Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Sophisticated Take on NATO and Syria

No, not me, but the former military head of the alliance, James Stavridis.  I am a big fan of Stavridis, and was so before he provided such an excellent blurb for the Dave and Steve book.  I was not sure how I would take his piece on Syria, as I am skeptical about getting NATO together on this one (as well as skeptical about what force will accomplish).

His basic point is that NATO never really shows up entirely--every NATO war is a coalition of the willing, as countries vary in what they contribution.  This time the constellation is different.  Sure, but losing the UK is huge.  Germany may have heaps of capabilities, but we are used to the Germans opting out entirely or opting in with significant restrictions.  The British have always been an enthusiastic participant and have capabilities that other NATO countries do not possess, such as Tomahawk cruise missiles (which only the US also has). 

The other problem with the piece is that he knows only too well as former SACEUR but cannot say it out loud a key piece of NATO truth: a threat to Turkey (Syria) is not the same as a threat to Italy or France (Libya).  Turkey has much less sway in the alliance, and a few countries have a fair amount of hostility towards Turkey.  So, don't expect NATO consensus to form over the defense of Turkey.  At least, not easily and not quickly.

However, one of the consequences of Obama's Congressional gambit is to change the clock on this stuff, so that NATO has more time to work stuff out.  And Stavridis fudged a key point--NATO does not need every country to agree to an action--it just needs the opponents to stay out of the way.  The NATO lingo is thus: those who are not supportive just don't have to break silence. 

I am still trying to figure this whole thing out, as I do not think that credibility and reputation matter that much, that I am not fond of the Assad regime, but not sure what happens next, yet the slaughter should be punished, yet not sure what good a use of force will do.  Oy.  All I can say for sure is that the alliance dynamics here are even more complicated than Stavridis suggests in his piece. 

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