Friday, November 4, 2011

Reflections on the 2011 Atlantic Council of Canada NATO Tour

Written by James Bridger

A group from the Atlantic Council of Canada recently returned from a week long tour of Belgium and France, in which we received briefings at NATO headquarters and other key transatlantic security and political institutions. Provided here is a compilation of the insights we gained into three primary areas of transatlantic concern: NATO-EU relations, NATO’s partnership expansion efforts, and the search for “smart defence".

NATO-EU Relations

Sharing 21 member states, there is much common ground between NATO and the EU in regards to security, democratization, and human rights. It was noted by the Canadian Delegation to the EU, however, that the two organizations also have different interests, objectives and priorities. Common members are thus forced to divide limited resources between the two. In order to increase efficiency and spheres of responsibility, officials from both NATO and EU stressed the need to avoid overlap while working in the same theatre.

It was only in 2009 that the EU moved towards becoming a unified foreign policy and security actor, with the establishment of the EU External Action Service (EEAS). While the project still remains in its infancy, the European Union has been involved in several small peace-keeping missions in Africa, police training in the Balkans and Afghanistan, and counter-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa. Officials on both side of the divided were generally optimistic about EU-NATO cooperation, though it was noted that non-common members—namely Turkey and Cyprus—have blocked closer integration at several turns.

The issue was raised during the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) briefings that it may be an inefficient use of resources for both NATO and the EU to maintain their own separate counter-piracy flotillas off the Horn of Africa—operations Ocean Shield and Atalanta respectively. While member state composition overlaps, it was noted by the EU Cell at SHAPE that certain countries “feel more comfortable” participating in either the NATO or EU context. Representatives from both parties stated they were content with the current level of cooperation. In private however, a French naval officer from NATO expressed bewilderment about the duplicate command structures of Ocean Shield and Atalanta.

NATO Partnership Expansion

A final issue of great importance was the expansion of NATO’s global partnerships through the Mediterranean Dialogue, Istanbul Cooperative Initiative and Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. These programs have brought the Alliance into contact with a diverse array of actors. Individually tailored strategies of engagement are required, the Public Diplomacy Division informed us, as relations with Finland and Turkmenistan, for example, cannot be managed in the same way.

Over the past year, NATO’s relations with the Arab world have been at the forefront of the Alliance’s agenda. An officer from the Political Affairs and Security Policy Division explained that the Alliance and its intentions were misperceived by many in the Middle East and that recent efforts had been focused on promoting better mutual understanding. This strategy now appears to be bearing fruit. Both Morocco and Israel participated in Operation Active Endeavor—NATO’s counter-terrorism naval patrol of the Mediterranean—while Qatar, the UAE, and Jordan all contributed to Operation Unified Protector in Libya. Aside from improving interoperability with its Middle Eastern and Mediterranean partners, NATO has also sought to push for greater military transparency in the region and democratic control of the armed forces.

The Alliance’s relationship with Moscow, managed through the NATO-Russia Council, has been marked by both cooperation and confrontation. A policy officer specializing in Russian relations informed us that the two parties had been working together in Afghanistan to open up transport routes, engage in counter-narcotics operations and supply helicopters to the ANA (see page * for more information about NATO in Afghanistan). Moscow has also worked alongside NATO during Mediterranean and East African naval patrols. The biggest point of contention between the Alliance and Russia is missile defence. Moscow has continuously objected to the stationing of interceptor missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland, stating that it wants its own hand in Eastern European missile defence—a proposal NATO’s Baltic members refuse to accept. The Alliance is trying to explain that the system is designed to protect members from rogue states and is not directed against Russia; regardless, it does not appear that the two sides will see eye to eye for the foreseeable future. Moscow’s diplomatic and military support of Georgia’s breakaway republics, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, also continues to be a thorn in NATO-Russia Relations.

Smart Defence in an Age of Austerity

The need to cut costs in an age of fiscal austerity looms over every aspect of NATO operations. We were told during the first briefing that a current priority is cutting down the size of the command structure by reducing the Alliance’s “tooth to tail ratio”—the number of support staff required for each policy maker. An effort is also being made to bridge the civilian-military divide in order to avoid unnecessary overlap. A new headquarters that physically brings these two sides together is part of this plan.

Several officials spoke about the need for “smart defence,” a buzz term that calls for greater cooperation, specialization and prioritization among members’ military procurement. We were told how smaller states have given up full defensive capabilities in favour of a more specialized role within the Alliance. Denmark, for example, no longer fields submarines, while the Baltic states are retiring their fighter jets. These types of reductions, we were told, involve member states giving up a degree of their defensive sovereignty over certain areas—a strategy which requires great faith and trust in NATO’s protective shield. The Alliance has also sought to engage in multinational equipment procurement programs to reduce costs. This approach has been problematic in the past however: NATO was tasked with producing 110 variants of the NH90 Helicopter in order to meet member state specifications, making the program impossibly complex.

With many member states falling short of the Alliance’s two percent goal for defense spending, attaching restrictive caveats to their forces’ use, and looking to slash their defence budgets further, the charge that NATO is becoming a “two tier alliance” has been oft spoken. While one got a sense of the uncertainty regarding NATO’s future role and capabilities, we were reminded that the Alliance had always in effect been “two tier”—the US has consistently done the heavy lifting, France and the UK play an important secondary role, while the remaining nations contribute to lesser degrees. The issue of military spending nevertheless remains of paramount importance. The Canadian Delegation to NATO noted that it will be one of the main areas of focus at the 2012 Chicago Summit.


Kristina said...

The US National Defense University has been preparing a proposal to create “Mission Focus Groups” (MFGs) organized around the main capability requirements of the three Strategic Concept tasks: collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security and led by European allies and Canada. These working groups would concentrate on critical areas of responsibility to help determine defense spending and investment priorities for participating allies. The objective would be to use available resources most rationally during the essential mission requirements. The work of the groups should be integrated with the resource and planning decisions of the North American allies and with NATO’s existing planning processes.

Kristina said...

The member states should explicitly reiterate in Chicago that security can be provided by non-military means. As already indicated at Lisbon, they need to work together to make better use of their non-military resources, including diplomacy and development, to keep troubling conditions elsewhere from boiling up into conflicts that threaten allied interests. To make more effective use of their non-military resources, the member states should convene an intergovernmental forum, perhaps in parallel with the Chicago summit, among all NATO and European Union members, to formulate plans for cooperative programmes of crisis prevention and avoidance, drawing on all non-military resources of all NATO and EU members, as well as of these two key Western institutions.
While recognizing the need for better engagement of their non-military resources on behalf of security, many of which can be deployed for little net cost, the countries should agree that force improvements mandated by the Lisbon Strategic Concept will receive the highest priority in future national budgetary decisions.
The allies therefore need to commit to finding ways to make qualitative defense improvements on a prioritized basis even if they go about cutting funds for defense. This will be a very challenging task. Governments owe it to their public, however, as well as to their deliberative bodies, to demonstrate how they will avoid compromising security while dealing with the very real financial limitations on defense spending.

Kristina said...

At a time of diminishing resources for defense of the countries, NATO’s benchmark for member state defense budgets to equal at least 2% of GDP should be dropped in favour of new, qualitative measures for defense spending. The allies should pledge to make qualitative improvements to NATO’s capabilities by rationalizing expenditures, eliminating obsolete programmes and systems, avoiding unnecessary duplication, and pooling resources and capabilities as part of a strategy of “smart defense.

DBennett said...

Putting aside the sovereignty issues with smart defense and specialization, what evidence is there that qualitative commitments would necessarily be any cheaper than the 2% spending requirement? Also, judging each member's contribution based on quality not only opens the door for a subjectivity and vagaries, but it could, ironically, lead to less quality contributions by states trying to save money by cutting corners.