Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Missile Defences Unite NATO Internally, and with Russia

NATO Monitor has covered the ongoing debate over missile defences. When the Bush administration proposed siting elements of its mid-course ballistic missile defences (BMD) in Poland and the Czech Republic, the Alliance was badly divided.

Many in Europe were dismayed that the future of a strategic programme with obvious security implications for the entire alliance was being dealt with at a bilateral level. For many this was yet another blow against NATO by the US, and the political damage caused by this and other unilateral Bush administration actions will take years to heal.

There was deep concern at deteriorating relations with Russia, and the reduction in security that a hostile relationship entails, something fundamentally at odds with the stated intention of deploying a BMD system to Europe in the first place. Also, the Europeans stressed the indivisibility of Alliance security since, even if the mid-course BMD system worked as advertised (which it has never done), it would not cover south-Eastern Europe. Worse, debris from intercepted warheads would likely fall on Belgium and the surrounding area (just as debris from the Pacific system intercepting a missile from North Korea would fall on western Canada).

There were abortive attempts to link Russia in with the BMD proposals, as the Russians proposed the use of some of their radars. The Bush administration rejected these ideas – claiming (against the advice of scientists) that the Russian systems weren’t well placed. There was a stated intention to somehow merge the strategic system with the incipient NATO theatre missile defence system. But the whole thing looked like (and indeed was) a desperate attempt ex post facto to justify Bush administration actions through an Alliance lens.

Then, this September, to the dismay of Poland and the Czech Republic and the delight of other Alliance members, the Obama administration announced that it was halting the European deployments. This has formed part of summer discussions with Russia on strategic issues. In place of the mid-course BMD system, the Obama administration announced an intention the existing ship-based Aegis defense system in the Mediterranean. This is designed to intercept short- and intermediate-range missiles with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, and the deployment is clearly aimed at Iran. The mid-course proposal has been pushed off into the future. There are technical problems with the new proposal, as the Union of Concerned Scientists  noted:

A key technical problem with this approach is that the Aegis interceptors (current and planned) also are designed to intercept missiles above the atmosphere and therefore, would be vulnerable to decoys and other countermeasures, just like the current ground-based interceptors.

However, the main purpose of the system is reassuring Allies about US intent to defend Europe, and to do so in a NATO framework. A side-benefit in this case is to be non-threatening to Russia. In this, the new system has been remarkably successful. As NATO Monitor reported back in October, Allies have been reassured by the consultations that the Pentagon has undertaken on this issue, in stark contrast to the previous administration. Their concerns about relations with Russia have also been answered.

Indeed, as Ria Novosti reports:

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed hope on Thursday that the alliance and Russia would establish a joint missile defense system by 2020. Addressing students at the Moscow State University of International Relations, Rasmussen said the joint shield would unite Russia and NATO politically and ensure nuclear security between the two parties.

They had previously reported after the NATO-Russia Council meeting on December 4, that:

Russia and NATO have formed a working group on missile defense issues and the first meeting will be held in January, Russia's envoy to the military alliance said on Friday. Dmitry Rogozin was speaking after a Russia-NATO Council meeting in Brussels."A program on military cooperation, including the creation of a working group on missile defense, was adopted," he told journalists. He said the first meeting would take place "straight after the Christmas holidays."

At NATO HQ, on the trip for bloggers just after the Ministerial and another trip a few days later, I heard several suggestions from national delegations and from international HQ staff, that missile defence would be the best way to show Iran that the Alliance is serious about its defence. Some went so far as to suggest that the deployment of the new Obama missile defences, and other elements, would be the best way to show US commitment to Europe if the Alliance agrees the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons in 2010 – and that indeed in the post-9/11 world, they are the most useful way to do so.

It’s hardly surprising therefore that the text on missile defence in the Foreign Ministers’ Final Statement says:

14. The proliferation of ballistic missiles poses an increasing threat to Allies’ populations, territory and forces. Given the central importance of the Alliance’s collective defence mission to ensure our security and protect our populations, territory and forces against the threat of armed attack, including from ballistic missiles, missile defence plays an important role for the Alliance as part of a broader response to counter ballistic missile threats. We welcome the new phased adaptive approach of the United States to missile defence, which further reinforces NATO’s central role in missile defence in Europe. This approach would further anchor European missile defence work in NATO, which continues to bear in mind the principle of the indivisibility of Alliance security as well as NATO solidarity.

15. NATO’s current Theatre Missile Defence programme (ALTBMD) will facilitate the integration of missile defence elements from nations in order to protect deployed troops. Heads of State and Government, at their last Summit, tasked the Council in Permanent Session to identify and undertake the policy, military and technical work related to a possible expanded role of the Theatre Missile Defence programme beyond the protection of NATO deployed forces to include territorial missile defence. Such a role would be a key milestone towards providing territorial missile defence in Europe.

16. Heads of State and Government, at their last Summit, tasked the Council in Permanent Session, taking into account the Bucharest Summit tasking, to present recommendations comprising architecture alternatives for consideration at the next Summit; these should draw upon the work already done and the United States’ phased adaptive approach. If the Alliance decides to develop a NATO missile defence capability in Europe to protect populations and territory, the United States’ phased adaptive approach would provide a valuable national contribution to that capability and, thus, to Alliance security.

17. We continue to support increased cooperation between NATO and Russia on missile defence including maximum transparency and reciprocal confidence-building measures. We reaffirm the Alliance’s readiness to explore the potential for linking United States, NATO and Russian missile defence systems at an appropriate time. The United States’ new approach provides enhanced possibilities to do this.

As Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told the press after the Ministerial “On missile defense, our allies strongly expressed their support for the new American approach, and NATO officially noted the important role missile defense plays in the protection of our population, territory, and forces.

On this issue, at least, the Alliance is once again, united.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Latest Word on NATO Nukes

This week I traveled to NATO for a a Public Diplomacy Division-sponsored visit to HQ for bloggers. I was favourably impressed that our speakers were open and honest, not at all like previous such PR visits. While Afghanistan was the main topic, and I'll come back to that later, there was a lot of talk about the new Strategic Concept in general, and nuclear policy in particular.

We learned that German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle did raise his coalition's policy of withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany with his colleagues at the North Atlantic Council last week. there was no immediate reaction from his colleagues, but the issue will be discussed as part of the Strategic Concept negotiations next year. Several people told the group that they would not be at all surprised to see an end to US nuclear deployments in Europe as the end result of those talks.

This matches with information coming from elsewhere. Oliver Meier at the Arms Control Association has published an interesting review of the debate in Germany. It stresses that Germany expects a positive reaction from allies (which indeed seems to be the case), and that several nations engaged with germany in the margins of the NATO meeting on the future of nuclear sharing. Meier also discusses the problems that remain.

Amongst others, Westerwelle has held discussions with his Polish colleague during a visit to Warsaw in early November. Unlike other visits,  there was no mention of the nuclear issue at the press conference on that occasion. A comment by the German Defence Minister at a CSIS event in Washington DC explains why:

Last point, because I’ve been asked here again: Some of you have read the coalition treaty of the CDU/CSU and FDP. A remarkable piece of paper. (Laughter.) And there was one sentence that led to, let’s call it, mild disturbances over here. And that was the question of how we handle possible – because it’s still a secret, as we all know – possible nukes on German grounds. And to give you one answer, because I’ve been asked here again, as well, this is not a question we would like to see treated unilaterally or just bilaterally, but it has to be treated, if at all, within the coalition. And it has to be treated within NATO as such, and we have to keep in mind what any step means, as a consequence. And what the consequence could be is – for instance, the three nays within NATO, we could have partners in mind who probably would be glad to offer their grounds and their soil for any weapons. But the question is whether that makes sense, then, for the security structures within Europe. 

Guttenberg is clearly referring to Poland, which is known to have explored with NATO colleagues the possibility of its inclusion in NATO nuclear sharing, and the basing of US nuclear weapons on its soil. NATO gave assurances to Russia, when Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary were brought into the Alliance, that such deployments would not happen - the so-called 'three nos'. These were reinforced in the US Senate debate during the debate on that round of NATO enlargement.

There is clearly no way that the US will consider deploying nuclear weapons to Poland currently, certainly not at the expense of a renewed confrontation with Russia that would certainly ensue. Moreover, the mood in the Alliance is moving in the other direction. Arms Control Wonk recently reported that a senior advisor to the Turkish Prime Minister  had told them that: As for his own personal opinion, Kalin said, Turkey “would not insist” that NATO retain forward-deployed nuclear weapons. Conventional forces are sufficient, he added, to meet Turkish security needs. NATO Monitor has reported the debate stirring in Turkey, but that is a truly remarkable statement from such a well connected policy analyst. 

There is a shift in the political mainstream opinion on forward basing of nuclear weapons. Poland and the Baltic States have to decide whether they want to stand with the new European mainstream inside NATO, or against it. Opinion is forming that says that at best these weapons do not contribute to European security, and may actually decrease it. Diplomats have begun to look for other ways that the US commitment to Europe can be visibly signaled.

The North Atlantic Council last week was only the opening salvo in this debate, but the NAC (and NATO Monitor) will be returning to the question in the Spring.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

No Public Statements on Nuclear Weapons and the Strategic Concept

Germany, Belgium and other nations recently committed to seeking the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from their soil had promised they would raise the question of NATO nuclear strategy this week. Foreign Ministers gathered at NATO HQ did discuss the future NATO Strategic Concept, but little was revealed of their discussions. If anything to do with NATO’s nuclear posture was raised, no-one was talking about it afterwards. The Final Statement of the meeting stated:

19. We are committed to renewing our Alliance to better address today’s threats and to anticipate tomorrow’s risks. At their Strasbourg/Kehl Summit, our Heads of State and Government tasked the Secretary General to develop a new Strategic Concept and submit proposals for its implementation for approval at the next Summit, keeping the Council in Permanent Session involved throughout the process. We have discussed the preliminary work of the Group of Experts which is helping to lay the ground for the Alliance’s new Strategic Concept. This work has so far covered the changing international security environment; NATO’s fundamental tasks; relations with other nations and organisations; and internal reform. We thank the Group for the work it has done until now, and encourage its continued close consultations with all Allies. We look forward to discussing the Group’s findings at our informal meeting next April in Tallinn. We encourage all our partners to continue to present their views on our new Strategic Concept during its elaboration. The new Strategic Concept will play an important role in guiding and shaping a 21st century Alliance to face existing and emerging threats and challenges, while maintaining strong collective defence.

Certainly the role of nuclear weapon sin NATO strategy, and the posture of forward deployment of some weapons from the US to Europe may have been raised in a discussion of “NATO’s fundamental tasks” the statement says were discussed, but no detail is forthcoming.

However, in the wider context, there are continued suggestions that change may be on the way. The Italian Atlantic Committee has published a discussion paper on the Strategic Concept review, in which they write that:

6. Nuclear Forces
·        In a troubled world, the nuclear deterrent remains the indispensable support for NATO conventional forces when facing serious dangers;
·        However, it is inevitable that the nuclear posture be considered afresh on the basis of agreed criteria, in order to ensure its continued relevance in our era with special mention to its connections with the vitality of the Transatlantic Link.

This paper was discussed at a seminar held in Rome by the IAC and the Italian Foreign Ministry on November 23rd. it certainly leaves room for considering the removal of US nuclear weapons from Europe, while maintaining a strategic nuclear deterrent for NATO.

In the UK, the government was questioned in the House of Lords recently on the NATO Strategic Concept. On November 25, Lord Hannay asked the government about possible changes to NATO nuclear strategy.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that this review of the strategic concept will include NATO's nuclear posture? What input will the British Government make on that aspect? Will they ensure that any revision of NATO's nuclear posture is firmly in line with the unanimous decision of the UN Security Council under President Obama's chairmanship to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons?

Lord Brett: My Lords, yes.

It is thought that the UK government has expressed a private willingness to see all US nuclear weapons removed from Europe. This answer is in line with that position. The UN Security Council resolution calls for further efforts on nuclear arms reductions and disarmament, so any revision of the nuclear paragraphs of the Strategic Concept would need to move in that direction.

The German opposition SPD issued a call through MDB Uta Zapf, the SPD spokesperson on foreign policy in the Bundestag, for the government to make good on its promise to discuss nuclear withdrawal at the NATO ministers meeting, and also called on NATO to discuss a tactical nuclear weapons ‘zero option’ with Russia.

It is really too early, at least in the framework of the Strategic Concept revision, to expect much substance from NATO ministers. The US Nuclear Posture Review has not yet been reported to Congress, and that will send a major signal to US allies. The calls for withdrawal of US nuclear forces from NATO Europe have sent a signal of support to those in the Obama administration who support that goal. Undoubtedly NATO foreign ministers will return to this topic in the near future, perhaps as early as their informal Spring meeting in Tallinn.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Former Dutch Prime Minister Lubbers Calls for Withdrawal of US Nukes from Europe

Following the example of Sam Nunn, William Perry, Geroge Schulz and Henry Kissinger, a group of leading Dutch politicians has called in the newspaper NRC Handelsblad for the Netherlands to actively work for a nuclear weapon free world, and in particular, the revision of NATO's Strategic Concept to include the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from NATO. Led by former Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, the group wrote that:

As a member of Nato the Netherlands should make itself heard in the upcoming revision of its Strategic Concept. We have gratefully benefited from the nuclear protection of the United States. Now we must show ourselves a strong ally by supporting Obama’s goal of achieving a world without nuclear weapons according to the faithful implementation of Article VI of the NPT.

Given the clear indications the United States takes nuclear disarmament very seriously and that the original objective of deterrence has lost its validity, we need to ensure that neither the United States nor the other Nato allies wait for each other. The Netherlands should play an active role, so that the revision of the Strategic Concept will lead to the withdrawal of American nuclear weapons from the territories of non-nuclear weapon states.

The signature of Lubbers on this piece is especially significant, since he worked hard in the teeth of fierce opposition in the 1980s to force the deployment of US nuclear cruise missiles to the Netherlands. There were reports in the Dutch media last year that Lubbers had told the Dutch anti-nuclear group, IKV, that the US nuclear weapons deployed at Volkel air base in the Netherlands were obsolete and should be removed. Now, Lubbers has publicly called for their withdrawal.

Lubbers was joined by Max van der Stoel, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs; Hans van Mierlo, a former Minister of Defense and of Foreign Affairs; and Frits Korthals Altes, a former Minister of Justice.

Their piece in NRC Handelsblad comes after the Dutch government gave its support to the German government's initiative to have NATO affect just such a withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Germany, a move also supported publicly by Belgium and Norway.

No Membership Action Plan for Georgia

Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze held a bilateral meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen before a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission (NGC).

The Bush administration tried and failed to have NATO leaders approve a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Georgia. And since the rash Georgian attack on South Ossetia gave Russia a reason to put military forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the MAP process has been on hold. In an effort ot move things forward Georgia has continued to work hard to earn NATO's favour. They have offered 900 soldiers, with no caveats on their use, to the NATO ISAF mission in Afghanistan. The Chairman's summary of the NGC meeting recognised this, stating: 

NATO Ministers expressed strong appreciation for Georgia’s decision to make a substantial contribution to ISAF, to include an infantry company and an infantry battalion without national caveats. 

However, in the absence of any agreement with Russia, and continuation of the territorial dispute with the breakaway territories, there is no sign that NATO ministers are ready to approve an MAP for Georgia in the foreseeable future.

As Secretary General Rasmussen told the NGC meeting, NATO will continue to work closely with Georgia:

Allies, collectively and bilaterally, are committed to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. But we all know that security climate in the region which is home to Georgia remains fragile. This puts a particular responsibility on the shoulders of all relevant parties, Georgia included. We all understand that your country has suffered a lot during the last years. There is much hardship to overcome, many human wounds have to heal. But reforms and modernization, and a determination to improve neighbourly relations, offer the best prospects of a better future for the Georgian people. NATO will continue to support your reforms, and stand by your territorial integrity.

Having welcomed progress, Rasmussen also warned Georgia that NATO attaches “great importance to the conduct of free and fair local elections in Georgia in spring 2010” and the need to continue and deepen other reforms reforms.

Georgia continues to pay the price for the recklessness that President Saakashvili showed in sparking conflict with Russia in 2008. There is little likelihood that they will given an invitation to join the Alliance for a long time, whatever the Alliance says about keeping the door open.

NATO Foreign Ministers Meet in Brussels

NATO Foreign Ministers are in Brussels for the regular December meeting of the North Atlantic Council. They met yesterday in the NATO Ukraine Commission and the NATO Georgia Commission. The NATO Russia Council will also meet later today. NATO Monitor will post a series of reports on different aspects of the meeting today and tomorrow.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Pierre Harmel Has Died

At 98 years old, Pierre Harmel has died. The Belgian was famous as the author of the 1967 Harmel Report, formally known as The Future Tasks of the Alliance. As well as advocating a strong defence of western Europe, the report advocated detente with the Soviet Union. His report also ushered in the nuclear doctrine of Flexible Response, which at the time was seen as being progressive - as it moved away from the massive strategic use of nuclear weapons at the start of a general war. By the 1980s, it had become controversial as it threatened a tactical nuclear war that would leave Europe devastated and the United States and Soviet Union largely untouched. It would be interesting to know what Harmel would have made of recent moves to discuss the withdrawal of the last US nuclear weapons from Europe. NATO's statement on his death can be found here.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Netherlands Joins German Effort to Oust US Nukes

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle traveled to the Netherlands today, where he met with his Dutch counterpart Maxime Verhagen, in what were described as 'getting to know you talks'. At the press conference afterwards the ministers were asked a whether they had discussed the new German coalition's policy of asking for withdrawal of US nuclear weapons, and replied that this was something they would work on together.

Westerwelle will soon discuss the issue with Belgian Foreign Minister Yves Leterme, and is also due to follow Chancellor Merkel to Washington for talks with Secretary of State Clinton that will touch on the nuclear issue.

For those who read Dutch, you can read an account here.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Benelux Countries to Discuss Nuclear Withdrawal

Following the inauguration of a new German centre-right coalition government calling for the removal of US nuclear weapons from Germany, the discussion is spreading to involve the Benelux countries.

This week, Belgian Foreign Minister Yves Leterme told the Belgian Senate that he will discuss the issue with German, Dutch and Luxembourgeois colleagues in the course of the coming week. He said that Belgium is a partisan for a nuclear weapon free world and that removing US nuclear weapons from Europe is a crucial step towards that goal. Like Germans, Leterme advocates achieving this goal in a NATO framework. Leterme said that he would like the NATO ministerial meeting this December to discuss the issue.

That may be a little quick for the Germans who have talked about nuclear negotiations as part of the Strategic Concept debate, currently in a reflection phase and due to move into serious negotiations next Spring.

Obstacles to withdrawal remain. In mid-October the Dutch government had rejected resolutions in the Dutch parliament for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons based at Volkel airbase. However, privately the foreign ministry has been more amenable to discussing the issue and the German government action has changed the debate significantly.

It is not known how Turkey will react to this new initiative, but they have not been notably positive in the past on denuclearisation, despite ending their role in nuclear sharing. Also, some countries in the 'new Europe' like Poland may well have a strong reaction against the removal of this visible symbol of US commitment to Europe.

Bilateral Belgian-German discussions will take place this coming Tuesday when German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle visits Brussels.

More details in Dutch and French.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Ministers on Defence Transformation

The transformation of NATO for the 21st century has been a major topic at ministerial meetings for some time, and the Alliance has a military command dedicated to transformation based in Norfolk, Virginia.

Ministers discussed transformation at their working dinner in Bratislava, and a major part of that discussion was the prioritisation of resources. In the midst of recession, and deep cuts in government spending in years to come, the debate for NATO is no longer how to increase defence spending, but how to do more with less. Ministers agreed the Secretary General´s decision to appoint a high-level group of officials from defence ministries to address this question directly at the NATO level. One way that NATO adds value to national defence budgets is with collective projects, which include initiatives such as Allied Ground Surveillance and Strategic Airlift Capability.

In fact the core of the transformation debate is how NATO can acquire the capability to project forces quickly across the globe. This means military transformation, but also major change sin the decision-making structures at a NATO level which were not designed for an Alliance of 27 states, and are increasingly unwieldy.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gave a speech prior to the opening of the Defence Ministers meeting, in which he addressed defence transformation from the NATO perspective:

.. the new Strategic Concept will need to urge continued military transformation – to allow us to cover the full spectrum of tasks, from collective defence to peace support operations. It should also encourage Allies to work more closely together in acquiring key capabilities and in funding operations. Needless to say, the current financial crisis and the budgetary problems faced by all our nations only make this a more pressing requirement. This is also about taxpayer’s money. We have to make efficient use of our resources, through better cooperation, through better coordination and through collective solutions.

He also dealt with the issue during the question and answer session:

[On] modernization of NATO. Actually, it's my ambition that the Strategic Concept as such, should serve as the leverage for modernization, transformation and reform of NATO. And I fully agree that we need such transformation. Let me just mention a few areas. Firstly, militarily. It strikes me that 70 percent of the armed forces in Europe are stationary. I spoke about our core task territorial defence, but I also ask myself, how can we make territorial defence critical if we cannot deploy military forces, if we cannot move them around, if they are not flexible?

So we need transformation in a direction of more flexibility, more mobility, more deployability. Which leads me to my second point. We also need to streamline our structures. Our command structures, our Headquarters, of course, including civil headquarters in Brussels. And recently I had the opportunity to present to the NATO Ambassadors in Brussels some of my ideas as to how I would like to gradually modernize and reform our Headquarters.

As far as our military headquarters are concerned, I also think there is a potential for streamlining. However, I also think this should be an integrated part of our Strategic Concept exercise.

And finally, it's my ambition to ensure that NATO can become an efficient decision-making body. If we are to ensure NATO relevance on the international stage then we also have to speed up our decision-making processes. You touched upon the number of committees, but even more important than the exact number of committees, and I agree with you, we should look closer into that. Actually we have an ongoing exercise, a review of our committee system. But even more important than the number of committees, is the procedure as to how we use the committees. I don't think they should delay decisions, but they should improve the quality of decisions. So it's a very important point.

The ministers debate at the dinner was discussed by NATO Spokesman James Appathurai earlier in the day. He was quite blunt about the financial situation:

The bottom line, when it comes to money, is this: In the next few years we foresee a shortfall of several hundred million euros between what governments have committed to do within NATO budgets when it comes to operations and capabilities, and what they have allocated in terms of money to pay for that. That shortfall will only grow as NATO's responsibilities grow as well. The Secretary General is going to draw attention to that this evening and ask allies to look at where we can do a number of things. One is to prioritize the things that we do, the things that are more important, the things that are less important. Second, to see how we can pool resources, pool assets, do better at being cost effective in the way in which we acquire equipment, in the way in which we do our logistics.

Appathurai also addressed the question of deployability:

A second aspect is capability. In essence less than half of our forces are deployable outside of the country which provides them. Less than 10 percent are sustainable outside of the country for any extended period of time. There has been a lot of improvement in the last four or five years in raising those numbers, but it is still not enough, because not only can forces that can't move not be sent very far out of area, for example, to Afghanistan, they're also quite limited in the kind of support they can provide even to allies in an Article 5 contingency. So more deployable forces, more sustainable forces make sense, both for collective defence and for out-of-area operations and the Secretary General is basically going to want to put before allies the idea of having more concrete timelines for reaching higher targets for deployability and sustainability of their forces.

For NATO, the bottom line is, as the Secretary General told the press following the meeting “To me, the discussion on transformation is very simple: we need more capability for the money we spend on defence. And we are not doing well enough.”

On can question whether the idea of NATO as a global security provider, ready to intervene across the globe is a good one. Opinion is divided. However, it is undeniable that NATO is not well suited to the role at present. The experience in Afghanistan has cruelly highlighted that fact. However, it has also shown that however good the decision-making procedures, however well adapted and trained the military, whatever resources are provided, the main ingredient that is necessary is political will to do what is necessary for operational success. In Afghanistan the Alliance is seen as united in theory, but divided in practice, and all the transformation in the world won’t compensate for that.

Germany Will Press for Nuclear Withdrawal - Will Not Act Unilaterally

There are a couple of updates on the German coalition decision to seek the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany.

Agence France Presse notes that the withdrawal of the nuclear weapons may become an issue when Merkel addresses a joint session of Congress next month:

But he has said Berlin should start by demanding the removal of the estimated 10 to 20 US nuclear missiles on German soil -- a stance that could raise a few questions when Merkel travels to Washington next month to deliver an address before both houses of Congress.

Deutsche Welle reports that FDP leader Guido Westerwelle said that he will personally take up the challenge, while Chancellor Merkel said there will be no unilateral action:

Speaking at a meeting of his business-friendly FDP party in Berlin on Sunday, Westerwelle said the new German government would support the vision of US President Barack Obama for a world free of nuclear weapons.

"We will take President Obama at his word and enter talks with our allies so that the last of the nuclear weapons still stationed in Germany, relics of the Cold War, can finally be removed," Westerwelle said.

"Germany must be free of nuclear weapons," he said, adding that he would personally make efforts towards that purpose.

No unilateral move to remove nuclear arms

His comments came a day after his FDP party reached agreement with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives for a new center-right government scheduled to take office on October 28.

The coalition agreement reached by the two sides calls specifically for talks with NATO and the US to remove the weapons.

Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed this goal, but emphasized no unilateral action would be taken to remove the nuclear warheads. "We do not want any independent action here," Merkel said on Saturday in Berlin.

The website notes (in French) that while the sentiment for withdrawal has regularly welled up in Germany, this initiative is more important than past ones as it is written into the government programme. That programme has been endorsed by the members of both parties, giving it extra political force.

This insistence on agreement within NATO before any withdrawal can take place reflects the general pro-atlanticist tone of the coalition. It also mirrors wider opinion in Europe that President Obama’s commitment to disarmament means that negotiations are the best way to achieve progress on reductions at present, and that a move such as this by the coalition will be better received in Washington DC than was the case under Presidents Clinton or Bush.

Time Magazine reports that the coalition document endorses the German presence in Afghanistan as in the ‘German national interest’. This removes one potential area of major disagreement with the White House, and removes a shadow that has hung over US German relations, smoothing the path for discussions on nuclear weapons.

Overall the level of coverage is still low, but more and more news organisations are beginning to report the coalition policy on nuclear weapons. However, economic policy reporting far outweighs that on foreign policy. Some examples of coverage include: Bloomberg; Associated Press; Iranian government English language Press TV; and the Irish Times.

There will be other obstacles. It is far from clear that Turkey will be ready to accept US extended deterrence without the physical presence of nuclear weapons on Turkish soil. Turkey’s region makes it much more nervous on this issue than other NATO nations, although Turkey has given up its participation in nuclear sharing programmes.

Secondly, some nations in central and eastern Europe, notably Poland and the Czech Republic have been agitating for a greater role in NATO nuclear strategy – with Poland privately requesting the right to participate in nuclear sharing.

Given the lack of coverage in the press, it would seem that when Chancellor Merkel visits Washington DC there will be an opportunity to make the new coalitions withdrawal policy better known, and also a need to offer strong support to prevent the DoD suffocating this initiative at birth, as has done in the past – notably in 1998 when all Germany was calling for was debate inside NATO on the continued need to deploy these weapons to Europe.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

It's Official - German Coalition Wants US Nukes Out

Confirmation from Oliver Meier of the Arms Control Association that the the new German government is committed to working for the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Germany. Oliver’s translation of part of the arms control section of the new government’s agreed programme reads:

"We emphatically support President Obama’s proposals for new far-reaching disarmament initiatives – including the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world.


We observe with concern the erosion of the international disarmament and arms control architecture. We are convinced that follow-agreements to those treaties that expire have to be negotiated and that the missing ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or the adapted CFE-Treaty have to be completed.

We will support the conclusion of new disarmament and arms control agreements. We want to use the 2010 NPT review conference to initiate a new dynamic for treaty-based accords.


Against this background, and in the context of the talks on a new Strategic Concept for NATO we will advocate within NATO and towards our U.S. allies a withdrawal of remaining nuclear weapons from Germany. With a view towards preserving the agreements within the CFE-regime, we are ready on our part to ratify the adapted CFE-treaty."

(You can read the german version at the Der Spiegel website.)

This represents a major development in Christian Democrat policy – as Chancellor Merkel’s party has steadfastly defended the small remaining deployment of US nuclear weapons in Germany. (It is worth remembering that the CDU will likely control the defence ministry in the new government.)

The question of these deployments will now have to be raised in the context of the NATO Strategic Concept Review – currently in a research phase as a series of seminars are held exploring the issues that the review must address. Germany is likely to seek withdrawal in the context of an Allied policy, rather than as a unilateral action.

A series of questions are also raised by this new policy. If US nuclear weapons are withdrawn from Germany, will the storage facilities for the bombs remain, so they could return? Will Germany end its participation in NATO nuclear sharing, under which German pilots are trained and equipped to deliver nuclear weapons in the vent of ‘general war’, despite Germany’s nominal status as a non-nuclear weapon state under the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

It is clear that many NATO states still have security concerns that lead them to continue to rely on a US policy of extended deterrence. However, in the Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, the ways in which that extended deterrence are provided are being considered, and it is by no means certain that the US will wish to maintain a small number of Cold War weapons in Europe indefinitely. Concerns over extended deterrence can be met in the short term, while the Obama goal of a nuclear weapon free world is pursued, by US and UK Trident forces allocated to the Alliance. The relevance of free fall nuclear bombs intended for use in a central European bloc-to-bloc conflict, for attacks on large Soviet tank armies, and rear base areas like then Leningrad, is not at all clear today.

While the small number of residual free-fall bombs are in no way sufficient to be part of a negotiation with Russia over tactical nuclear weapons, their withdrawal would help open the way for the inclusion of those weapons in future US-Russia arms control talks to which those parties are committed, and which the US wishes to use to involve other nuclear weapons states.

To NATO’s south, there is no nuclear threat. The countries of Africa have brought the Pelindaba Treat into force. This creates a nuclear weapon free zone in Africa, and there is no reason to doubt, with the end of Libya’s abortive nuclear weapons programme, that any nation is developing nuclear weapons in Africa.

NATO nations, as many others, have concerns about Iran. And, bearing in mind the African example, that is precisely why a commensurate effort should be placed in achieving successful negotiations with Iran individually, and in the Middle East WMD Free Zone in general.

There is still a long way to go. Until recently, the nuclear planning staff at NATO were advocating a widening of the role for nuclear weapons in NATO strategy, mirroring the policies of the Bush administration. That gained no traction with European allies. The German coalitions new policy document is an excellent contribution to the Strategic Concept debate on deterrence and the future of US nuclear weapons in Europe.

NATO Agreement on Obama BMD Proposals Deepens

It seems that the NATO Monitor suggestion that there was still deep divisions amongst European allies on the Obama administration BMD plans may have been overdoing it- notwithstanding the outspoken statement by Slovak prime Minister Robert Fico this week.

On Thursday, Fico met with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen this week, and came out of the meeting declaring to journalists that “As long as I'm the Slovak Prime Minister, Slovakia will never agree to any anti-missile shields being placed on our territory”. This was somewhat strange, since no-one had asked Fico to allow basing in Slovakia of any element of BMD, nor are they going to.

This statement has much more to do with Slovak internal politics than with any NATO plans. And Fico also welcomed the reorientation of NATO and US plans for missile defences in Europe. This chimed with the statement of the Secretary General to the press after the meeting:

On missile defence, Secretary Gates kicked off the discussion with a short briefing on the new US approach to European missile defence. Ministers welcomed the fact the new US approach puts European missile defence more in a NATO context. That is good for the Alliance. It is good for solidarity. And to my mind, it is important for the defence of Europe that we are talking about rolling out a system within a couple of years that can provide European and North American citizens defence against a real and growing missile threat.

A major element in European willingness to support the Obama administration’s proposals is that they do not antagonize Russia, and that there remains a possibility of NATO-Russia collaboration.

The Bush administration had intended to deploy mid-course BMD interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. Russia claimed the system was deeply dangerous to its national security, and all independent scientific experts agreed that the system would have been very ill-suited to dealing with threats from its claimed target – Iran -, and very well suited to monitoring and countering launches from Russia.

In the context of the administration’s desire to counter potential launches from Iran, the proposed system that will see a phased deployment across south-eastern Europe as part of an integrated NATO system, is actually targeted at shorter range systems than the ICBMS the mid-course system targets (and that, incidentally, Iran does not possess). US Defense Secretary Robert Gates also told journalists that radars in southern Russia could make a useful contribution to this new proposed system.

From a NATO Europe perspective the new system has several advantages. It is far more developed than the proposed mid-course system, which simply doesn’t work. It poses no strategic threat to Russia, and thus does nothing to harm relations. Finally, in contrast to President Bush whose administration virtually ignored NATO and pursued bilateral negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic, the Obama administration has briefed and consulted with allies at a NATO level regularly. They are rebuilding faith in the US commitment to the Alliance which was severely eroded by President Bush.

A number of NATO ministers made supportive statements after the meeting and during the course of this week, while Vice-President Biden has been visiting Europe. Notably, Bulgaria and Romania supported the new proposals, when they had been deeply skeptical of the Bush proposals which would not have covered south-eastern Europe – even supposing it worked. Ministers did insist again that the indivisibility of security of the Alliance was a vital principle and that BMD must cover all NATO nations.

This system remains at the proposal stage, and a lot of work is still to be done. NATO has been discussing whether or not to develop an Alliance wide BMD system since the 1990s. However, Secretary General Rasmussen told the press conference after the meeting that:

I think NATO Foreign Ministers will look to take this forward in December. And I hope that, by our Lisbon Summit next fall, we can agree to make European missile defence fully a NATO mission.

The intention is to have the proposed system up and running by 2015. NATO Monitor suggests that it would be sensible to put as much effort as has gone into brokering this deal into working with NATO’s neighbours to end fears of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons attack. Arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament can play a major role in enhancing Alliance security in this field, perhaps rendering unnecessary the billions in spending that will be needed to put this NATO BMD system into the field.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Will Germany Call for Removal of US Nuclear Weapons?

Just as NATO Ministers began to meet in Bratislava, the German press was full of stories yesterday about the new coalition and it's likely policy on the remaining US nuclear weapons stored in Germany.

A Reuters report, picked up at said that the foreign policy section of a draft coalition agreement that is expected to be approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the Free Democrats (FDP) later this week, states:



"... we will strive within (NATO) and with our American allies for a withdrawal of the last U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany."

The head of the Free Democrats, Guido Westerwelle, is likely to become Foreign Minister in the new government. During the election campaign, he had committed his party to negotiating the withdrawal of the US nuclear weapons on German soil. In recent years, as numbers of nukes deployed to Europe has fallen, they have already been removed from the UK and Greece. Turkey has ended its participation in NATO nuclear sharing programmes, and the presence of the weapons has become more and more controversial.

If this coalition agreement does contain this commitment, it will mark a change in policy by Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrat party which had, up to now, remained supportive of the nuclear deployment. Such a move would also be very interesting in the context of the US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech on non-proliferation this week in which she talked of the need to provide assurance to allies while meeting non-proliferation goals:

.. the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review will be a key milestone. It will more accurately calibrate the role, size, and composition of our nuclear stockpile to the current and future international threat environments. And it will provide a fundamental reassessment of U.S. nuclear force posture, levels, and doctrine. Carried out in consultation with our allies, it will examine the role of nuclear weapons in deterring today’s threats and review our declaratory policies with respect to the circumstances in which the United States would consider using nuclear weapons.

As part of the NPR, the Nuclear Posture Review, we are grappling with key questions: What is the fundamental purpose of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal? Will our deterrence posture help the United States encourage others to reduce their arsenals and advance our nonproliferation agenda? How can we provide reassurance to our allies in a manner that reinforces our nonproliferation objectives?

Behind the scenes it is clear that the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe is on the agenda, and the question is how to provide extended deterrence without keeping the symbols of that policy on the continent?

This German statement is most interesting. The new Norwegian government has committed itself to a similar debate within NATO. With major figures like former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers (who championed the unpopular arrival of nuclear armed Cruise missiles in the Netherlands in the 1980s) stating that the US nuclear deployments to Europe should be ended, the debate on deterrence in the NATO Strategic Concept review should prove extremely interesting.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

NATO Defence Ministers Meet in Bratislava

NATO Defence Ministers are gathering in Bratislava for their regular Autumn informal meeting.

The meeting starts this evening with dinner, at which ministers will discuss defence transformation. Investment in military technology and maintaining defence budgets is a difficult, if not impossible, task in the current economic climate. The UK is considering cancellation of major programmes, like future aircraft carriers. The US will next year cut its defence budget for the first time in a decade, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has begun to eliminate some spending programmes. Overall, it is unlikely that the mood for this discussion will be positive. The NATO announcement for the meeting says that Ministers will focus on resources prioritisation in a difficult economic environment. This puts a premium on collective solutions, with an important role for common funding arrangements and common projects where appropriate. Participants are also likely to discuss how best to ensure the availability of usable and sustainable forces for NATO missions. Ministers will also discuss the tasks assigned to the NATO Response Force, including its role in enhancing Allied collective defence and overall cohesion of NATO.

(The NATO Bratislava meeting page is here)

Tomorrow morning, the main discussion will be on Afghanistan, as well as other NATO missions such as Kosovo. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says that:

I believe we need a general agreement on the approach we need to take in Afghanistan: and that should mean an endorsement of the approach set out by General McChrystal. To my mind, it is clear. Hoping that Taliban extremists will never again host Al- Qaeda is not a strategy. They did it in the past. We can only assume they will do it in future. Which means that Afghanistan needs to be made strong enough to resist the insurgency, if it is to be able to resist terrorism. It’s as simple as that. And that is the essence of the McChrystal approach. What does that mean? It means more and better reconstruction and development. It means holding the new Afghan Government to account, to deal with corruption effectively and visibly. And it means building Afghan Security forces strong enough to provide security in Afghanistan, with us in a supporting role.

(You can read his full briefing here)

This will also be a difficult discussion. Political support for the mission is sapping away. There is an intense debate in the UK as to whether Afghanistan is worth British dead and British investment. Australia is considering the withdrawal of its 1500-strong troop contingent. Even in the US the public mood is swinging strongly against future involvement in Afghanistan. The commitment of much of Europe has been in doubt for a long time. So Ministers have their work cut out to justify the future NATO role, especially with the massive corruption evident in Afghan elections and the increasingly obvious failings of the Karzai government.

The abandonment of the mid-course ballistic missile defence deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic, together with proposed deployments of shorter range systems as part of NATO BMD proposals will also be discussed. The handling of this issue by the Bush and Obama administrations has left many in Eastern Europe angered, and the political fallout with Russia had previously angered many in the west. NATO is divided on BMD, and much work will be needed to overcome these divisions.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

NATO Launches Strategic Concept Review Process

In a major conference in Brussels, NATO is today launching the process of reviewing its Strategic Concept. The NATO website says:

The aim of this Secretary General’s conference on July 7th is to formally launch the process leading to the new Strategic Concept and begin a dialogue between NATO and a wide range of experts from the strategic community as well as the broader public. The conference will examine how the Alliance relates to the rest of the world, as part of a wider network of security actors. It will also look at NATO’s role in addressing new threats and challenges.

The event can be followed at the NATO website.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

A Russian View of the NRC Meeting

Itar-Tass News Agency has carried a very interesting report of the NATO Russia Council meeting.

In his speech at the meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia would brief NATO on Russia’s new national security concept and would expect NATO to do the same.

Rogozin said that NATO had responded immediately. On July 7 the Russian envoy to NATO will be invited to attend an internal seminar of high-ranking NATO experts who are responsible for developing the alliance’ s strategic concept.

“We noted and appreciated the alliance’s readiness to dialogue. We will take our return step on July 22 when a representative of the Russian Security Council arrives in Brussels to participate in a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council at an ambassador level. He will brief the alliance on a new concept of Russia’s national security,” Rogozin went on to say.

Russia and NATO agreed to resume military and political contacts, and this is another vital outcome of the Corfu meeting.

“A political will to resume military cooperation was expressed today,” Rogozin emphasized, commenting on the outcome of a ministerial meeting of the Russian-NATO Council that was held in Corfu.

This agreement to consult on strategic concepts is very interesting, and would be a real first. A commitment to transparency would be a genuine step-up in confidence building between the two sides. NATO Monitor will watch this development with interest.

NATO, Russia and Missile Defence

In the wake of the resumption of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), and in preparation for the Obama-Medvedev meeting on July 6 on arms control, it has been announced that US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen will visit Moscow to discuss missile defence.

The plan to deploy a missile defence radar and interceptor missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland was launched under former US president George W. Bush, causing relations between the two sides to plummet to a post-Cold War low. Experts have demonstrated that the proposed system of mid-course European interceptors to destroy missiles from Iran, is fundamentally flawed for that purpose. It would however be ideally placed to intercept missiles from Russia. As Russia works with the US to reduce nuclear warheads and missiles, this will increasingly become an issue.

It is certainly a major issue in the NRC, and will now be addressed directly.

"We expect missile defense issues to come up," Captain John Kirby, a spokesman for Mullen told journalists after the NRC meeting this weekend.

In all this, one thing has not changed. The Bush administration tried to make missile defence a bilateral matter with Poland and the Czech Republic, angering Russia and dismaying many in NATO Europe.

The Obama administration, while claiming to consult more, will deal directly with Russia on missile defence as part of its bilateral strategic relations. NATO is, once again, the loser. Its much vaunted reputation as the preeminent venue for western security cooperation slips a little more.

State Department Briefing on NRC Meeting

The State Department gave a background briefing before the NRC meeting, with its main concern being Afghanistan. Here are the sections of the briefing on the NRC.


Also in Corfu will be a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, as I mentioned, which will mark the resumption of high-level dialogue between NATO allies and Russia. As you know, the NRC hasn’t met at this level since Russia’s military action in Georgia in August 2008. After the Secretary’s March 5th ministerial in Brussels, it was decided to resume the NRC at ambassadorial level, the perm reps in Brussels. This’ll be the first ministerial, it’ll be an informal ministerial held in Corfu. And it will also be a useful opportunity to discuss areas of potential cooperation between NATO and Russia, a genuine debate and dialogue, but also areas where we disagree. And that includes the question of Georgia and there are some others. But we hope that it’ll be a constructive meeting where we can talk about areas in which NATO and Russia can cooperate, including on terrorism, piracy, and Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Arshad Mohammed with Reuters. One just practical scheduling matter and then a more substantive question: On the scheduling, do you expect Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to, in fact, be there at the NATO-Russia ministerial? And do you expect Deputy Secretary Steinberg to have a bilat with him?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The answer to both questions is yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Got it, thanks. What – can you shed any more light on what – you know, the United States, after (inaudible) its allies at NATO for a number of years for additional troops and fewer caveats, you know, seems to have acknowledged that it is unlikely to get much more on that side of the equation. And I wonder if you can shed some light on what exactly you are looking for in concrete terms from your partners and allies on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think there’s a lot they can do. Already, at the NATO summit, of course, we did work together on military and nonmilitary aspects of cooperation. They did pledge some 3,000 troops for election support and established a NATO monitoring mission – training mission in Afghanistan, which was a very useful contribution that goes beyond the military deployments that they’ve already made, which at present constitute more than 30,000 troops. So it’s far from nothing what they’re already doing militarily.
In terms of further contributions, we will continue to hope that allies are willing to lessen the caveats and the restrictions that they placed on their forces in Afghanistan, and we’ll put a particular focus at this meeting on what they can do to help Pakistan, in particular, to bolster Pakistan’s civilian government and its efforts to combat Taliban and extremists both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. Our assumption, and that’s why we now talk about Af-Pak and Afghanistan-Pakistan together, is that you can’t really deal with Afghanistan unless you deal successfully with Pakistan.

And we’re working on this as a region now, and that’s why Special Representative Holbrooke is responsible for both countries. It really is a global theater. It’s a region of operations. The EU had a conference on Pakistan – I believe it’ll be its first one in history – last week and came up with a significant amount of money, I think $100 million, getting us towards the goal of $500 million for Pakistan. That’s an important contribution of a nonmilitary sort, the likes of which we’ll be looking to build on at the G-8 meeting.


QUESTION: Could you shed any more light on the new agreement with the Krygyz (inaudible) base? Any – there are reports that the rent has gone up three times. And I also wonder whether there has been any talk with the Russians about this, because the foreign ministry in Moscow commented on this today.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I can briefly -- I don’t know if Ian wants to add anything on that. This is a matter between Kyrgyzstan and the United States. So I don’t believe there’s been discussions with Russia about it. It’s in our common interest to use the base for transit in Afghanistan, and we’re pleased that we’ve reached an agreement with them on it. And it’s really not a Russian issue. Kyrgyzstan is a sovereign country.

QUESTION: Did you raise the amount of money that you’re paying now to the Kyrgyz Government for use of the base?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have anything on that. Ian, do you --

MR. KELLY: No, I –

NATO-Russia Council Back In Action

The NATO-Russia Council (NRC) met informally at Ministerial level Saturday in Corfu, bringing an end to the body suspension, in place since the Russian military intervention in Georgia last Summer. The NRC had been due to hold this meeting in late May, but Russia cancelled that meeting angry at NATO holding joint exercises with Georgia.

Before the meeting, James Appathurai the NATO spokesman told reporters that: It means we are back to business. It was not the business that was totally frozen. But at the political level and at the military-to-military level, I expect we will leave Corfu back to business.

In fact, the Council had only ever been suspended at the insistence of former President George Bush. Many European nations had wanted to use the NRC to talk with Russia about Georgia, but the US insisted on gesture politics instead. President Obama has sought better relations with Russia to move his arms control and disarmament agenda along. Restoration of the NATO-Russia Council was part of this policy.

The NRC has been meeting regularly at Ambassadorial level for some time. At a meeting a week ago, Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin told Itar-Tass that the NRC ministerial meeting will make it possible to re-launch the full format political dialogue that was interrupted on the NATO initiative after the Russian response to Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia.” The restoration of the political dialogue will also “open the way for the resumption of military cooperation, including interaction on Afghanistan, resumption of Russia’s participation in the NATO antiterrorist operation in the Mediterranean “Active Endeavour,” as well as cooperation in the fight against pirates near the Somalia coast.

Re-engaging with Russia on Afghanistan is another key Obama objective. With Russian support the possibility grows of more robust northern supply lines into Afghanistan to provide logisitics for the ever growing US and NATO mission. Given the uncertain nature of southern supply routes through Pakistan, this is likely to be essential to any NATO success in Afghanistan.

After the meeting, outgoing NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said to journalists that: Despite the fact that there are differences ... the spirit (of the meeting) was one of wanting to cooperate.. The NATO-Russia Council, which has been in the neutral stand for almost a year, is now back in gear. The 29 ambassadors in Brussels will very quickly get back to work to agree on new procedures to make the NATO-Russia Council function more effectively.

The Russian view of the meeting was a little less positive. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that the meeting was ".. a positive development", but that there was a "frank exchange of views" at the table. As de Hoop Scheffer said, the disagreements focused on Georgia, where NATO nations refuse to accept Russian recognition of breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which they now support militarily. Scheffer said that: No one tried to paper over our differences, on Georgia for example. But we agreed not to let those disagreements bring the whole NRC train to a halt.

Lavrov, on the other hand, insisted that Russia's recognition of the separatists could not be reversed: All have to accept the new realities and the decisions taken by Russia after the conflict are irreversible.

This is a first step, but the most positive factor is that both sides have agreed that talking about problems is better than a new East-West face-off. The Bush administration wa sprepared to push NATO into a new Cold War to make a point to Russia about Georgia. Cooler heads have prevailed, and a range of issues from missile defence and arms control to Afghanistan are now on the table for future cooperation.

(Note that the full NATO web pae on the meeting can be accessed here)

Sunday, 14 June 2009

"Wise Men" Update

Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reports that Turkey has appointed former NATO Ambassador Umit Pamir to the 12-strong group of "wise men" that will shape the future Alliance Strategic Concept. The group will have its first meeting in July in Brussels and is tasked with creating "more partnerships in the world, to empower military capacity, to develop further relations with international organizations, to be able to execute its missions and operations, to solve the problems with Russia."

NATO Transformation Demonstrated

NATO Ministers debated the transformation of the Alliance - which essentially means developing its ability to project military power beyond Europe, and as NATO reports:

Ministers reviewed and provided guidance on a wide-range of intra-Allied initiatives, including, inter alia, Allied Ground Surveillance (AGS), strategic airlift, helicopters project and usability of forces enhancement. Two subjects were discussed in depth. First, Ministers agreed on a new structure and arrangements for NATO Response Force (NRF). It will include a core element, a command and control part, as well as forces available on call. Moreover, the new force generation mechanisms will allow for more sustainable and “user-friendly” contributions from individual Allies. Second, they focused on various ideas presented by the Secretary General to make the NATO Headquarters in Brussels better fit to serve the Alliance in the years to come.

Little detail was available in the wake of the meeting, but the best evidence for the changes the Alliance has undergone in the past decade were shown through its ongoing missions. Ministers agreed a plan to draw down forces in Kosovo, a mission that would have been controversial as 'out of area' 15 years ago, but which is now seen as traditional peace-keeping. Troop numbers in the province will decline from 15,000 to 10,000 by early 2010, if Kosovo stays calm. beyond that, if things go well, troop numbers will eventually decline to 2,500. Many obstacles remain, not least the vitriolic hatred between the Albanian and Serbian Kosovans, and the semi-recognised state of independence that Kosovo declared in 2008.

At the same time, Ministers agreed to prolong Operation Allied Protector, their naval mission off the coast of Somalia, under which NATO warships escort World Food Programme ships into Somalia, and hunt for pirates on the sea. This mission has been seen by some, even within the Alliance, as a step too far in globalising NATO - but continued hijacking of shipping in the region means that western nations see the mission as a national security interest. There are also arguments about the effectiveness of the Operation, which has displaced much piracy from Somalia to neighbouring regions, such as off Oman.

At the same time, Defence Ministers supported a US plan to reorganize the military command in Afghanistan, to better handle an influx of new troops. NATO has nearly 60,000 troops in Afghanistan, and that number will increase still more during the coming months as some 21,000 additional American soldiers arrive. NATO officials also briefed that the Alliance will send up to 10,000 extra troops for enhanced security during Afghan presidential elections this August.

Ministers met with the new US commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, and approved plans to increase the training of Afghanistan security forces to allow them to work with the alliance in combating the rising Taliban insurgency.

These actions will have some significance for the future credibility of the Alliance - if NATO fails in Afghanistan it will find it difficult to build a role as a 'global security provider', as many in the Alliance wish. It will also have consequences for the development of the new Alliance Strategic Concept, which was ordered by the Summit of Heads and State and Government meeting in Strasbourg and Kehl earlier this year.