What about NATO?
Dec 11th 2008
How the alliance should move forward
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BETWEEN the new American administration getting going and the NATO summit in Strasbourg in April lie a few short perilous months. The story since the war in Georgia has been that NATO proved reluctant to identify Russia as a military threat, but under the authority of the supreme allied commander, a brainy American called General John Craddock, is engaged in “prudent planning”, which allows for quite a lot without requiring the authority of the North Atlantic Council.
The worry for Poles, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians is that pushing too hard for formal contingency-planning might be vetoed by the Russia-friendly countries in NATO. That would be a disaster. So far the situation is not bad, but neither is it stable. Faced with a revisionist, and perhaps increasingly desperate regime in Russia, NATO’s credibility could do with a boost.
Now the new American administration must decide how much it wants to try to calm Russia (something that will please Germany and other key European allies), and how much it wants to publicly bolster the security of the twitchy, strongly Atlanticist countries in Europe’s east. These are valued allies in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan—small in numbers, but strong in symbolism.
The problem won’t be lubricated by money. Some countries may be able to boast that defence spending as a share of GDP is going up. But that will be because GDP is going down, not because more money is going for bullets and battleships.
On top of all that comes the question of a new NATO secretary-general.
The best way forward would have the following elements. First would be a series of new arms-control initiatives to show the Kremlin that America takes Russia seriously. That could include talks on START 3 (covering strategic nuclear weapons, where Russia’s arsenal is already embarrassingly weak); on anti-ballistic missile systems; on the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty (holed by a Russian suspension) and on weapons in space.
A second element would be to drop explicit talk of membership for Georgia and Ukraine (agreed in principle already) and concentrate on building up boring but important capabilities such as policing arms sales, storage of ammunition and training, planning, and managing reservists (the last being a glaring failure in Georgia’s case). As those reforms take root, the chance that other NATO countries find the prospective new members more credible will grow.
A third element would be to ensure that NATO’s original mission—territorial defence of its existing members—is in no doubt. That requires the capability to send forces on expeditions; whether these are to Darfur, Somalia, Estonia or northern Norway is a secondary question. If the question of formally categorising Russia as a threat is too politically ticklish, then it can be left. The main thing is to make sure that the right forces, properly trained and equipped, are available if needed.
So far, NATO has done all right on “force planning” (which is making lists of things that are in theory available) and less well on “force generation” (which is actually providing them in practice). It is striking that it took even America 72 hours just to find the planes to bring back 3,000 troops from Iraq to Georgia in August.
A final element would be to endorse, quietly, the burgeoning Swedish-Finnish-Norwegian defence partnership in the Baltic sea and “high North”. That needs outsiders to pitch in, such as Poland and Denmark. To be fully effective, NATO needs to be realistic about what it can’t do, as well as what it can.
Sunday, December 14, 2008