Reorienting Transatlantic Defense

Reorienting Transatlantic Defense

Mini Teaser: NATO is neither obsolete nor a threat to a common European defense force. Rather, it is the centerpiece of Euro-Atlantic foreign policy and a catalyst for European defense reform.

by Author(s): Doug BereuterJohn Lis

The NRF was set up in October 2003 as a small "prototype" intended to define requirements and to test procedures, doctrines and concepts. By October 2004 the NRF will have an "initial operational capability" that will allow it to carry out smaller-scale missions. It is to reach "full operational capability" by October 2006. At that time, it will consist of one enhanced combat brigade, roughly 5,000 ground troops. Maritime, air, command and support elements will bring the total strength to around 20,000 personnel. Some of those units will be kept at "very high readiness", able to deploy within five days, with the rest of the force deployed within thirty days.

Unfortunately, the NRF has been plagued by the typical initial misunderstandings over what it is and what it is not, particularly by Europeans who fear that it is an American-led vehicle to undermine the European Union's Rapid Reaction Force (RRF). It is important to put to rest this fallacy, which led one leading European defense analyst to conclude that "the creation of an NRF potentially holds devastating consequences for the further development of European capabilities" and "could effectively undermine the EU's RRF...."2

In reality, the NRF is not designed to compete with, but rather to promote the further development of European capabilities. The NRF is designed for the full spectrum of missions, including combat operations; the RRF, to undertake the EU's Petersberg tasks, which focus on crisis management and humanitarian operations. Nor is there any danger that the NRF would supplant the much larger RRF. The RRF is to facilitate the large-scale deployment of European forces to deal with crises and is expected to have a sixty-day deployment capability and to be comprised of roughly 15 small brigades, or 60,000 ground troops, with additional air and maritime components.

IF THE NRF is to succeed, the NATO allies must develop the capabilities that are necessary for effective combat operations. Unfortunately, NATO's ability to compel its members' actions has always been limited. While NATO does work with each member to set force goals, it is the responsibility of each state to fulfill those pledges. Often, a defense ministry's good-faith promise to the Alliance is not fulfilled because that country's defense budget request is later cut by the finance ministry in order to fund other government programs. A further difficulty arises because the NATO force goals are classified and not open to public scrutiny. In most countries, members of parliament-even those serving in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly--do not have either the required clearances or access through oversight; thus, they are often unaware of their government's pledges to NATO, and they are unable to question whether defense budgets adequately fund their force goals and whether progress toward these goals is sufficient. While NATO force goals do contain some sensitive information and cannot be completely declassified, member states should strive to increase the transparency of the force planning process to the extent possible and to extend the required clearances to members of the parliaments responsible for defense oversight.

To ensure that NATO has the critical capabilities that it needs, its national leaders agreed in 2002 to the Prague Capabilities Commitment (PCC). This initiative assigned lead nations for multinational working groups to rectify shortfalls in key areas like air-to-air refueling, strategic lift and precision-guided munitions. Despite some progress over the past year, the report card on this initiative continues to be mixed. Governments must fully fund the pledges that they have made under the PCC because a failure on this point will ensure that the PCC ends up on the trash heap with previous NATO capabilities initiatives.

More fundamentally, European forces must be streamlined to generate more deployable units. While several states, notably Britain and France, have an expeditionary capability, large numbers of European soldiers cannot be deployed on actual military missions. Given the absence of a massive land-invasion threat, this leaves them with little to contribute in the field to the Alliance. Reducing personnel levels in European militaries can free up money to develop more agile, more capable forces. For example, Germany has announced plans to reduce the size of the Bundeswehr from 285,000 to 250,000 personnel; Defense Minister Peter Struck said in mid-January 2004 that these cuts "will enable us to markedly reduce the amount of personnel costs in favour of new investments." While the Bundeswehr today is strained by deploying 10,000 troops abroad, plans call for 105,000 troops to be available for intervention or stabilization operations.

WHILE EUROPEAN armed forces must become more efficient, the two North American allies can also take steps to increase their defense cooperation. Since 1958 the air defense of North America has been a joint effort through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), but maritime and land defenses have remained separate. The inauguration of U.S. Northern Command in 2002 provided an opportunity for closer defense integration between the United States and Canada. However, Canada declined an offer to include maritime and land defense in NORAD at that time. Instead, the two countries agreed to establish a Binational Planning Group (BPG), headed by the Canadian deputy commander of NORAD, to improve bilateral cooperation to defend against common maritime threats and to respond to land-based attacks or natural disasters.

The new Canadian government of Prime Minister Paul Martin has demonstrated greater receptivity to closer defense cooperation with the United States. Already, Canada is negotiating terms for participation in the U.S. missile defense program, which could be headquartered at NORAD. Other options for closer cooperation include a "naval NORAD" that would integrate the maritime defense of North America; in this area, the BPG already has developed a binational maritime awareness and warning capability. Some Canadian opponents of greater integration argue that naval and land defense are different from air defense because the response times are greater, which allows Canada to maintain exclusive control of its naval and land forces. Proponents of including naval and land cooperation in NORAD argue that weapons like sea-launched missiles mean that naval defense is subject to the same time pressures as air defense. Similarly, they argue that a terrorist attack on land could come without warning.

The conventional wisdom is that the Martin government is unlikely to move forward in this area before federal elections, which could come as late as autumn 2004. If the victorious party appears amenable, then American officials should again offer closer defense ties to Canada in order to better protect both North American allies on land, sea and air.

An Organizational Division of Labor

THERE ARE too many folks in the corridors of the EU institutions who view defense as just another area for demonstrating, as one European commissioner put it, "a deeper commitment to our common political project." Further reflecting this attitude, he added,

 I sincerely believe that defense issues ... are crucial for the Union's future. The future and credibility of the European body politic will hinge on the decisions which we will take on them. 3

However, defense is different from many other political issues. As we saw a decade ago in Bosnia, when mistakes are made or when there is a failure to act, people die. When mistakes are made in defending your own territory, it is your own people who die. For those EU "true believers", however, defense policy is no different from agricultural policy or trade policy. Their main concern is, as they would say, "building Europe"--not the vital responsibility to protect European citizens.

In line with this thinking, Finnish General Gustav Hagglund, then-chairman of the EU Military Committee, proposed in January of this year a European security arrangement in which "The American and European pillars would be responsible for their respective territorial defenses...." This ill-conceived idea would undermine the fundamental commitment that lies at the heart of the North Atlantic Alliance and would render the citizens of all the Alliance's member states less secure. Shocking as it seems, the proposal was not inconsistent with a provision in the proposed EU Constitution to have the European Union take on a mutual defense role that duplicates the very reason for NATO's creation and its primary mission. If Europe creates a competitor to NATO, it will risk undermining the rationale for the Alliance, and it will risk undermining the support of the governments and people of the United States and Canada for participating in NATO.

Rather than trying to create a mutual defense commitment, the EU should assume primary responsibility for what could be characterized as intra-European crisis management; that is, for undertaking military operations in Europe when the security of the continent is threatened by domestic instability or civil war. In other words, there should be an organizational division of labor: While NATO deals with external threats to Europe's security, the EU should take the lead in keeping the peace within Europe.

THE BALKAN conflicts, of course, are the best example of such crises that need to be addressed in a timely and forceful fashion. Such an effective peacekeeping capability will complement other EU competencies, such as its work to build civil institutions, its economic and infrastructure assistance, and its deployable pool of civilian police officers. Included in this responsibility would be a commitment among the EU nations to assist one another in responding to terrorist attacks and natural or man-made disasters, as outlined in the "solidarity clause" of the draft constitution.4

Essay Types: Essay