NATO – post mortem

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NATO as an alliance has lost its raison-d’être. This is not due to a lack of common security threats NATO allies are facing but to a striking lack of common threat perception, the lack of a stable consensus on how to deal with threats if at all accepted as common and, finally, appalling buck passing when it comes to war fighting by many European softliners.

The striking and growing differences in military capabilities of NATO’s members undermine alliance coherence. What sense does it make for the strong, well-armed countries to committ to the security of others who obviously do not care enough for their own security and prefer instead to rely on the security umbrella provided by the strong alliance members?

This is even more awkward as the weak and impotent do share the same voice within the alliance as the strong and powerful. Voice without committment, a seat at the table without boots on the ground is a recipe for desaster but not for success.

It is time for reconsidering NATO. In fact this has already started years ago, with the US increasingly abandoning the alliance as the core instrument of US security and military policy beyond the european theatre. Institutionalised security and defense collaboration does make sense only as long as all members of the alliance are committed to both rights and obligations. This consensus has well whithered away long ago.

Why should the US and the UK engage with the French and the Germans who either balk at them, brazenly soft-balance them with the Russians or ask for the job at the low end of war fighting.

It is time for openly and vociferously accepting coalitions of the willing and the capable as the more effective, flexible, coherent and legitimate instruments of security provision. This should prod more of the lame and the mean to reconsider their status and either go it alone or restart working for the common alliance purpose.

If the Germans are fighting their wars more in the Bundestag on troop mandates than in the hot spots of Afghanistan let them do. If the French are engaging in yet another effort of balancing the US keep them out. If the Spanish are engaged in negotiating a separate truce with terror leave them alone. The incompetent, the impotent and the ignorant deserve to be dumped.

8 thoughts on “NATO – post mortem”

  1. In Defense of NATO

    Thank you for these provocative and entertaining thoughts.

    Alas I cannot comment on the three “I”s as I do not personally socialize with besaid decision-makers. Whether they are all the things you say or just poorly advised (my guess) is another subject.

    Not that I know much about NATO, Russia, France, Germany’s defense but I will try to address your points chronologically:

     

    NATO as an alliance has lost ist raison-d’être. This is not due to a lack of common security threats NATO allies are facing but to a striking lack of common threat perception, the lack of a stable consensus on how to deal with threats if at all accepted as common and, finally, appalling buck passing when it comes to war fighting by many European softliners.

    The lack of common perception in how to deal with these threats, one could argue, stems from the different perception of the own national interests. It is therefore not a redefinition of the common security threats of NATO that needs to be debated, but a redefinition of the national interests of certain member states (not all, and actually they are not that many). But there, you will agree with me, the Alliance cannot dictate anything. Every member is sovereign in his own agenda-setting. The Alliance is however an ideal political consultation body, a unique forum for readjusting, timing, coordinating, debating. NATO has therefore not lost its raison-d’être: it has gained a new one: namely a high profile political consultation body, a market place of ideas and arguments, especially in times of crisis. The debate between “interests” and “values” that is going on between the newcomers and the older members proves it..

     

    The striking and growing differences in military capabilities of NATO’s members undermine alliance coherence. What sense does it make for the strong, well-armed countries to committ to the security of others who obviously do not care enough for their own security and prefer instead to rely on the security umbrella provided by the strong alliance members?

    The military differences in capabilities do not undermine the coherence. The contrary is the case: it makes its strength. What you call “difference” is due to geo-strategic contingencies which, well coordinated, make the polyvalence of the Alliance. In clear: would you expect the Slovaks to provide for a search and rescue on high sea operations? No, of course not. Take Iceland. What sense did the Icelandic membership make? they do not even have no armed forces. The answer is geography: take a map. Every member has its own contribution in the area that it chooses or can provide for, it is obvious and everyone knows that.

    Cooperation on the ground is not as simple as you seem to believe. You need flexibility. Even the PfP agreements function in the spirit of differentiation and flexibility. These are individual agreements that can be modified according to the needs and wishes of the signatories, in this case: sovereign nation-states.

    Have you had a look at the IPAP of Georgia? You need to have a deeper look into the stunning ability of NATO structures to understand and adapt quickly to new challenges and actors.

    Again, if I may differ, you are missing the point: each and every member of the Alliance has to be able to rely on the security umbrella of the partnership. It is the spirit of the Alliance per se. And if it were not the case, why would all these post-Soviet states be so eager to join? NATO can deliver and it actually does in many areas, which public opinion has never heard of. They do the job and leave.

     

    This is even more awkward as the weak and impotent do share the same voice within the alliance as the strong and powerful. Voice without committment, a seat at the table without boots on the ground is a recipe for desaster but not for success.

    Again, this is completely ignoring the political culture of NATO, its nature and philosophy. NATO is also a political consultation body which functions according to the principle of unanimity. Small countries have their say, they get consulted, their voices are heard and they do matter. NATO is not the Warsaw Pact. It always emphasized the respect of democratic decision making/finding. Once an agreement is reached, it is every member’s agreement, “a voice without commitment” does not exist in this context.

     

    It is time for reconsidering NATO. In fact this has already started years ago, with the US US security and military policy increasingly abandoning the alliance as the core instrument of security beyond the european theatre. Institutionalised security and defense collaboration does make sense only as long as all members of the alliance are committed to both rights and obligations. This consensus has well whithered away long ago.

    The US has not abandoned the Alliance, it has chosen not to use it as an instrument, in the momentum of its military strike against Iraq. It does not imply that it was passed by in other areas. Consultation process, consultations took place and still do re: info-sharing, stabilization plans, strategic planning. The US administration actually agrees that NATO is key to winning the peace in the region. There again, NATO provides there a structure, a know-how, a great efficiency in planning and coordination that cannot be provided by any other structure: because they are all around the same table in Brussels, at the same time, discussing the same issues.

     

    Why should the US UK engage with the French and the Germans who either balk at them, brazenly soft-balance them with the Russians or ask for the job at the low end of war fighting.

    There is a tremendous mistake in judgement here when you put Germany’s and France’s NATO policy in the same bag. The motives, the aims pursued and the style in addressing the issue are completely different. Even the actual output differs.

     

    It is time for openly and vociferously accepting coalitions of the willing and the capable as the more effective, flexible, coherent and legitimate instruments of security provision. This should prod more of the lame and the mean to reconsider their status and either go it alone or restart working for the common alliance purpose.

    A coalition of the willing is one option, among many in order to tackle an intervention. When it comes to an actual deployment on the ground, that is where the problems start. Any soldier can explain you why NATO know-how is required here.

     

    If the Germans are fighting their wars more in the Bundestag on troop mandates than in the hot spots of Afghanistan let them do. If the French are engaging in yet another effort of balancing the US keep them out. If the Spanish are engaged in negotiating a separate truce with terror leave them alone. The incompetent, the impotent and the ignorant deserve to be dumped.

    Germany has what is commonly known a “Parlamentsarmee”. It is the Bundestag that decides whether the armed forces should be sent somewhere or not, and on which mandate. And no one else. This is the sovereign democratic prerogative of the elected members of the Bundestag. This is the way the Germans have decided it should work. You may not like it, but this is the way it works and has always worked ever since Germany joined NATO. It is not directed against the US or anyone else. How the French are trying to balance eludes me, and always has. Re: the Spaniards negotiating separately with terrorists, you are right, it would be deeply disturbung. Almost bringing the sad memories of the darkest “Kreisky diplomacy”.

    With a splendid regularity, many academics bury NATO and write eloquent obituaries. The list is so long that NATO has meanwhile ceased to send New Years wishes to them as the years pass. Needless to say, NATO is still around.

  2. Well – if NATO is a market place of ideas why not make it a well-financed think tank or a high school debate club. Making it a political forum to discuss threats, threat perceptions, means to handle threats and debating future challenges is basically a good thing. You do not need a military alliance for it though; in addition, what its worth to have an alliance which debates, but hardly acts, which engages in time-consuming consensus building that ultimately are of no use to tackle the threat?

    At the end of the day, the alliance is a military coalition. It does make sense only if it is about war fighting if that is indeed necessary. Why does it need members who are either not willing or not able to fight – or even both? Why discussing targets and tactics, strategies and goals with someone who can offer only his ‘ideas’ to the venture. If ideas would be enough I’d start calling myself an alliance…

    About the security umbrella – well that is what a coalition is about, if only it were not the case, that someone provides the umbrella and the rest takes shelter…

  3. NATO is also a military alliance, yes. As much as you are entitled to your own opinion, I would object that, you perhaps do ignore many aspects of what NATO is all about. NATO does academic research, it has academies and colleges. NATO is present in science programs, environment, plays lately a decisive role in the decommissioning of nuclear submarines for instance, NATO teaches, NATO educates, not only soldiers but also civil societies of associated states. NATO informs and not only the elites. Sometimes what you desperately need in crisis area is an ethnologist with language skills before you need “boots” as you said.

    NATO is not a high school debating club indeed but it needs to THINK, DISCUSS and DEBATE before it AGREES on a decision to be implemented. It is not the Warsaw Pact.

    You may mock the decision making process of the Alliance if it pleases you. But you should not forget where most of the newcomers come from. It is important for the countries of the former Warsaw Pact to have their voice heard. It is important for NATO to respond to their expectations and understand their psychology. They are not only strategically immensely important, they also have a unique knowledge and a background of great value.

    More importantly, let us not forget that all NATO members are democracies. They have agreed to a certain codex if you like. Now, read what you’ve just written with the eyes of a NATO- newcomer for a change. For your information: there are no second-best NATO members, we are all on the same boat. When an Estonian soldier goes MIA it means as much as when a Canadian or a US soldier does.

    Now, NATO is not the Salvation Army, you are right. Smaller members have their obligations as well to fulfil and they do so. They have reformed their armed forces, reviewed their military doctrine and completed the standards. I suggest that you have a look at manoeuvres on the ground to get a grasp of what it means to have a multilateral force in action in Op. It is not a boy scouts’ day out. These things require training and know-how. Only NATO holds this experience and has efficiently proved so in the past.

    Last but not least, by all respect, have a look at the efforts made by the Federal Republic of Germany in the last couple of months in terms of deployment, costs and risk. There are German soldiers risking their lives currently while we are waxing eloquent on what should be done or not. I think they deserve a little more respect.

  4. Nato was created not for fighting wars, but for keeping peace and it is not true to thing, that army, that not fighting is useless. russians in the cold war time build lot of low quality and short live equipment. because it had to be only for war, only for short combat missions.. we need weapons for deterrence and it has to be longer living…
    kazachka is rather right, dear professor

  5. I would highly appreciate if seal would divulge how deterrence by NATO is supposed to work when there are so many (European) nations that neither have the military capabilities that underlie deterrence (or do just not bother to communicate them effectively) nor have the political will to suggest their military resolution in case of an attack.
    Furthermore, provided that all NATO states had professed their political will to exert (credibly communicated) military capabilities just in case, deterrence would not work either: who are you going to retaliate against and where are you going to strike this who, and even if you were to know the who and where, can you be sure this who then highly threatened at his/her located where will care in the face of lethal retaliation. I strongly doubt this with respect to today’s international challenges through rogue states and terrorist organizations of a transnational scope.
    Today, it is neither about deterrence (or containment), nor is it about preemption. NATO must do prevention, that is fighting!

  6. I highly appreciate this very intensive debate on my last blog entry and I encourage you to continue engaging.

     

    Just one small point I’d like to add: I am not-NATO, but I am subscribing to a realist point of view which states that the current NATO does not live up to what it should be – a credible military alliance capable of engaging in both low-end and high-end crises management operations and war fighting. I wish it could acquire these capabilities, but I strongly doubt it can. If it does not, those who are capable will act and they will do it outside of the alliance. But none of them has the courage, political will or (!) – and that is the most important reason – any interest in giving NATO a kiss of death…
     

  7. The NATO Foreign Minister Meeting last Friday gave evidence to my critique of this ‘alliance’. No more troops to stabilise Iraq are forthcoming, Germans and French still buckpassing….

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