versus “soft power (Nye•*) arguments.
Many would say that the nations signed a blank check when they agreed to the NA TO Rapid Reaction Force at Prague. The fact that this force must be both certified and deployable must have been optimistically defined by nations. Of course, as long as the US is a part of NA TO, the forces can be physically transported and logistically supported. But being deployable for several countries requires a legislative/parliamentary approval. The second part is to develop a metric for what will define certification. Certification of a joint and multinational force will certainly be different from nations certifying their own forces. For years NA TO has had more than a thousand standards documents that have been very loosely enforced. New members have made promises about meeting standards prior to entry which have been revised on entry because they did/could not meet them. Old members submitted the dates when they expected to meet the standards of which many are still uncompleted.
Another source of pessimism might be the NATO consensus system. The political control of the NA TO Kosovo air campaign has already been cited as a problem. That was NATO at sixteen. What will happen in a NATO at twenty-six? Can the decision making process be streamlined so that a rapid reaction force doesn’t become a slow reaction force or will a rapidly deployed techno centric force be frozen in place awaiting the political consensus for its next move? What happens when a certified NA TO Reaction Force is given hard tasking and a (some) nation’s (nations’) parliaments don’t back the NATO consensus and refuse to sanction the deployment of their forces?
The new Secretary General lists four priorities as he takes office:
1. Get Afghanistan right
2. For NA TO to be prepared if called to do more in Iraq
3. Ensure that NATO transformation happens
4. Increase Transatlantic cooperation
There is no minor goal there. There is significant challenge in every one of them. Although there seems to be moves afoot to patch up past differences, are Europe and the US still, as Kagan says, Mars and Venus? The difficulties for NA TO to achieve these goals are not insurmountable, but a new consensus of national wills must be built. NA TO and the US are really both overstretched now and it would be easy for them to concentrate on internal challenges. The EU ”Headline Goals for ESDP are still a stretch. The World is waiting to see who will step up and meet their commitments. Will hindsight prove the optimists or the pessimists correct?