Wednesday, November 11, 2015

NATO, Exercises and the Pesky Russians

Yesterday, I presented at a conference organized by the NATO Association of Canada that took place at the Pearson Building, the hq for Canada's Department of ever-changing names--DFAIT, DFATD, Global Affairs, whatever.

My self-assigned task was to talk about what I learned the previous week at the NATO exercises in Portugal.  Here is my presentation.  The big take home messages were:
  • NATO has been out of the big exercise business for quite some time, so this was a pretty remarkable exercise.
  • That the biggest challenges, as always, are political, and they are hardly resolved.
  • Much room to improve even at the tactical level.
  • That Smart Defence--which recommends that NATO countries specialize and become more interdependent--requires a heap of trust that allies will show up when needed.  And thanks to the book with Dave, I am skeptical about that.
  • We need to give SACEUR, the military commander of NATO, pre-delegated authority to be able to react quickly to events.
After I presented, LTG (ret) Mike Day presented.  He not only commanded SOF units but NATO efforts at a variety of levels.  We didn't see eye to eye on everything, but on the important things we agreed.  The big difference--he has more optimism than I that NATO will develop consensus on how to deal with the southern front (Mideast/North Africa). 

The crowd was mostly students but also some other folks who follow NATO and such.  The reps from the Russian embassy were not thrilled with my presentation, as I did mention that the NATO-Russia Founding Act is dead, dead, dead.  They accused me of wanting NATO to have a first strike capability.  I said no, that NATO is engaging in efforts to deter aggression, that we would not be taking Crimea back.  Indeed, I suggested that we will be patient--that the Soviet Union collapsed on its own.  We can wait for political change in Russia rather than attacking it.  I argued that Russia was mighty secure before 2013 and still is--that NATO had been cutting its forces in Europe due to budget cuts and the US pivot.  And in a nuclear world, Russia has no need for buffers.

Anyhow, I realized that the Russians do a fine job of making me take hardline stances--that the cold war is back and we might as well remember the old playbook of tripwires and credible commitments.

The students afterwards reported that they enjoyed Day and myself engaging the Russians in plain language.  They also were most interested in NPSIA so I had a chance to sell our program.

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