Friday, 19 September 2008

NATO's Transformation Ministerial

For a decade 'transformation' has been a buzzword for taking the old Cold War NATO and remodelling the Alliance for the new security situation. Since 9/11 that has primarily meant an expeditionary Alliance doing its part in what the Pentagon now calls the 'long war'. NATO created Allied Command Transformation, a major NATO command headquarters based in Norfolk, Virginia. This was aimed at rebuilding the forces of all NATO nations for power projection outside Europe.

At the request of Defence Secretary Des Browne, NATO ministers came to London to discuss the development of Alliance forces. In a statement released by the MID, Browne said that:

"NATO is the cornerstone of our Euro-Atlantic security, and it has bound North America and Europe in common purpose for nearly sixty years. That unity of purpose has been displayed in NATO's response to recent events in the Caucasus. However over time institutions build bad habits. There remains a mismatch between our aspirations and what we actually deliver. The NATO response force is not getting the forces or capabilities that it needs. We are lacking sufficient capabilities in key areas like intra-theatre air lift. Resources need to be switched from non-deployable capabilities. These capabilities require proper resourcing and investment. This meeting today is about transforming NATO to address all these points - and more - and to ensure that operations are central to NATO's purpose. Achieving this will allow us to focus better on the way we approach defence and security in the 21st Century."

However, during the afternoon that this meeting was not all about making NATO more capable of undertaking missions such as that in Afghanistan, the 'out of area' missions in which it acts as a 'global security provider'. It was also about the new confrontation with Russia that has emerged in the wake of the war in Georgia this Summer. The LA Times has reported that NATO ministers were discussing a plan to create "an easily deployable military force that could be sent into nations feeling threatened, a senior U.S. Defense official said Thursday. The creation of such a force would take NATO back to its roots as a deterrent against Soviet might after years of concentrating on missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan."

It is certain that ministers were discussing efforts to boost the somewhat faltering NATO Response Force (NRF) intended to bring together some 25,000 NATO soldiers ready to deploy and fight almost instantly. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a press conference today that NATO needed to "strike the right balance between expeditionary forces and core tasks".

As The NATO Monitor has previously reported, this has been an ongoing debate between old and new members of NATO, with the Eastern Europeans concerned that NATO was not doing enough to offer protection form Russia. This feeling has grown exponentially since the Russian intervention in Georgia, and this may be NATO's answer. A common force of C-17 transport aircraft, inaugurated at the NATO Summit in Riga in 2006, was cited by De Hoop Scheffer as an example of common projects that enhance Alliance troop mobility in a cost-efficient manner. He also said that "planning and exercising for the common defence is what NATO does and will do. It is business as usual."

The Secretary General added that "NATO has always been prepared for all eventualities and still is. I don't see any new eventualities," but also admitted that NATO was beefing up some elements of its common defence capabilities, while refusing to be in any way specific on those capabilities.

It is clear that NATO has taken a step back towards its old role, the territorial defence of Europe. It is trying to do so in a way that maintains room for new missions in Afghanistan and, potentially in the future, elsewhere. No decisions were taken at this informal meeting, but further discussions will take place in Budapest in October, in December, in Krakow next Spring and then at the April Summit of Alliance leaders in Strasbourg and Kehl.

What is far less clear at present is what this means for NATO Russia relations. NATO leaders do not seem eager to head into a new Cold War, but at the same time they cannot afford to leave their new members dissatisfied with NATO's Article V mutual defence guarantee.Are we on the point of seeing a revival of a military balance of power in Europe between NATO and Russia? And what role will NATO's nuclear forces play in that stand-off if it emerges?

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