Friday, February 27, 2015

Berlin Day 1 2015: A Bridge Too Far?

I am at a two day workshop in Berlin with the topic of NATO after the Wales Summit.  It is a Chatham House/SWP (German Institute on International Affairs) event, so I cannot say what particular individuals (aside from myself) have said.  I can point to a few general themes/tendencies. 

Before getting into it, I have to say that while I found it somewhat strange previously to hear a Dutch diplomat say "a bridge too far," it is even stranger to hear it come from a German given the history of the phrase (Operation Market Garden). 

Anyhow, what did I say?  My job was to discuss whether the "deliverables" at the NATO Wales Summit last fall were sufficient and whether they are being, um, delivered. 
  • Hope is not a plan.  That the promises made at Wales were far more aspirational than anything close to being realized. 
  • The promises made to create a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force [VJTF] have been insufficient since they have not worked out the key details.   The VJTF was supposed to be able to move within 24-48 hours but is now going to be a week or so.  
    • My question was answered yesterday--whether countries committing troops to this effort have figured out the domestic legal requirements of deploying such a force (the stuff that produces caveats and also causes decision-making processes to be sloooow).  That is, for those countries that need legislative approval to deploy troops, are there efforts to deal with this challenge ahead of time so that the rapid reaction force can react rapidly?  The answer: nein.  It might be that the German requirements do not apply when it comes to self-defense/NATO defense in Europe.  But we don't know.  
    • And the other two countries that are making early commitments, Norway and Netherlands, also have domestic processes that need to be "fixed" if SACEUR is going to be able to move troops quickly.  That this responsibility will rotate to other countries with mixed Afghanistan does not fill me with confidence.
  • I was critical of the lack of a commitment at Wales to permanently base NATO troops in those states on the frontlines with Russia.  Got some fun pushback on that--what is the difference between rotations of training and permanent bases?  Just a wee bit of credibility and commitment.
    • Of the six countries committing to micro-bases (six NATO Force Integration Units), two have cut their budgets fairly dramatically (UK/France) and the other four were highly constrained in Afghanistan (Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain).
      • A speaker or two suggested that the lessons of Afghanistan are not applicable since it was not really an Article V mission.  Well, Article V has an opt out clause, so excuse me for my skepticism.
    • I even made the point that permanent basing might lead to American spouses and children living near the bases to create a more robust tripwire... returning to the Cold war.  
  • Re pledges to support Ukraine made back in the fall, I basically hand-waved since I am ambivalent about arming Ukraine.  But that's ok, NATO is shrugging as well.  
    •  I learned via people's comments that Russia's campaign to get support in Europe is working well--that many NATO allies are essentially pro-Putin, including Greece, Hungary, perhaps Bulgaria, at least one of the Slo-allies (Slovenia/Slovakia?), Mearsheimer.... not to mention Russian support of the National Front in France.  The key here is we are farther from consensus than I had thought. 
  • The big commitment that all members were to aspire to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense was entirely aspirational.  There have been arguments made here that this limited the ability of countries to cut their budgets--that the cuts that have been made would have been worse.  Um, ok.  But this was not even a pie crust promise since there was very little real intent to follow through.  Indeed, this morning (day 2) I have already heard the claim that it is not how much is spent but what one gets.  Well, given that each country is mostly messing up the procurement process, it is not like there are heaps of capabilities being produced even as spending goes down.  
    • I did make the Canadian point that it is more the doing than the spending.  Indeed, it may be easier to do more than spend more in the short term, although that is not so good in the long term.  
  • I did point out the big lesson that everyone has implicitly or explicitly learned--humility.  That NATO efforts to improve Afghanistan, the Libyan effort, etc have had less than wonderful outcomes.
Other observations:
  • Europeans are divided about whether to focus on the East (Russia) or the South (Mideast).  I would assert that NATO should focus on its old job--Russia--and let coalitions of the willing worry about ISIS.
  • TRIP survey was cited by a couple of European government officials.  So, yeah, they know that academics have opinions.  Alas, the opinion cited was that Russia was five or eighth on list of concerns, so we are thus wrong and irrelevant.  Ooops.
  • I was making a tripwire argument and someone used a different phrase--tethered goats!  Jurassic Park oh my!
  • As always, I realize that being one of the few academics in the room, I have far more freedom/discretion/bluntness/rudeness than the people working for governments.  So, I did, of course, mention which countries are just a wee bit less reliable.

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