In Chicago NATO Reaffirmed Its Role And The Willingness To Upgrade Its Forces – Very Nice, Except That It Is Not True, Given Shrinking Defense Budgets Across Europe

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By Paolo von Schirach

May 22, 2012

WASHINGTON – The big news out of the Chicago NATO Summit was the timetable for an Afghanistan exit. This “agreement” to get out with no victory and no real stability in the country is a sorry looking fig leaf aimed at covering a bad idea –a prolonged war– poorly designed and poorly executed. But there was more on the agenda. This (ghost of a once relevant) military alliance used the Chicago Summit as an opportunity to reaffirm its mission to protect all the member states with adequate military tools.

NATO Defense capabilities

To this end, NATO issued a Summit Declaration on Defense Capabilities: Toward NATO Forces 2020. All very nice, except that most of what is declared is at best wishful thinking, at worst willful lies. NATO is a walking ghost held together by the United States, with some help from Britain and France and bits and pieces contributed by Poland, The Netherlands and a few others. Germany is a bit of a mystery. In only when it suits her, witness its refusal to participate in the Libya mission last year.

The NATO macro picture is of a military alliance soon without armed forces. The US always did more. But now the ratio of contributions has shifted from 60% US and 40% Europe to 80% US and 20% Europe. And that 20% is not that good. If the Europeans were able to pool together their military procurement, then they could have more “bang for the buck”. Whereas, as things are done, the outcome is pitiful. But here are some excerpts from the Declaration issued in Chicago, with my notations.

European efforts

We recognise the importance of a stronger and more capable European defence and welcome the efforts of the European Union to strengthen its capacities to address common security challenges. These efforts are themselves an important contribution to the transatlantic link.

Notice the hint about a stronger and more capable European defense. All pie in the sky. These exhortations have been made for decades. The only thing we know is that European defense budget are significantly lower and headed down. Indeed, with Europe in bad economic shape, do not expect Greece, Italy and Spain, or even the UK, for that matter, to ramp up defense spending. The fact that this vacuous stuff is produced and reproduced every year in these NATO declarations, is not even funny any more. It is a tragedy when lies are dished out routinely and nobody objects.

Libyan success?

The strength of NATO has been Allies’ forces – their training, equipment, interoperability and experience – drawn together and directed by our integrated command structure. The success of our forces in Libya, Afghanistan, the Balkans and in fighting piracy is a vivid illustration that NATO remains unmatched in its ability to deploy and sustain military power to safeguard the security of our populations and to contribute to international peace and security.

Here is another whopper. Only a few weeks into the 2011 Libyan air campaign the small European air forces had run out of smart bombs, showing how ill equipped they were to fight even a minor war against Ghaddafi, a third rate enemy. Imagine if this had been a real war.

All the capabilities NATO needs are there. Really?

We have already made concrete progress since our last Summit in Lisbon and the adoption there of the new Strategic Concept in ensuring NATO has the capabilities it needs to defend our citizens, conduct crisis management operations, and foster cooperative security.

Really? Virtually no defense spending (at least in most NATO countries it is essentially meaningless) and we still get great capabilities? Genius at work here.

Streamlining the European defense industrial base

Maintaining a strong defence industry in Europe and making the fullest possible use of the potential of defence industrial cooperation across the Alliance remain an essential condition for delivering the capabilities needed for 2020 and beyond.

Yet another joke. Even when it really mattered, when Europe was under Soviet threat, defense industry cooperation was discussed and debated ad nauseam, with almost zero results. Now that cooperation is a less pressing issue these ritual invocations for polling resources mean really nothing.

Unity, of course

NATO’s greatest strength is its unity. Through 2020 and beyond, stimulated by the requirement to use defence resources in the most efficient way, we will deepen that unity to maintain and upgrade NATO’s military strength.

Now, this is the best. Out of 28 members, only 9 participated in the 2011 Libya air campaign essentially led by France and Britain (with the US, as we were told, “leading from behind”). Germany did not participate. Sure enough many more are in Afghanistan. But most of them are not in combat zones, while many have provided token contribution of literally dozens troops. So much for “unity”. As for the pledge to “deepen and upgrade our strength”, how will they that? May be from now on defense contractors will accept Greek bonds as payment? Otherwise, I see no signs of increased defense spending. So much for “military strength”.

NATO had a function. Today it is a sorry affair rapidly turning into a farce. The old joke shared among insiders that “NATO” really stands for “No Action Talk Only“, is now becoming real.

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