Captain Bill Norris is a retired submarine officer who had extensive experience in the nuclear weapons field while 011 active duty. In retirement he worked for the Sandia C01p. in Albuquerque speciaizi11g in 11uclearforce policy analysis.
One of the hardest things for people to do is to face change. It is even harder in the venue of international politics and international organizations. After nearly sixty years of general peace in Europe, many might say, “Why change what’s working?” And on the surface NA TO is working and there are many accomplishments to cite. Below the surface, the machinery is grinding along with less than adequate lubrication and the cracks are growing in its antiquated machinery.\
For its first forty years, NA TO was the world’s preeminent collective defense organization. It weathered French secession from military participation and the addition of several new members. It lasted through very tough defense and political decisions on cruise missile deployments and force sizing that led to two major treaties with the Soviet Union on Intermediate Range Missiles and Conventional Forces in Europe. Consensus was achievable on almost all issues with the threat of a very real, and sometimes belligerent, Soviet Union to the East.
That all changed on the transformational day for Europeans, 11/9/1989, when the Berlin Wall came down and the ersatz barriers separating Eastern and Western Europe collapsed. The NA TO march into Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1994 began NATO’s era of acting outside the borders of its members. By the time that NA TO had admitted their first three new members from the old Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union in 1999, NA TO was carrying out an air operation against Serbia and then sending troops into Kosovo. The new Russia, while still possessing a nuclear arsenal capable of threatening the existence of any nation on the planet, was a decaying hulk of the old nemesis, the Soviet Union. The last five years have done nothing to change that trend or to change NATO’s new outward looking focus.
The Prague Summit brought the birth of the Rapid Reaction Force, envisioned being capable of responding out-of area to new threats and challenges with decisive force. This is a real attempt by NATO to move out of Cold War planning. Then NATO deployed its forces to Afghanistan and is now expanding its foothold outside of Kabul. Gone are the days when NA TO was all talk and planning. Here are the days, as some would say, when NA TO is bogged down with operations. Others would say NATO is now an alliance of interest vice an alliance of ideals. The Istanbul Summit brought seven new members from the states of the former Warsaw Pact along with lots of discussion but no consensus about what might best be done in Iraq. While its military power appears to be continuing to wane, Russia is facing a increasingly difficult situation in the Caucasus and a more authoritarian government appears to be emerging.
With this movement to operate outside its geographical borders, NA TO is seeing cracks appear in its unity of purpose. Why should this move from defense against a monolithic threat to the noble causes of peace-making and peace-keeping cause such a strain? Why should Germany, France and Belgium protest so loudly? Why should Russia join with them? Why should the American Secretary of Defense declare that there is a new and old Europe? Why does the American President continue to challenge the world that “you’re either for us or against us?”
At first glance, these out of area operations would seem to be a logical transition of the roles of NATO’s military forces. But I believe that there are two changes that have taken or are taking place that put this transition at odds with the politics and the governments. First, the sixty years of peace and the economic revitalization of Europe have transformed national thinking. In general, no NATO nation today feels its borders or existence threatened. Yes the smaller, new members do still worry that their eastern neighbor might someday become his old belligerent self while at the same time realizing the world has changed.
While it might be deemed necessary to deploy NA TO troops within Europe to stabilize new nations and stem the flow of refugees, sending those same troops to countries few citizens have heard of or who could have little economic effect on them is not. Democracies tend to be a check on national decision-making. While national leaders can make many decisions short of war, those decisions eventually have to come to a vote either in the legislatures or by the public. It is clearly easier to make a decision that avoids a contrary vote, especially if that decision places a nation’s soldiers at risk. In the Iraq case, even before the facts were fully known, one national leader made that decision to win an election.
Some may cite this as the sign of the new pacifist Europe, but I tend to view it as not much different than the American definition of national interest. Peace-making is different than peace-keeping. Europe does not want to be the policeman of the world anymore than America does. A big difference is that the United States might be able to make a stab at it alone, but neither NA TO without the US nor the European Union could today. While establishing a European identity through initiatives like the Common European Security and Defense Policy is a desirable future, other than soft (economical) power, Europe is not going to be a counterweight to US hard (military) power. Europe is also more socialist and its aging population and promised benefits are strangling many countries’ resources. It is ironic to note that these graying populations and nations actually may benefit from the influx of labor that might come from refugees of failed states or nations to keep their economies going and growing.
This brings us to the second change that challenges NATO. For years it seems all the nations of the world have characterized their forces as defensive and their military is known in governments as the Departments and Ministries of Defense. That has a very moral ring to it. There is no higher cause for a government than protecting its territories and its people. But if there is no monolithic threat to nations being at peace with one another, borders are not threatened and economies unaffected, then there should be a peace benefit, and by the way, what is NATO’s mission?
Peace-keeping has for years been the venue for the United Nations. In general it could be supported by any member nation because the agglomeration of UN forces would be enough to keep the warring factions apart. But peace-making is totally different. In general it takes offensive forces to make peace. They must be capable of being inserted into an environment of war and then offensively defeat the warring factions. Once the warring factions are defeated and separated, then the mission can shift to peace-keeping.
Two other changes have occurred which also place a premium on offensive forces and further throw defensive forces into a secondary role. First, terrorism seems to have found a foothold in several failing or failed states. Terrorism can threaten the safety of the world’s people and has the potential, if not contained, to affect the world’s economy. If terrorists can gain the acceptance of the government to exist unchecked, then essentially the government and the terrorist become a common force that must be unseated. Again offensive forces are needed to attack the combined forces of the state and the terrorist (Afghanistan is an example).
The second change is the preemptive attack clause that became a recent formal addition to the US National Security Policy and is mirrored in several other similar documents around the world. This was the vehicle used in making the case for the War in Iraq in 2003. In that case, significant offensive forces were utilized, first to win the war and today to put down the Iraqi insurgencies, foreign and domestic.
For military planners, it has traditionally been their practice to use two to three times as many forces when planning to attack a target as opposed to defending it. The force mix is also considerably different (and more expensive) for offense than defense. Mobility on the battlefield and maneuver capability, deep strike capability and the ability to deploy and sustain forces become dominant as opposed to predeployed, stationary forces. These types of requirements do not fit the make-up of, except the US or in limited cases, the UK or France, existing NA TO forces of either new or old members. You can imagine that they really don’t fit the capabilities of the EU either.
It should then be no surprise to anyone that for either NA TO or the EU to come up with a viable, deployable and sustainable rapid reaction force is a significant challenge. It requires a military budget increase unacceptable to most of these nations. There is also a political dilemma in aligning yourself with an alliance that may use your forces to intervene vice defend yourself or your allies, or to maintain the peace. The bottom line, nations are being asked to transform themselves and their military to Departments or Ministries of Offense vice Defense.
Thus the challenges to forging the new NATO mission and strategy are bigger and more sweeping than many are willing to admit. Any decision that makes peace-making a key part of the mix is truly daunting to most nations and may well be beyond their means or their dreams. The new member of the NA TO command structure, Allied Transformation Command, faces challenges that would beg for a similar political committee because this is not just a military matter. It is an important crossroads for all national governments and the decision will be most difficult.