Has the Alliance any further relevance after the withdrawal from Afghanistan? Of course, many folks put NATO into question or even challenge the Alliance’s existence. However, NATO is not dead, yet. Instead, there are many jobs left to be done.Deterrence and defense
In Germany, only few people understand that defense and deterrence are still tasks for NATO. We are surrounded by friends, but please talk to our allies from Norway, Eastern Europe and Turkey. Their feelings are quite different. Norwegians and Eastern Europeans fear Russia, the Turks have been worrying about Iran and are now concerned about Syria. NATO’s Patriot deployment to the Turkish-Syrian border proves all fellows wrong, who were arguing that the era of collective defense and deterrence is over.
In addition, Nuclear Sharing is still appropriate, even if Germans with their excessive desire for disarmament do not like it. If some of our allies have a better sleep, due to US tactical nukes based on our soil this is a price we have to pay. In an alliance based on the all-for-one principle, Nuclear Sharing is necessary as long as there is single ally left who considers it important for his security.
Deterrence by denial will provide NATO more workload. The latter means, to prevent an adversary from acting aggressive by making his means useless through own capabilities. In particular, this applies to missile defense, but not only with regard to Iran. Saudi Arabia also has sophisticated medium range missiles. If Saudi Arabia blows up and turns Egypt, it can hardly be guaranteed that Saudi MRBMs will not fall in the bad guy’s hands. Moreover, Russia’s fears about missile defense are nonsense. US missile defense’s final phase has just been cancelled. In addition, the US is almost broke. We will see how much cash the Shale Gas revolution actually brings. It is therefore very unlikely that Congress would approve a new budgetary disaster.
Nordic Air Policing
The Baltic countries lack own air forces. Thus, NATO is providing security for their airspaces. Moreover, Russia is increasing its number of assertive air patrols in the Baltic and the Arctic, while all NATO/EU countries in the High North have budgetary problems to sustain numbers and operational readiness of their fighter aircraft.
Hence, it would make sense for operational as for strategic reasons to establish a Nordic Air Policing from the Baltic over Denmark, Norway and Iceland to Greenland, maybe even including the UK is a lead nation. Non-NATO-members Sweden and Finland should receive an offer to join. Moreover, the positive side effect would be that, thereby, the outward drifting UK could be linked to European security.
Special operations forces
Due to the political hazard of Iraq and Afghanistan along with austerity, for NATO the era of major land campaigns is over. Syria tells us, Western decision makers will try to avoid at any cost sending combat boots on foreign ground. Training and support missions, as EU is doing in Mali and Somalia, will be the West’s approach, at least until the end of the decade.
While EU is doing well with training missions, it is lacking experience with special operation forces (SOF). However, NATO’s SOF headquarter is running very well. Therefore, there is considerable potential for NATO-EU work-sharing. The Union could do basic military training, while the Alliance focuses on SOF training including partnerships with Non-NATO-countries.
Future Western land campaigns – if ever given a go by decision makers – will follow a “light footprint” approach, which perfectly suits SOF. They will mainly carry the operational burdens. It is in all member states’ interest that NATO provides the framework for interoperable SOF.
Maritime security and naval operations
The Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMGs) are an unparalleled, but unnoticed success story. Since their creation beginning with SNMG 1 in 1968, the two SNMGs and the two Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group (SNMCMGs) have been doing their job without causing any political tensions. Instead, they were ready to go when called, like in the Adriatic Sea or in front of Libya.
Naval operations are a niche were NATO is number one, due to operational experience and US assets as a backup. However, EU could try to seek a way into this niche after Operation Atalanta has been working well. Being plagued by failures in security policy (e.g. Mali and the Battlegroups), some EU-fans may conclude that naval operations are a sector where EU could gain success and better its image. But neither has the EU such an operational experience in maritime affairs as NATO nor has it any access to US assets. If things go wrong, NATO-Europe would receive a US military bailout, EU would not. Thus, naval operations should be left to NATO, while the EU is focusing on the civilian side. In times of austerity, we do not need two organizations competing in the same field.
Operation Unified Protector showed the enduring worth of the capability for rapid maritime crisis response. With a look on the instability in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, scenarios for new maritime operations in front North African shores cannot be ruled out. Hence, SNMGs and SNMCMGs should be excluded from defense spending cuts. Beside the Strait of Gibraltar, focus of NATO’s maritime presence should be the Eastern Mediterranean. Trouble is likely due to the civil war in Syria and tensions between Turkey, Lebanon, Cyprus and Israel about offshore gas. Russia is seeking to implement an anti-access/area-denial strategy by its largest naval expeditionary operation since the USSR’s collapse. Thus, a show of force and demonstration of political will by NATO is a necessity. After 2014, the Eastern Mediterranean is going to be the operational area for NATO’s seaborne missile defense on US Aegis-destroyers.
We are right at the beginning of an Indo-Pacific-Century. Thus, when it comes to maritime security – I am explicitly not talking about air and ground forces -, NATO should look more East-of-Suez. The Alliance is present on the Horn of Africa since 2008 to protect the World Food program’s vessels and to fight piracy. NATO-Outreach to Asian navies, in particular China, has already begun. It would not make sense to cut these tiny, but very important strategic ties by ending NATO’s navel presence at the Horn of Africa.Right now, Britain and France are pursuing their own track in the Indo-Pacific. EU is not taken serious there in terms of security issues. However, as NATO’s present Maritime Groups will busier in the Mediterranean, a considerable option is to base a new third SNMG in Djibouti. The strategic values would be; permanent protection of vital sea-lanes; ability of rapid power projection and crisis response towards the Persian Gulf; quickly available means for disaster relief; mutual trust building by naval diplomacy with emerging maritime powers like China or India; a virtual capacity to reach out East-of-Malacca.
Of course, in many member states, especially Germany, such ideas about new NATO forward presence would be extremely out-of-favor. Thus, a more realistic approach is just never to end Ocean Shield. Open discussions about the operation should be avoided. While little attention is given, the mission can evolve in the ways mentioned and, hence, create irreversible facts.
The Arctic, however, should not be subject to military considerations other than Air Policing. Engaging Russia and new Asian stakeholders in the High North is a political question. The worst possible mistake would be to militarize and thereby to complicate Arctic politics.
Export and guarantee stability in Europe
After the Cold War’s end, the export of stability to Eastern Europe and the Balkans has been an outstanding success. While the Nobel Peace Prize has been given to EU for incomprehensible reasons, it has been NATO in the first place which connected past adversaries into its framework of peace, stability and security. Therefore, Macedonia and Montenegro should join NATO, once all membership criteria are met. In the medium term, the door should also be open to Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo. The more Balkan countries in NATO, the better, because it significantly decreases the likelihood of conflict in the region.
Georgia and Ukraine are not yet close to NATO membership, but the doors should not be closed. The Georgians have a pretty tough way to go. They will never join NATO as long as there are Russian troops on Georgian territory. Thus, either they find a way for the Russians to leave (which Moscow will not do) or they have to give up Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a prize for their way into NATO and EU (which Tibilisi will reject).With regard to Russia’s resurgence and emerging assertiveness, Sweden and Finland should be offered closer partner- or full memberships, if they so choose. To prevent Cyprus from becoming a Russian proxy, it would be a great idea to bring them into NATO. Unfortunately, Turkey would not let that happen. Given they really go for independence, membership for Greenland, Scotland and Catalonia in NATO should be granted. (Although the Spanish stance on Catalan NATO/EU-membership after a succession would be quite interesting to watch).
Europe’s crisis has been managed, but is far away from being solved. In 2009/10, – surprise, surprise – the trouble in Greece occurred a few weeks after the German elections. We will see what happens after Angela Merkel has been re-elected on September 22 or after the elections to the European Parliament in May 2014. It is an open secret in Berlin that Greece needs a second haircut. New bailouts for Cyprus, Portugal, Spain and Italy are still on the table, but before September 22, nobody wants to talk about such issues. The fatal consequences of the huge youth unemployment have not openly occurred so much yet, but they will do eventually. Last but not least, when the US is back on track with an economy running full steam ahead, France will still be discussion retirement in the age of 62.
After ISAF’s end, one of NATO’s main missions is to be a backup for stability in Europe, if turmoil in the Euro-Zone or even EU takes charge.
Keep the Russians and Chinese out
There are these debates about Chinese bases in the Atlantic – which the author has been part of – and a new Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean including a base in Cyprus. There are reasonable arguments for the position that these debates are not kind of close to reality. However, the fact that such debates are now possible, which they would never have been ten years ago, should raise one’s attention.
Except the Soviet/Russian Westgroup from 1990-94 in Germany, a Non-NATO/EU-country has never had a permanent military presence in a NATO/EU-country. Given Russia, China or someone else finds a way to set up a permanent military presence in a NATO or EU country, it would a dramatic signal for Western decline. NATO’s decision makers and strategists are tasked to prevent that from happening at any cost.