Is Europe with Us, Against Iraq? No Spectators, Please.
As east European celebrations subside after NATO's November Prague summit, where the alliance agreed to grow from 19 to 26 members, Europe's inaction and failure to modernize its forces contrast with U.S. efforts to transform NATO to meet tomorrow's threats.
NATO's formal decision-making process, requiring unanimity, was a burden during the 1999 bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. Target lists had to be approved by 19 alliance members, many of which had little understanding of how to use military airpower, especially Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, which had joined NATO just weeks before the campaign began.
As a result of the unanimity requirement, NATO's collective forces will only be as ready and willing as the alliance's most hesitant member. With Germany leading the opposition against an Iraq campaign, the alliance will be absent when the campaign begins, just as it was during the operations in Afghanistan and during the Gulf War.
Europe and NATO will be a key logistical base in an Operation "Desert Storm II." Coalition partners will include allies from Europe, but a NATO or EU flag will not figure prominently on battlefields in the Middle East. Transatlantic ties are strong, despite Europe bashing in the U.S. and official anti-American rhetoric in Europe. As forces gather to force Saddam out of power, do not expect America to cast aside European interests, as was arguably the case during the Suez crisis or Soviet operations against Czechoslovakia and Hungary 40 years ago. Nor should one expect Europe to deny the United States access to bases and airspace as it did during the 1986 Operation Diablo Canyon against Libya's Qaddafi. Those attacks on Libya were, ironically, in part a response to terrorist bombings in Berlin. If Europe now, as individual states or with vetoes within NATO, denies the United States access or transit, it would be detrimental to the Euro-American defense relationship.
Because of post-Cold War NATO's inability to transform itself into a war-fighting alliance with global reach, NATO will be a bystander in wars outside Europe in the future. NATO will remain Europe's pre-eminent security institution, but, without a change in Europe's priorities and its level of defense spending, the alliance will basically serve as a provider of forces for coalition operations led by the U.S.
Article V, the collective security guarantee of the NATO Treaty, was invoked for the first time after the attacks of September 11, on the initiative of European allies. It was a noble and appreciated gesture, but what did Europe have to offer? Washington's desire to strike back -- first in Afghanistan and soon in Iraq -- could not be delayed through diverting U.S. aircraft to pick up European forces incapable of getting themselves to the battlefield. Even Britain had to lease and borrow airlift to get into the theater of operations in Afghanistan.
When NATO's Reaction Force of 20,000 troops becomes operational in 2004, it will depend on the strategic airlift and select capabilities of the United States, which strongly backed the establishment of the force. European hesitancy and lack of consensus in the heat of battle will limit NATO operations to policing missions within Europe and to peacekeeping on Europe's periphery, with risks of decisive combat operations kept below battalion level. The European Union's flirting with its own defense institutions, such as the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), is unlikely to overcome a chronic lack of military capabilities and vetoes from EU members such as Ireland.
At the last NATO summit, in Washington in 1999, leaders pledged to improve military capabilities and to prepare for defending against weapons of mass destruction and asymmetric threats. Similar pronouncements were made at the Prague summit, and they will no doubt be on the agenda at the next alliance summit in May 2004, when the seven invitees will become formal members.
After 2004, NATO will have 60 percent more members than it had during the Gulf War. It is difficult to envision a larger alliance commanding fluid combat operations without first revising its structure and focus.
There is talk of NATO involvement in Afghanistan, which now hosts a peacekeeping operation, but what about Iraq? Is the alliance to be a spectator with regard to the next large war that involves mostly Americans and some Europeans? Against the backdrop of military actions since the end of the Cold War, the alliance will not have a commanding role to play. The U.S. cannot and will not risk being defeated on the battlefields in Iraq and elsewhere because of endless debates in Europe.
Since the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Saddam's game of cat and mouse with the West, caused repeated and expensive military posturing by the U.S. in the Gulf region, and facilitated an Iraqi accumulation of weapons of mass destruction and support for international terrorism. European policy toward Iraq has been one of appeasement, a disastrous policy not unlike that of France and the UK in the late 1930s toward Germany.