Monday, August 25, 2014

NATO May Be a Relic, But....

Anne Applebaum argues that the President could create a foreign policy "legacy" by reinventing NATO. Were he to try to follow her suggestion, what an interesting legacy that would be....

Applebaum is upset about a number of aspects of NATO. She doesn't think that all of the member states pay their fair share:
Some Europeans don’t want to pay for their defense? Maybe those who want to be covered by Article 5, the alliance’s security guarantee, should now be obligated to pay. Perhaps those who contribute less than 1 percent of their national budget should be told that the guarantee no longer applies to them. Certainly there don’t need to be any NATO bases in countries that refuse to contribute. And a much higher percentage of their military spending should go toward funding the NATO budget, so that NATO, as an alliance, can afford to pay for important operations.
Applebaum's suggestion that a member nation's total defense budget constitutes a contribution to NATO seems a bit misleading. A NATO member's military is reasonably called a NATO military, but that doesn't mean that the nation's military spending and activities invariably benefit NATO, or even involve NATO. The usual target number that one hears suggested as an appropriate level of defense spending for a NATO member is 2%. Drop the number to 1% and we're talking about... Spain? Also, when Applebaum says "national budget" she presumably means to refer to a nation's GDP.

Applebaum suggests later, that "the United States contributes three-quarters of NATO’s budget". If you're talking about NATO's actual budget, that's not even close to accurate. Perhaps Applebaum is taking the entire U.S. military budget, and comparing it to the combined military budgets of all NATO states, and rounding up.
Only four of the NATO partners met their agreed target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense in 2013 - Estonia, Greece, Britain and the United States. France and Turkey fell just shy of the 2 percent goal.
If we start ratcheting up Applebaum's 1% to a number that might actually exclude nations other than Spain, whose spending has historically been a bit higher but has suffered from years of economic distress, we have to look at Germany. In that context you can see both the importance of GDP, as despite not meeting the 2% target Germany has the third largest military defense budget in NATO, spending more than 100 times as much on defense as Estonia. Raise Applebaum's number to the point that a major military power would reconsider its NATO membership, and you risk turning NATO into "The U.S., maybe the U.K., and the weakest nations in Europe".

As for threatening to relocate bases, surely Applebaum knows about the amount of money and politics involved in the shuttering or relocation of a military base, even when only domestic politics are involved. To put it mildly, international politics within a voluntary defense organization won't make things easier. Suggest moving the NATO AWACS base out of Germany and to Estonia, and Germany is going to remind you of the relative size of its budget and contribution. Also, Applebaum presents no reason to believe that NATO cannot serve its mission from its present locations, assuming it remains willing to defend its member states. Finally, as is evidenced by Spain, when circumstances change military spending can fall. Some of the nations of Eastern Europe, with shiny new NATO bases and facilities built on their soil, may suddenly lose interest in keeping their defense spending at roughly 2% of GDP... might that possibility be why Applebaum uses the 1% figure?

But Applebaum appears to have a different agenda....
NATO also needs to become a lot clearer about its goals. Europe has two immediate security issues: the threat from Russia in the east and the threat from Islamic fundamentalism to the south. NATO therefore needs two command centers, each of which would take care of planning and intelligence for defense against those threats. The basing of troops and equipment needs to be rethought completely: If we were starting from scratch, nobody would put them where they are now. NATO needs to shut down unnecessary commands and legacy bases, and move on.
What Applebaum appears to be suggesting is that NATO facilities be relocated or duplicated in Eastern Europe, where they would serve as a tripwire against any Russian military aggression. Such a move into former Warsaw Pact nations would be viewed by Russia as an abrogation of its understanding (denied by NATO) that foreign NATO forces would not be stationed in those nations, and would be an obvious provocation of what Applebaum deems one of the two most significant threats to the rest of Europe. Such a tripwire would provide additional assurance to a nation on Russia's border that at least some NATO members would be likely to intervene in the event of a Russian invasion, and might deter Russia from attempting such a move... if it's in fact considering such a move.

I have to wonder, though, if that's even what Applebaum wants. Perhaps I'm focusing too much on history: It's extremely difficult for me to believe, for example, that the Polish government is eager to have a major deployment of German soldiers to a NATO base on Polish soil. Would the new NATO bases Applebaum envisions in fact be U.S. bases, nominally positioned under the auspices of NATO?
At the same time, NATO members should understand that any further enlargement is not charity work: Every time the NATO membership is extended to another state, current members have to be prepared to defend that state — and if they aren’t, then the enlargement should be stopped. Either Article 5 is an absolute guarantee or it is worthless.
That should go without saying, but it seems to again tie into Applebaum's unstated agenda -- which seems not so much to be to secure Eastern European nations from Russia, but to increase the obligation of other NATO powers to come to the defense of a member nation that might not seem all that important to the rest of Europe, particularly if that nation engaged in the sort of foolishness that precipitated Russia's incursion into Georgia. As much as Mikheil Saakashvili believed that the west would provide Georgia with a defense against Russian military action, odds are he would have been even more brash had his nation been prematurely made a member of NATO, and again more so had foreign NATO soldiers been stationed in Georgia.

Applebaum continues,
Once NATO has become clearer about its real security interests, its forces can again start carrying out annual exercises, annually, as they did during the Cold War. It’s time to rehearse our reaction to a Crimean-style Russian invasion of Latvia, led not by regular troops but by “little green men” pretending to be local Russians. It’s time to anticipate, say, a civil war in Libya or the fall of Baghdad.
What benefit does Applebaum see from a military exercise that anticipates a Russian invasion of Latvia? Does she believe that NATO forces will be unprepared to defend Latvia unless they carry out that specific exercise? Does she want NATO to thump its chest and try to intimidate Russia? As for NATO planning for a civil war in Libya, although nominally a NATO exercise the operation in Libya had little support in NATO -- it was primarily a project of the U.S., U.K. and France. Why does Applebaum believe that a re-imagined NATO would have more interest in intervening in the Middle East and Africa, as opposed to even less?

What Applebaum seems to be picturing outside of Eastern Europe is a NATO that is more easily directed and controlled by the United States and, perhaps, Britain to carry out missions that Canada and most nations of continental Europe might not deem to be particularly important. As much as Applebaum sees the present structure of NATO as a cold war relic, there is no reason to believe that a revised NATO would prove to share her zeal to provide long-term occupation forces to stop and stabilize civil wars in the developing world and Middle East.

If Applebaum's sales pitch would truly be, "We're going to reinvent NATO by reallocating resources to Eastern Europe, where we will build bases and command centers, while practicing to be able to deploy forces to stabilize failed states and civil wars in Africa and the Middle East", how many nations do you think would actually sign up? NATO is meant to mobilize following an attack on a member nation, something that justified action in Afghanistan but not in Libya. Where would Applebaum take the new organization, and why would its members want to follow?
It’s time that NATO had a better-coordinated cyberdefense and began to think more deeply about information warfare.
Perhaps, but (as with Applebaum's proposal to reduce the number of speeches at NATO summits) that's not something that cannot be done within the existing framework.
It’s also time to face the fact that Russia may have already abandoned several post-Cold War arms treaties, including those covering medium-range missiles: If that’s the case, we need to abandon them, too. Deterrence worked in the past, and it can work in the future.
I guess that makes it pretty clear, that Applebaum hopes to station foreign NATO forces and nuclear missiles in Eastern Europe, in the name of "deterrence". Note also, Applebaum's reference to intermediate-range missiles is to an arms treaty, not a treaty with NATO or with all of its key member states. The U.S. has a treaty with Russia that limits its development of intermediate range missiles, something that's not a huge concern to a nation unreachable by short-range missiles. Russia, on the other hand, sits in close proximity to several nuclear powers, including China, and those nations are developing intermediate range missiles that can reach Russia. The constraint on the U.S. is not as significant as Applebaum suggests, as France and the U.K. have not signed the INF treaty, and thus are unconstrained in the development of intermediate range ballistic missiles. Russia argues that its missiles are technically compliant with the the treaty.

It's interesting that instead of negotiating new treaties that might be more meaningful and better enforced in the 21st century, Applebaum would prefer to start a new arms race. It's also interesting that she sees treaties -- whether the NATO treaty or arms treaties with Russia -- as something a signatory can easily and lightly discard:
If the Western alliance, as currently constituted, no longer wants to defend itself, America can always leave.
Sometimes it's difficult to believe that Applebaum is married to the former defense minister of a NATO member state. Abrogation of a treaty is a big deal and, whatever issues may be involved in breaking treaties with Russia, when it comes to leaving NATO she's talking about potentially doing that to our allies.

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