Sunday, June 27, 2004

# Posted 3:31 AM by Patrick Belton  

NATO AT 55: Over the next two days, the elected leaders of the twenty-six nations which comprise Nato will be assembling in Istanbul to decide together which directions they will take the 55-year old alliance. (More formally, and to use the quaint language peculiar to the venerable transatlantic alliance, Nato’s governing North Atlantic Council will be convening at the level of heads of state and government.)

What will happen in Istanbul? Here’s one set of predictions:

• Afghanistan: Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has called Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan the central issue for this summit. Unfortunately, Nato’s limited capabilities at the moment make it unlikely the alliance will do much to expand ISAF’s reach from Kabul and Kunduz, which it controls at present. Look though for about five nationally-run Provincial Reconstruction Teams (provincially based nation-building units of 80-200 troops each scattered around the country) to be reflagged as part of ISAF.

• Iraq: The Bush administration would like to see Nato assume responsibility for the southern central sector of Iraq, currently controlled by a 6,200-strong multinational brigade led by Poland. Military planners at SHAPE dispute whether there are enough troops available to undertake both an expanded mission in Afghanistan and a new one in Iraq, and President Chirac famously told a Hungarian newspaper in February he did not see ‘in what conditions a Nato commitment in Iraq would be possible.’ On the other hand, the German government has indicated it could support a Nato mission, if the sovereign Iraqi government requests it. Iraqi Prime Minister Ilyad Allawi duly wrote to Nato’s Secretary General the week before the summit, to request Nato’s assistance in developing the Iraqi security forces after the transfer of sovereignty. Prediction: We've already seen an abstract commitment to agreeing to PM Allawi's request by Nato ambassadors in the run-up to the summit, though with no word about actual troop commitments. At the actual summit, it takes back seat to Afghanistan.

• Bosnia: Look for Nato to announce the successful completion of its decade-long SFOR mission in Bosnia. France will be happy to see the EU pick up Bosnia as an important new mission, and troop-strapped Nato leaders will be happy to see it go.

• Counterterror: Nothing will happen here, unfortunately. Though adopting terrorism as a Nato mission is a principal U.S. aim, France, Germany, and Belgium are too firmly committed toward steering the counterterrorism enterprise into the EU rather than Nato headquarters. A cosmetic package of measures will be rolled out, though, and look for the U.S. to receive increased measures toward intelligence sharing, a Rumsfeld favorite, as a consolation prize.

• Middle East Initiative: Another principal American aim for this summit, it has little European support, apart from a surprisingly sympathetic Germany. Nato staffers are indicating the Mediterranean Initiative—Nato’s outreach program to the Arab world—will be relaunched under a new name as a Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Look for talk of ‘supporting indigenous reform’ and ‘joint understanding over security issues.’ (Further hint: don’t look too hard for talk of ‘democracy’ or ‘women's rights’.)

• Working with the EU: The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is France’s baby, which it sees as the EU’s alternative to Nato (without the pesky Americans). Other countries, after the rather paltry European contribution during Kosovo, see it more as a program to build up European defence capacities, and get more ‘bang for their Euro’. The December 2002 ‘Berlin Plus’ deal provided the EU with access to Nato operational planning and shared assets for operations in which Nato as a whole is not engaged. The British government deftly hijacked in December France’s ambitions to lead the ESDP as a breakaway military province from Nato, by ensuring that the EU planning cell would be located at SHAPE—the alliance’s military headquarters. ESDP undertook a fairly successful several-month long maiden mission in Macedonia last year, but as regards capabilities, European leaders still have to demonstrate, even under the ESDP, that they will be capable of getting more ‘bang for the Euro’.

So Nato will finally get out of Bosnia; the Middle East Initiative—which Germany, at least, supports—will go nowhere; the U.S. wants improved counterterror, but won’t get it. France wants EU-Nato relations worked out, and they will be, partially. Meaningful alliance participation in Afghanistan and Iraq will be hindered by the capabilities gap. And so on.

If this catalog of predictions leaves you feeling somewhat underwhelmed, it’s because of the basic problem of the alliance—which is cash. While the US contributes 3.3% of its GDP to national defence, 12 of the 19 pre-2004 Nato allies contribute less than 2% of theirs. To look at it another way, the US picks up the tab for 64% of Nato military expenditures ($348.5 million, 2002), while all other allies together contribute only 36% ($196.0 million). For their part, European governments are facing budget shortfalls and budget pressure from ballooning pension costs.

What comes out of this is a capabilities gap. Of 1.4 million soldiers under Nato arms in October 2003, allies other than the US contributed all of 55,000. Nearly all allies lack forces which can be projected away from the European theatre. SACEUR General James Jones testified before Congress in March 2004 that only 3-4% of European forces were deployable for expeditions. Then there are the problems of interoperability: there is a recurring problem of coalition-wide secure communications which can be drawn on in operations. Allies other than the U.S. have next to no precision strike capabilities, although these are slowly improving. The US is generally the sole provider of electronic warfare (jamming and electronic intelligence) aircraft, as well as aircraft for surveillance and C3 (command, control, and communications). The US is also capable of much greater sortie rates than its allies.

The other problem is political will, which is most in evidence on the issue of terrorism. There's been progress (beginning with the 2002 Prague Summit) toward the creation of a Nato Response Force capable of sophisticated counterterror missions. There's also been progress toward the drafting (which has been done) and implementation (which hasn't) of a military concept for counterterrorism. But allies still strongly disagree about whether counterterrorism should even be one of Nato's primary missions - so the principal task of the US at the moment lies in the area of creating political will among allies to adopt counterterrorism as a Nato responsibility. That we have not done so is at least in part our fault - Allies felt rebuffed after they gave the US unprecedented political support through invoking Article 5, and then were not consulted in the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. For their part, the civilian leadership of the Pentagon believed Kosovo had been an unacceptable example of 'war by committee', and political interference from allies would prevent a quick and decisive Afghanistan campaign. Perhaps it might have, but now at Nato the United States is facing the consequences in the form of less enthusiasm for counterterror missions.

The result of this impecunity and general want of resolve is, something like a Horatio Alger novel adapted by a rather perverse naturalist, a litany of unfulfilled promises. Addressing the operational inadequacies of Nato was to be the subject of the Defence Capabilities Initiative launched at the April 1999 Washington Summit—but the DCI was widely regarded as too broad and unfocused. To remedy this shortfall, the Prague Capabilities Commitment (PCC) then grew out of the November 2002 Prague Summit and in an act of military humility instead suggested individual allies tailor their contributions by focusing on specific capabilities they might actually be able to handle (strategic lift for Germany, aerial tankers for Spain, unmanned aerial vehicles for a group of six other allies). As far as how well the PCC has performed—well, don’t expect too many presidents and prime ministers to be slapping each other on their backs in self-congratulation in Istanbul.

And then there’s counterterrorism. The US had encouraged adoption of counterterror as a core alliance task since the Clinton administration, and particularly during the runup to the Washington Summit in April 1999. With some assistance from Germany and Belgium, France led opposition to its adoption even then, preferring to see the EU built up as a pillar of European security and Nato reduced in importance. (This opposition overlaps with France's hostility to out-of-area missions, which counterterror operations would largely be, and which would also expand Nato's role in the world). On the other hand, under the leadership of recently retired Secretary General Lord Robertson, Nato’s staff established an internal terrorism task force to coordinate the work of different staff offices touching on the issue, and made some staff-level progress on civil-military emergency planning and consequence management. The military concept for counter-terrorism received approval at the November 2002 Prague summit - it includes proposals for a standard threat-warning system, establishing standing forces dedicated to post-attack consequence management, creating standing joint and combined forces for counterterror operations, and creating civil assistance capabilities which could be used after a WMD attack. The Nato Response Force (NRF) was adopted by the Prague Summit, which called for initial operating capacity by October 2004 and full operational capacity by October 2006.

These would indeed be useful tools in countering terrorist threats around the world, but there are reports these capabilities will not be fielded until before the end of the decade, if at all. Another unfulfilled promise of the Prague Summit was the launching of a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical analytical lab and event response team, which remain unimplemented - among other things, Nato's Weapons of Mass Destruction Centre has a current staff of only 12 people. Also, France has successfully hindered efforts to give Nato’s Civil-Military Planning Directorate operational capabilities for post-terrorist attack consequence management, preferring to see the EU take up the policy area.

These are dire situations, indeed, to greet President Bush and his aides when they arrive in Istanbul, but the luxury is not generally permitted to presidents to give up and run home from Nato summits. In general, the task facing the US - and President Bush - at Istanbul is twofold: to try to build political will, while playing mostly against the French, to actually implement these paper counterterror programs; and to show domestic voters his administration can indeed play well with others, while bringing home tangible results for American national security from multilateral fora. Note to Bush staff— points to strike from the administration’s lexicon: Talk of ‘Old Europe’ offends the Poles and other Central European countries, who object to any division of the European continent. The idea of a divided Europe understandably has different historical resonances for them. Likewise for Secretary Rumsfeld’s talk of ‘coalitions of the willing’. Have any dissenting aides read the North Atlantic Treaty (1949), which grounds allied decisionmaking on a principle of consensus. It worked for us during the Cold War, and it can be made to work again. It’s not as though France's presence in Nato is a particularly new invention, after all. Also, talk of removing the legitimating presence of North Atlantic Council unanimity from the implementation of Nato military might scares the bejesus out of European allies, whose history makes them particularly touchy about violations of borders and national sovereignty, even when absolutely morally warranted.

For the Kerry campaign, their task will instead be to stay clear of the easy temptation to claim France would be an enthusiastic Nato ally today if it weren't for the Bush administration. It wouldn't, and claims it would (example: mantra-like invocations of Le Monde’s September 12th 'Nous sommes tous Américains'), are likely to come across as partisan. The Kerry camp will also have a two-fold task. First, without retreating into tired talking points about ‘unilateralism’, it needs to sell voters the message that US presidents can't command Nato allies to do anything, they can only convince - and then make the case that this administration hasn't succeeded terribly well to date in that task. Second, it will have as well to show voters that Kerry and his aides can grapple creatively—and in a prose style more elevated than the sound bite—with complex alliance issues of national security, in an election which promises to be decided on precisely national security.

It's a crucial moment, really, for both the president and the senator from Massachusetts – who in his basic foreign policy outlook resembles no one among recent presidents so much as Bush I, who was at least good at alliances. For the Kerry camp, Istanbul represents an opportunity to make the case to voters that its vaunted multilateral approaches can contribute meaningfully to national security. And for the Bush administration, the Istanbul Summit represents a chance to show its critics that it can indeed work creatively in multilateral fora, and more importantly and even against expectations, produce results there. And at the North Atlantic Council and on the summit’s margins, its task will be to work to create a consensus for orienting Nato to the war on terror, which is where its efforts badly need to be.
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