The EU Will Not Create Its Own Armed Forces

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – French president Emmanuel Macron said it right. In his speech at the Munich Security Conference he argued that “We need a European strategy that renews us and turn us into a strategic political power.” Indeed, there is no reason why Europe should not be a world power.

The EU has a lot of assets

The European Union has a significant size, a large population, (512 million), and the second largest economy in the world, ($ 18 trillion), just a bit behind he US, if we add the GDP of all its member states.

Long gone are the dark days of the beginning of the Cold War, when a destroyed Europe had to rely on American protection, delivered via NATO, to guarantee its own security, vis-a-vis a menacing Russia.

The dark days of the Cold war are over

In 1949, the year NATO was created, Germany was a vanquished and semi-destroyed country. It had lost its eastern provinces, (to Poland), and the Soviet Zone of Occupation had morphed into a separate, and hostile, Communist State under Soviet control. The rest of Europe was also heavily damaged by WWII and fairly poor. Europe needed the security protection that could be provided only by a strong and confident America.

70 years later, we have a completely different scenario. First of all, the Soviet threat vanished with the implosion of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. Germany was reunified, and is now the fourth largest world economic power. The rest of Europe has also grown significantly.

There is no European core

So, what’s preventing an economically strong EU from playing a much bigger role on the world stage? Very simple. the European Union has no political core, no clear identity. It is not a federal state with an established identity and a clearly defined national interest for whose protection armed forces have been created and sophisticated diplomacy is used on a daily basis.

The European Union is an unprecedented experiment linking sovereign states that have agreed to surrender some sovereignty to supranational, EU institutions that operate according to rules defined by a complex web of intra-European treaties.

Hard to say what the “European Union” really is. It is certainly much more than a Free Trade Area. But, for sure, it is not a state. Nor is there any agreed upon road map, plan, agreement or anything else that binds members states to create a European Federation at any time.

Macron’s suggestions will go nowhere

This should be enough for anybody to conclude that Macron’s exhortations, while justified in principle, will go absolutely nowhere. Lacking the glue of shared identity and shared destiny, complex associations agreements among sovereign states are just not enough to create a new, major power that will play a significant role on the world scene.

Size, population, GDP and overall development are important prerequisites, of course. And Europe arguably has all of them. But Europe is not a state. There is no democratically elected, centralized, federal European government representing the European people, with the clear and undisputed mandate to define the national interest, while allocating the necessary economic resources to create the armed forces, (along with the command structure), necessary to protect it.

Talk but no actions

Therefore, expect some talk about Macron’s idea of a more assertive Europe. But not much more than that. Sure enough, Macron’s concerns will be addressed in some measure by creating ad hoc committees gathering EU policy-makers, elder statesmen, and military leaders. These committees can and will meet, discuss, propose, and what not. But there is no way that this Europe, as currently configured, will be able to create a sizable EU defense budget, and then field modern, credible armed forces operating under a European Command.

While diminished, NATO is still there

So, is Europe defenseless? Not really.

Europe can still rely, or at least most Europeans hope this, on good old, US-led, NATO. Yes, after all these years, NATO is still there. While most American troops are gone, there are still thousands of U.S. soldiers in Europe, and there is still an impressive infrastructure of old and tested joint NATO commands, regular NATO meetings, NATO military exercises, and an established practice of discussing most Western security issues within the framework of the Alliance.

Of course, the major problem is that NATO, today just like 70 years ago, is mostly a US unilateral security guarantee to Europe. Everybody knows this. Today many question the continuing need for this old Alliance, decades after the end of the Soviet threat that justified its creation. But the truth is that inertia dominates.

NATO is there, so let us keep it, even though there are good reasons to questions its purpose and viability, considering the much reduced defense budgets (and therefore military capabilities) of all its European members.

European defense without NATO

What Macron proposes for the EU is something like a Europe-only NATO, without the US and Canada. Again, nothing wrong with that. A relatively prosperous Europe could and should finally be autonomous and self-sufficient on fundamental security issues.

There is no Europe

Except that there is no Europe, if by “Europe” we mean a strong state, with a legitimate European Government in charge of fundamental issues, including defense and foreign affairs.

Indeed, it is hard to believe that this European Union, with its unelected leaders running armies of bureaucrats, can have the authority and the credibility to raise expensive armies and organize defense strategies under a unified EU Command.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




Trump’s Remarks On NATO

WASHINGTON – Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made headlines in Europe when he declared that America would intervene to assist a European NATO under attack only if this ally has paid its full share of the bill for the common defense. This is unprecedented. No U.S. leader or aspiring leader has ever publicly questioned U.S. determination to intervene on behalf of a NATO member in case of hostile actions against it.

NATO’s credibility at stake 

NATO’s credibility rests mostly on the U.S. unconditional commitment to defend Europe. If future U.S. policy indicates that this blanket commitment is subject to conditions, this may encourage aggression, or at least unfriendly actions on the part of Russia, always keen to exploit divisions between the U.S. and its European allies.

Here is what Article 5 of the NATO Treaty says: The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. [Emphasis added].

Unconditional pledge

It is clear that the NATO Treaty makes no mention of added conditionalities. It clearly stipulates that an attack against one NATO member shall be considered by all the others as an attack against all. Therefore, technically speaking, Trump’s remarks are wrong, and frankly ill-advised. Indeed, Trump’s glib remarks about circumstances that he would look at as president before deciding whether or not to come to the help of a European NATO country in peril are most inappropriate. The U.S. is bound to help a fellow NATO member because of a Treaty obligation. There is no gray area.

That said, Trump, while wrong on his interpretation of the Treaty, diplomacy and more, is actually right on substance. Let me explain.

Not paying for the common defense 

In his usual inelegant but (sometimes) effective style, Trump pointed out what every U.S. defense official knows but will not say so bluntly, especially in public. It is a well-known fact that Europe is not paying its fair share of the common defense.

Ever since the end of the Cold War, European defense budgets have been (with very few exceptions) in free fall. The official pledge taken by all NATO countries to invest at least 2% of their GDP on defense has been broken by most of the Alliance members. There is no sign that all or at least most Europeans will soon be in compliance. Again, these are undisputed facts.

U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly noted (albeit using muffled language) this huge gap between promises and actual defense spending. President Obama himself expressed his distress while contemplating European allies who do not spend even the bare minimum for the common security.

Trump said what most defense officials believe 

Given all that, what Trump said is very much in line with what most members of the U.S. national security establishment know and say –but mostly in private meetings. The huge difference is that Trump publicly and bluntly said that America will not come to the rescue of delinquent members. And this is news.

Of course this unprecedented statement by someone who may be the next U.S. Commander in Chief come January 2017 made headlines, especially in the front line NATO countries in Eastern Europe that are directly facing Russia. (Think Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland). By saying to the Europeans something that amounts to “First pay up, and then we shall see what I can do for you” , Trump created nervousness and potentially contributed to enhancing instability in Eastern Europe. Given what he said, will Trump’s America come to the rescue of Estonia in case of an attack? May be not. His statement allowed all sorts of bad conjectures. This is why it was most ill-advised.

Pledges should be honored

That said, on the broader issue of lack of a European serious commitment to the common security, Trump is basically right. Throughout its long history that goes back to 1949, NATO has always been an unequal arrangement, with the U.S. doing the heavy lifting when it comes to defense spending.

But now we are at the point in which many European members of this old security pact contribute little to the common defense, some almost nothing; with the hope that they can get away with routinely unfulfilled pledges. This has to stop. Otherwise this old alliance turns into a joke.

Trump pointed out this huge gap between promises and actions. Again, really wrong on form; but right on substance.

 




April 4th Was NATO’s Anniversary

WASHINGTON – April 4th 2015 came and went. Nobody paid any attention to this date. And why should they? Well, because April 4th is the anniversary of the Treaty of Washington, the treaty that established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, universally known as NATO, or the Atlantic Alliance.

NATO’s rationale

If we look back at April 4th 1949 we can see that there were many good reasons for North America (The United States and Canada) to join a few, (fragile and virtually defenseless), European democracies in a defensive alliance. NATO’s main objective was to signal to the Soviet Union that any attempt to subjugate the part of Europe Moscow did not control (it had gobbled Eastern Europe) would have been met by serious force.

All in all NATO worked. Despite many internal disagreement on just about everything, (strategy, costs sharing, priorities, military procurement policies, and of course the role of nuclear weapons), NATO kept the peace in Europe. It was an armed, uneasy peace. But it was peace. West Germany, France and Italy were not overrun by Soviet tanks forward positioned in East Germany, and in other Warsaw Pact countries.

But then the Soviet Union and its Empire suddenly collapsed at the end of 1989. It all started with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, and it ended with the formal demise of the Soviet Union itself in December 1991. The USSR was replaced by the new Russian Federation, that is Russia minus all the Republics, from Estonia to Uzbekistan, that had been forced into the former Soviet Union.

Keep NATO after 1989

Notwithstanding the end of the 40-year-old Soviet threat, Western leaders decided that NATO should continue, in as much as it provided the best vehicle for security cooperation between North America and Europe. And NATO did not just continue, it expanded, in a major way. Bit by bit it accepted as new members (almost) all the semi-colonies of the old Soviet Union, from Estonia to Bulgaria.

Indeed, even after the end of the Cold War, there seemed to be a good political rationale behind the decision to give a “new home” to the free but still disoriented new democracies of Eastern Europe. The creation of a Western political and security connection seemed to be a good way to strengthen their new democratic foundations, while reassuring them that, whatever might have happened in Russia, as full members of the Western Club, they would be safe.

What is the purpose?

That said, a military alliance needs a shared objective. In the old days of the Cold War it was all about deterring the Soviet Union. (In fact, an old cynical NATO joke provided a different rationale. “NATO’s purpose is to keep the Soviets out, the Americans in, and the Germans down“).

But what is NATO’s purpose today? Hard to say. There have been limited operations in the Balkans, a complicated, costly and inconclusive engagement in Afghanistan. But what is NATO’s mission, really? Ask anybody in the streets of New York or Amsterdam, or Lisbon, and you will get nothing precise.

Preserve Western Civilization

I can see a good mission, and it is clearly written in the preamble to the April 4th, 1949 Treaty of Washington:

“The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments.

They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. [Bold added]. They seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area.

They are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security.”

Yes, at least on paper, the mission was not (and it is not) just about “keeping the Soviets out” through the threat of American intervention in case of an armed attack against Western Europe, it was and is about safeguarding the values of our shared Western civilization “founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”

No longer united

The NATO preamble is still there, for all to see. But I do not see that many joint efforts aimed at reinforcing the supposedly shared values of our (once revered) Western Civilization.

The fact is that, while still technically allies, Europe and America have drifted apart.

Sure enough, there are still plenty of strong connections between the two sides of the Atlantic: business, trade, culture, education, and tourism. But there is no longer a shared sense of a common heritage that we wish to preserve and uphold.

Just to name one, I suspect that “individual liberty” means vastly different things in semi-socialist Europe and in libertarian America.

Indifference

And so NATO continues, but on a very low key, and within general indifference –on both sides of the Atlantic. No wonder that April 4th 2015 came and went, without public ceremonies aimed at celebrating the most important alliance ever created and sustained in the modern era.




It Is Time For Kiev To Recognize that Eastern Ukraine Is Lost

WASHINGTON – I know that this is repetitive, but I have to say again that it is time for Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to acknowledge reality and let the Eastern Provinces go. Unless the Kiev government has some kind of death wish and therefore pledges to fight Putin to the end, whatever the cost, any attempt to regain control over the Eastern Provinces now in the hands of Moscow-backed ethnic Russian rebels is a really stupid idea.

Ukraine cannot win

Ukraine cannot prevail militarily against forces backed by Russia. It is crystal clear that neither the EU, nor NATO have any intention to  support Kiev with weapons and ammunitions. America has shown how far it will go by offering Meals Ready to Eat, (MREs), blankets and socks (yes, socks) to the Ukrainian armed forces.

Give up the East

Now, whatever the formal diplomatic arrangements, timetables and what not that should lead to some form of autonomy for the East, the reality is that these Provinces are gone –for good.

Sure enough, the rebels are not respecting the agreements they signed in Minsk not too long ago. They are fighting the Ukrainians. They held “elections” won by separatist leaders.

Kiev in turn has sent in again its own troops. And, guess what, Moscow responded by sending into Ukraine its own forces, even though without official uniforms and insignia. This is technically an invasion of a sovereign country. But, beyond German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressing “surprise”, nobody will do anything about it.

The fact is that Moscow will not give back any territory it now controls via the rebels.  If Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko still does not want to accept this reality and insists on fighting Putin’s armies, he is a fool.

This war is lost, and he should let go.

Ukraine is alone in this fight

Let me say it again: Ukraine has and will have support from the West when it comes to economic assistance, IMF and EU loans, and other forms of aid. But neither Europe nor the US want to get entangled, directly or indirectly, in a military confrontation with Moscow.

Translation: Poroshenko is all by himself in this ugly fight with a far more powerful enemy.

Therefore, let it go. Grant independence to the East and close this sad page, so that the rest of the country will be able to focus on rebuilding a comatose economy.

A green light to Putin?

Many say that this is a terrible idea. Giving Putin a green light in Eastern Ukraine means that his appetite will grow. He will soon gobble Moldova, may be Estonia and even Poland.

Well, I do not think so.

I do not believe that there is any substance to the notion that Putin is bent on reconstituting the old Soviet Empire, just like it used to be. Sure enough, Putin and most of Russia believe that the end of the Soviet Union was an epochal catastrophe, a true national disaster.

In an instant, Moscow lost control over all of Eastern Europe, (East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria), and over huge chunks of what it considered to be its own territory. The Baltic countries, (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), are gone. The Central Asian Republics are gone. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are gone. And, last but least, Ukraine is gone.

Change the map, up to a point

In Putin’s mind, the post Soviet, post Cold-War settlement was unfair. The new Russia got a rotten deal. And therefore he is looking for ways to rearrange the political map of Europe on more favorable terms.

This is true.

However, Russia is not about to go to war with America in order to regain control over Poland, a NATO country.

Russia will instead take advantage of opportunities, such as chaos in Ukraine, to reclaim a piece here and a piece there, especially when large chunks of land are inhabited by ethnic Russians, like in Crimea or Eastern Ukraine.

Putin acts rationally

That said, Putin may be a ruthless revanchist, but he is not a crazy maniac.

He gambles; but only within certain parameters. He knew that Ukraine was outside of NATO, and therefore not protected by this US-led security arrangement. (He had made the same calculation regarding Georgia, just a few years ago).

Having observed President Obama, he calculated that the US would make a lot of noise, but would not take any action about Crimea and about Eastern Ukraine. And he was right.

Let’s face it: allowing Putin to get away with this naked aggression is not a good thing. But forcing him to give back Eastern Ukraine, let alone Crimea, would require a degree of fortitude that neither Europe nor the US have at this time.

Poland is not the same as Ukraine

That said, by giving Putin a “pass” in Eastern Ukraine, the West is not signaling to Russia that from now on it can do as it pleases all over Europe.

Putin knows the difference between encroaching on “unprotected” territories inhabited mostly by ethnic Russians (Crimea and Eastern Ukraine) and stirring trouble in a NATO country.

Even this diminished and timid America knows when to say “enough”. Attacking Poland or Estonia, both of them NATO members, will not be treated in the same way as the invasion of Crimea.

I believe Putin knows the difference, and he will behave accordingly.

 




After A Long And Costly War, Ukraine Forced To Admit Defeat

WASHINGTON – It is sad but true that the post-Yanukovych, democratic Ukrainian government had zero chances of winning the conflict against Moscow-backed ethnic Russian rebels fighting for independence in the East of the country.

Ukraine could not win

This was obvious to me months ago, after it became crystal clear that neither the US nor Europe were willing to give any military support to Ukraine, except for “meals ready to eat”, (MREs), blankets and uniforms.

Yes, you cannot win a war just with blankets. And yet, until early September Petro Poroshenko, the new Ukrainian President, was giving pep talks to the troops while dressed in military fatigues.

Again, the war was lost. Nonetheless Ukraine, a semi-bankrupt country now totally dependent on international financial and economic assistance, was stupidly spending huge resources on a Putin-funded conflict that it knew it could not win.

Give up the East

Months ago I suggested that Ukraine, whatever the pain involved, should have acknowledged “the facts” and should have granted de facto independence to the Eastern Provinces controlled by the Moscow-backed rebels. This would have put a stop to the conflict and to the financial bleeding.

De facto partition

Poroshenko did not do this until September, after months of fierce fighting during the Spring and Summer. And now the reality is that the ceasefire has in fact created a new border. As the WSJ put in a recent report, (In Divided Ukraine, a Border Takes Shape, October 29, 2014):

“The de facto division underlines a reality that has been clear since the two sides signed a peace deal in early September: Kiev has given up effective control of rebel-held territory, handing Russia a strong lever to influence its neighbor”.  

Gone for good

Translation: Eastern Ukraine is gone –for good. The sad thing is that the proverbial “writing on the wall” was there, long ago. For understandable (but nonetheless foolish) reasons of patriotism and national pride Poroshenko engaged in a completely useless fight, knowing that he had no help and no support from the West, other than nice words.

Huge costs

As I said, Ukraine is totally broke. I imagine that someone at some point will calculate the cost of this unwinnable war. In doing so, they will also see how these precious funds could have been better used in efforts aimed at modernizing the country’s tottering economy.

The sad outcome of this doomed attempt to preserve territorial integrity is that the land is lost anyway, while Ukraine suffered huge losses, becoming even poorer than it was before all this started.

 




Most NATO Countries’ Defense Spending Well Below Target

WASHINGTON –  At what point will the gap between NATO’s mission to defend all members and the actual military means at its disposal becomes so wide to allow most observers to conclude that this venerable institution is no longer credible? 

Defense spending?

If we looked at the “delinquency” of most NATO members regarding unmet obligations to contribute to the common defense with national defense budgets amounting to at least 2% of GDP, we are already there.

Only 4 NATO countries, including the United States, are in compliance with this solemn obligation. Please note: this is just 4, out of 28 members. And it gets worse. While most countries are below 2%, (including Germany, Europe’s economic superpower that allocates 1.3% of GDP to defense), some NATO members are actually below 1%.

More with less?

Now, one could argue that goals like “defense spending equal to 2% of GDP” are not meaningful, because what counts is how the money is actually spent. We should look at capabilities actually deployed in the field, and not at percentages. Well, yes and no. After all it was NATO itself that set this goal, after having observed how defense spending in free fall in most NATO countries affected collective military capabilities.

In principle one could argue that it is possible “to do more with less”. One could also argue that, assuming the successful pooling of resources allocated to defense by all members, NATO could still buy significant defense capabilities. May be.

Reduced spending, reduced capabilities

But the truth is that in most cases declining defense spending also signals reduced capabilities. As for the goal of new synergies that could be achieved by effectively pooling resources, well…it has been tried many times. But results are not impressive.

And so, what is NATO going to do? Accept the fact that this alliance, due to systemic under investment, is structurally weak, hoping that no one will notice? Or is there an effort to regain credibility through serious and verifiable commitments to higher defense spending?

Political compromise signals no change

The actual new “commitment” regarding defense spending is a sorry looking political smoke screen that barely disguises the inability to do anything serious. Here is what the NATO members decided on this issue at the end of the NATO Summit in Wales (September 4-5, 2014):

“…The aim [of the NATO countries] is to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade with a view to meeting their NATO Capability Targets and filling NATO’s Capability shortfalls.”

(Please note that this language is buried at the end of paragraph 14 of a lengthy NATO Communique). So here is another fudge. NATO set as a new goal something that should have already been implemented.

But NATO also added that delinquent members (practically everybody) have another 10 years to meet this (old) obligation. (Again, note the deliberately vague expression “within a decade”, as opposed to establishing a firm date).

Nothing will be done

Translation: “Nothing much will be done regarding significant defense spending increases; and we accept this.”

As I said above, there is a point beyond which carefully nuanced  diplomatic language will be unable to hide NATO’s structural military weakness.

I would argue that we are already there.




Estonian Government: Russians Abducted Senior Security Officer

WASHINGTON – What a coincidence! Only a few days ago President Barack Obama, on his way to the much anticipated NATO Summit in Wales, stopped in Estonia.

Reassure Estonia

The goal was to reassure this small “front line” Baltic state that the US and NATO will be there to protect it, in case Putin has funny ideas about getting back additional territories, (beyond Crimea and pieces of Eastern Ukraine), with large ethnic Russian minorities.

Senior Estonian officer kidnapped by Russian agents

Well, what do you know, shortly thereafter, according to the Estonian government, the Russians abducted a senior Estonian security officer who happened to be close to the Estonia-Russia border. Is Putin perhaps trying to make a point about Estonian sovereignty and how secure it is? What do you think?

Of course, the Russians deny that there was any abduction. They claim that this person was detained while in Russia.

However, if the Estonian account of the events is true, the brazen kidnapping of an Estonian government official, on Estonian soil, combined with the timing of this action, (right after Obama’s high-profile visit to Tallinn), tells us something about Putin’s regard for the sovereignty of former Soviet Republics.

(Let’s be clear: this kidnapping is not an “invasion” of Estonia. But it is in open contravention of international law.)

I do as I please

And here is Putin’s indirect –but quite clear– message to Washington and to all the Western powers that just gathered in Wales for the NATO Summit:

“You can talk as much as you want about tough responses and economic sanctions against Russia. But I do just as I please; even in a NATO country just visited by Obama. None of your threats will stop me.”    




Does The NATO Alliance Still Embody Western Values?

WASHINGTON – The NATO Summit in Wales is sadly yet another tired display of Western countries getting together and essentially going through the motions, without any conviction.

Plenty of words, no real action

There are solemn reaffirmations of solidarity, without any meaningful commitments. Pledges to work together for a strong defense, without any real new money allocated for it. The announcement of a new rapid deployment force –the purpose is to “send a message” to an aggressive Russia– that is so small (4,000 troops) to be frankly negligible, (and as a result laughable).

Ukraine has our sympathy

Plenty of sympathy towards embattled Ukraine, (not a NATO member); but no military help. Announcement of possible additional sanctions against Russia, but an olive branch offered to Putin, so that he can rejoin the community of nations who behave in a civilized way. (Any idea why Russia has chosen not to behave in a civilized way regarding Ukraine?)

A united Western front?

Given all this, what do we make of this Wales NATO Summit? My (rather pessimistic) interpretation is that this display of timid commitments, and half-hearted pledges indicates that there is no longer a united Western World conscious of the values that supposedly inspire it, rightly proud of its heritage, and fully aware of the threats it is facing.

What does NATO stand for?

Since its beginning in 1949, NATO was (and it should remain) a defensive alliance. But the question is: “Beyond our territories, are we defending anything else?”

Ukraine sovereignty?

It is abundantly clear that most Europeans care very little about the sacrosanct, universal principles of international law, when it comes to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, a European country now knocking at the door of the EU and NATO. Most Europeans care a lot more about continuing business as usual with law-breaker Russia, no matter how contemptuous Putin is about respecting the territorial integrity of a weaker sovereign state, a most basic  principle of international law.

Our civilization

But it was not supposed to be like this. There was a time in which Western states stood for something. Indeed, if you go back and read the Preamble to the North Atlantic Treaty, (Washington D.C., April 4, 1949), you will see that NATO was not just about protecting territory, but about upholding the values of the Western Civilization:

“The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments. They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.  [Emphasis added]. They seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area. They are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security. They therefore agree to this North Atlantic Treaty …”

The language is not ornate. But it is clear. We (NATO countries) join forces in order to safeguard a civilization founded on the principles of “democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law’.

This NATO Treaty Preamble assumes that our shared goal to protect our Western civilization provides the justification and supplies the energy for participating in a military alliance, with all the obligations and costs that this effort entails.

Pledges yes, but only a little money

Well, the very fact that in most NATO countries defense spending, solemn commitments notwithstanding, is in free fall, (in most cases way below the pledge to keep defense spending at least up to 2% of GDP), is an indication that upholding Western values is ok, as along as it does not cost any money. And this frankly means that few care that much about what is included in the NATO Treaty Preamble.

Europe and the US far apart

As to Western political cohesion, the necessary glue provided by shared values, not much there either. As all opinion polls reveal, most Europeans hold negative views of the United States, while most Europeans cannot come up with any meaningful notion as to what “Europe” stands for in the world, except for meaningless notions of “soft power”.

Weak West now under attack 

And yet, fate has it that this tired and confused West today is the identified target and designated mortal enemy for crazy Islamists and for a revanchist Russia that is now really unhappy about the way the Cold War ended. (The West won, Soviet Communism lost).

In other words, like it or not, the West is under attack. Not in the old-fashioned way of Red Army tanks rolling into Western Europe. But it is an attack nonetheless. Putin argues that the West is in decline, and of course its failed model is clearly inapplicable to (culturally superior?) Russia. And in the meantime, he helps himself with pieces of Ukraine, correctly interpreting European “protests” as mostly harmless noise.

The Islamic fundamentalists, now coalescing around the newly formed Islamic State, (established on land that belongs to Syria and Iraq), in their own crazy ways truly believe that they are the wave of the future, and that it is their mission to attack and destroy the West.

Of course intentions and real capabilities to harm are two different things. But, to the extent that the West is indifferent and therefore unprepared, its enemies may get lucky.

Do we have what it takes to face major challenges?

Therefore, as Ezio Mauro, Editor of La Repubblica, a major Italian daily paper, put it in a very well argued editorial, (L’Occidente da Difendere, translation:The West to be Defended, September 5, 2014), this is the moment for the West to look within, and find in its proud heritage the strength that will be necessary to face this challenge. That said, does the West have what it takes? Here is an excerpt of what Mauro writes:

“…But, right at the moment in which two parts of the world [Russia and the Islamic radicals] describe it at the same time as the ultimate enemy and the eternal adversary, has the West a notion and a degree of self-awareness that is equal to the challenge? Does it have at least the awareness that the Islamist dagger is aimed at the throat of the West, while Putin is recreating a political and diplomatic wall that will stop America, recreate a Europe divided into blocks, while limiting the sovereign rights of nations? There is an inconclusive political response to all this, while diplomacy is not going beyond sanctions. We are left with NATO, the Summit in Wales, the polemic about [insufficient military] expenditures, the project of a European Army. But the question is posed again: beyond military measures, can NATO function and have a meaning as a key player in these two crises without the West being a clear political actor?…”

Shared values? Not really

I agree. The Western countries that long ago created the Western Alliance have lost any sense of what they are and what they stand. As a consequences there is no longer any vision about a shared destiny and shared sacrifices in order to face a mounting threat.

Unfortunately, already in the bad old days of the Cold War, by default the NATO Alliance had become an American unilateral security guarantee offered to a perennially weak Europe.

Later on, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the (hoped for, but unexpected) sudden end of the Soviet Union and of the Warsaw Pact allowed the Europeans to essentially disregard defense spending.

Look the other way

And now that there is sustained turmoil, (Russian aggression, ISIL’s Caliphate), the temptation is to pretend that these problems are really small, or not there at all.

Worse yet, many European governments would like to believe that if we just stand still and do not do anything provocative all these troubles will magically melt away.

The truth is that tired Western countries plagued by non performing economies, astronomic debt, armies of pensioners, and chronic fatigue cannot face additional crises.

That said, our enemies are watching. Putin is not going to be impressed with the NATO pledge to field a force of only 4,000 soldiers.

And there is more. Constantly repeating that all NATO countries are “really, really committed” to consider an attack against one an attack against all raises serious doubts about the actual strength of this pledge.

A real commitment should be self-evident to all, friends and foes. If it needs to be constantly repeated, it means that there are doubts about the sincerity of at least some.

Helping Estonia?

Indeed, let’s assume that tomorrow Putin engages in semi-covert subversion (a la Crimea) in Estonia, a NATO country. Will geographically removed NATO members, (say, Portugal), rise to the occasion and immediately dispatch all their troops to the embattled Baltic state?




Federica Mogherini Gets Top EU Foreign Policy Job – Inconsequential Position To A Rookie

WASHINGTON – Federica Mogherini, age 41, since February 2014 Italy’s (youngest ever) Minister of Foreign Affairs, has just been appointed High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the EU top external relations position.

Mogherini: 5 1/2 lines on Wikipedia

If this were an important job, this choice would be astonishing, given the fact that prior to becoming Italy’s Minister (just a few months ago) Mogherini had no real policy-making experience. But the fact is that this EU foreign affairs job is not important; and therefore it can be (safely) given to a person whose Wikipedia biography amounts to 5 1/2 lines.

You got it. All the works and accomplishments of this lady who supposedly will “run” Europe’s foreign affairs can be described in 5 1/2 lines of text. Nobody in his right mind would give a really important foreign affairs job to a person who never held any real “hands on” positions in foreign policy.

Therefore, the only possible explanation is that, contrary to what the important sounding “High Representative” title may suggest, this position is not important. (This tells you how serious the EU really is about real political integration. More on this later).

Career in the party

As to Mogherini’s qualifications, as noted above, we know very little. She may be very smart and quite capable. But her career path does not tell us much about her intellectual and professional skills. And what we know is not reassuring.

She is essentially a party functionary who never had “a real job”. She rose through the ranks of the Partito Democratico, the modernized and updated post-Marxist version of the old Italian Communist Party, now closer to a European Social Democratic Party.

And this allows me to assume that her promotions from this to that party position are largely (if not mostly) a matter of political loyalty. In order to get a party political job you have to be dependable more than smart.

From party to Ministry to Brussels

From her party functionary position Mogherini was picked by freshly minted Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, (another top leader with a very thin CV), to become Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in February 2014.

Just like that.

No prior significant experience outside of her positions within the Partito Democratico. Nothing memorable, anyway.

And now, thanks to Renzi’s intense lobbying in Brussels, she gets to become Europe’s “Foreign Minister”. What an amazing career!

In contrast, Donald Tusk, the Polish Prime Minister who will succeed Herman Van Rompuy as President of the European Council, has a long and distinguished record in Poland’s national politics.

What do we make of this?

So how do we read these two key appointments? One going to a seasoned policy-maker, and the other one to an inexperienced rookie?

Very simple. The EU member states believe that the President of the European Council matters, while the foreign affairs job is mostly window dressing, and so it does not matter that much who gets it.

Foreign policy does not matter

If this is so, however, then we also conclude that the notion of a truly cohesive “European” foreign policy run by a powerful European “High Representative”, as opposed to a collection of individual foreign policies pursued by single EU member states, is still a dream. Europe is not a Federation.

Therefore, as foreign policy is still a national prerogative, the recently created job of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is of little consequence.

It is mostly window dressing aimed at giving the impression that there is a EU foreign policy.

This being the case, since there is very little “there”, the job can be safely given to a person with almost no experience. Mogherini will have no real independent negotiating powers. Therefore, very few chances of doing any real harm.

The world sees this

That said, as the whole world is watching, most observers will come to the same conclusion. This foreign policy position, now entrusted to a relatively young person with no record, is (and will continue to be) of no real consequence.

In truth, “Europe” does not exist as a real political entity. The European Union is mostly a collection of nations states tied together by a variety of intergovernmental treaties and various arrangements. But it is not a Federation, with one central government and one foreign policy, let alone a European Army.

 

Just as in the past, when other nations want to discuss real business, they will go to Berlin, Paris or Warsaw, and not to Brussels.




UK Will Lead A New NATO Rapid Reaction Force – Should Putin Take Notice?

WASHINGTON – As a response to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, NATO will do…well, not much. Most of the reactions so far, have been cosmetic, public relations moves. Of course, technically speaking, NATO does not “have to do” anything. Ukraine is not part of NATO; and so the Western Alliance is under no treaty obligation to do anything at all.

Show we do anything?

Still, NATO countries cannot ignore a conflict nearby in which a would-be NATO and EU member (Ukraine) has been attacked by rebels openly supported by Moscow. This act of Russian supported aggression at the periphery of peaceful Europe must be followed by some reactions.

Sanctions

And here are the reactions. As a tangible show of displeasure, the West enacted (limited) economic sanctions against Russia. But, on the security front, should the West do anything at all to signal Russia that there would be serious consequences should Putin believe that after Ukraine he may have a green light elsewhere as well?

What if he think he can support subversion in Estonia, (a small and weak NATO country with a large Russian minority), just as he has done in Eastern Ukraine?

US enhanced presence in Europe

And so there have been some shows of NATO unity and resolve. The US dispatched a few combat jets to Poland. A few troops (we are talking hundreds, not thousands) have been sent to the Baltic countries to participate in exercises.

Indeed, these (relatively new) NATO countries are understandably worried. They used to be part of the old Soviet Union. Some of them, as noted above, just like Ukraine have sizable Russian minorities. Could they be next on Putin’s wish list?

Mostly gestures

Still, all this is mostly symbolic stuff. Beyond these gestures,  not much. Statements, declarations, yes.

But what about real actions aimed at showing that NATO is a strong, politically united and militarily prepared alliance that can credibly and quickly respond to any crisis? Not much on that front.

A UK-led rapid reaction force

Well now the UK, the country that is going to host a NATO Summit in Wales, (September 4-5), has just come up with a “major” announcement. Great Britain will lead a brand new NATO rapid reaction force. So far, six NATO countries have confirmed their participation. And who are they? We have Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, and then Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, the three (scared) Baltic states mentioned above.

A credible military tool?

The goal is to have a NATO multinational force of 10,000 that can be rapidly mobilized. Look, any new effort is probably better than no effort at all. But, looking at this plan, if I were Vladimir Putin I would not lose any sleep on this. With the exception of the UK, this is a (small) collection of NATO dwarfs, in terms of countries’ populations, sizes, resources –and most of all– current and projected levels of military spending.

With the exception of Great Britain (defense spending at 2.4% of GDP) and Estonia, (defense at 2% of GDP), no other member of this new, (planned), force, meets even the minimum requirement (solemnly agreed upon by all NATO countries) to increase defense budgets so that they will reach at least 2% of GDP.

Germany and France not joining

Most of all, please note the absence of Germany and France, the two most important NATO military powers in the Continent. May be they will join later, who knows. But I suspect that the Germans do not want any role in a new military arrangement that most likely will be interpreted as an unfriendly move by Moscow.

We are “doing something”

So, there you have it. NATO today is a military alliance with dwindling forces and mostly pacifist governments now trying to show that they are “doing something”, so that a new, aggressive Russia will take notice. Well, if this new “force” is the best that can be done, good luck!

Defense spending in free fall in most NATO countries

As usual, America is the country that –even in this new era of declining US military spending– has by far the largest defense budget, (4.4% of GDP in 2013). All the other NATO members, (with a couple of exceptions, most notably Poland), have cut military spending. Most of them spend around 1.5% of GDP on defense, and a few are down to less than 1%!

Putin will just carry on

And now we have the UK leading this group of small countries that promise to put together something credible, at some point in the future. If this is the best that NATO can do, Putin can carry on his mischief in Ukraine, without any worries or concerns.