Tuesday, 23 September 2008

NATO Secretary General Press Conference

The transcript of the somewhat perplexing press conference that Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer gave in London last Friday has now been posted on the NATO webiste. You can read it here.

After London, Budapest Next

Last week, NATO Defence Ministers met in London in an informal session, one that issues no communique and takes no decisions. The occasion was surrounded in some mystery, with even the reason for the meeting seeming somewhat confused - even after (or perhaps because) Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer gave his press conference.

Defence Ministers will meet again in Budapest in two weeks time for their regular Autumn informal session. So why was the London meeting held? And what was discussed? What are the concrete results liekly to be? The picture is now becoming a little clearer.

The meeting had been planned at the invitation of UK Defence Secretary Des Browne, who called for the meeting during the Bucharest Summit this spring. His intention was to discuss the further transformation of NATO's defence structures. At issue was the pressing need to provide more equipment to front-line NATO operations in Afghanistan, especially helicopters; and also the need to build common infrastructure including strategic airlift. Another issue that concerned Browne is the need to bring the NATO Response Force up to full operational capability. Further, Browne has ideas about slimming down the NATO HQ bureaucracy to provide funds for the more urgent needs.

However, in the event this agenda was derailed by the fallout from the Russia-Georgia conflict this Summer. A group of countries led by Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States demanded a review of NATO relations with Russia. In this they had the full support of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. They also called a revision of the mandate of the NATO Response Force, conceived to allow swift NATO intervention beyond Europe's borders, to allow it to operate within NATO territory in the event of a threat from Russia.

According to the AFP, Polish Defence Minister Bogdan Klich told the meeting that NATO's principle task is "still the defence of its member states, which must not be diluted." This is something of a U-turn for the Polish government, which since elections last year, had been taking a much more conciliatory line with Russia. This changed when Russia crushed Georgia in a few days this Summer. The return to an emphasis on territorial defence, something the Baltic States have always insisted on, is part of debate on the future of NATO and a direct thrust at those (including the Secretary General0 who believe that NATO must look ever wider for new security tasks in order to justify its existence in the 21st Century.

NATO sources added that there might be a greater visibility for the NATO air defence forces which have flown missions over the Baltic States since their entry into the Alliance. And their will more resources pumped into military planning for any eventual problems with Russia.

A NATO Spokesperson has been moved to respond to some press reports, saying that NATO has no plans to deploy forces to the Russian border. However, since that was never claimed the denial lacks real credibility. Obviously, the NRF could be used to confront Russia just as easily to mount an operation in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

Browne's agenda on the slimming down of the NATO bureaucracy also ran into problems. The Greek Defence Minister, for one, opining that it was better for the NATO HQ to involve all nations (thereby building solidarity) than to save a little money and cut some nations out of NATO operations.

NATO Ministers move on to Budapest to continue this debate, and also to consider the future of their Afghan mission. They are also looking ofrward to the future Strategic Concept debate which will determine the future roles and organisation of the Alliance.

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?

US to Allies: NATO Should Fight a War on Drugs in Afghanistan

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has flown into London for the NATO meeting. He has asked ministers to consider taking on the drug lords in Afghnaistan as part of their mission there, saying: "It seems to me that if we or ISAF encounter the opportunity to take out drug labs, or to arrest or take action against drug lords, kingpins, that's an opportunity, given how tied in it is with all the other issues in Afghanistan that that's something we ought to be willing to take on in some way."

Other NATO nations have been extremely reluctant to do this, with the UK, for example, going out of their way to tell residents of Helmand province that their mission is to fight the Taliban, not combat the trade in heroin.

Gates announcement is part of a Bush administration review of strategy in Afghnaistan, and the role of the NATO mission - ISAF - inthe country will make up a major part of deliberations in London.

NATO Ministers Meet in London

In the first of two informal Ministerials this Autumn(where no official decisions are taken) NATO Defence Ministers gathered in London, September 18, against a backdrop of crisis in Afghanistan and worsening relations with Russia.

The first significant event, Thursday evening, was a speech by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). A couple of points made by the Secretary General stand out. On the aftermath of the conflict in Georgia, he said that: "I don’t have to explain at length why Russia’s justification for recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia could set a dangerous precedent – with truly global consequences. " This is true, and Russia's recognition of two breakaway states based on their own interpretation of local wishes will have serious implications for global security. Indeed, with the status of Chechnya far from finally settled in the eyes of many Chechens, it could have future implications for Russia. However, De Hoop Scheffer conveniently ignores the point that Russia based its actions on a precedent set by NATO. The recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states follows that of Kosovo, which NATO members were keen to see as an independent state, relying on the declaration of independence by Kosovars and ignoring the concerns of Serbia (of which Kosovo was part, and also of Russia). What is sauce for the NATO goose, is also sauce for the Russia gander. Since international law is in large part customary, it may be that dismembering states based on their citizens perceived desires is becoming much easier legally.

A second very important point made by the Secretary General concerned the future of NATO itself: ".. in this new security context, some have called for a reappraisal of the balance between an expeditionary NATO and our core task of collective defence. Such a discussion is certainly justified. But, again, I do not foresee a 180 degree change in our approach. Article 5 already exists, we don’t have to reinvent it. Neither does upholding Article 5 require us to return to a Cold War military posture in Europe."

De Hoop Scheffer and his policy team have been foremost amongst those arguing that NATO must transform itself into a 'global security provider' to be relevant in the 21st Century. Many object, most especially those new members of NATO in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe who see the Alliance as primarily a bulwark against Russia. They have taken heart from the events of August to strengthen their standpoint. As NATO members and officials begin discussing the terms of reference for the redefinition of NATO's Strategic Concept, a process that is likely to be formally launched at the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit next Spring, this will be the crux of the debate - what is NATO's raison d'etre?

He also noted the visit of the North Atlantic Council to Georgia this week, and the support that NATO is ready to offer to the Saakashvili government. But there is no sign that those nations that refused to accept Georgian membership in Bucharest are ready to accept it now. Nor any sign that they are ready to actually fight Russia over Georgia, which makes NATO support for the country more than a little hollow. It does, however, mean that Georgia must resolve its issues with Russia with western backing and without force. This is to be welcomed.

Other parts of the speech highlight continuing controversies between the US and European states of NATO over the mission in Afghanistan. In particular, as he noted the increasing US military effort in Afghanistan, De Hoop Scheffer also noted that: "While I of course welcome an even greater US effort, I believe that it is important that we continue to make this not just a US responsibility but a collective transatlantic responsibility. When the telephone rings early next year, I hope that the other Allies will also be ready, not just with additional forces, but also with extra contributions to training Afghanistan’s National Army and Police, strengthening its institutions and developing its economy." The debate about burden-sharing amongst Allies in the Afghanistan mission has been long drawn out, and European nations have been unreceptive to US demands for greater engagement to date. Will they be more receptive to President Obama, or President McCain?

Another area of controversy is the US attacks into Pakistan, and the Secretary General alluded to this problem: "Success in Afghanistan also means stepping up our political engagement with her neighbours, notably Pakistan. And this is my third point. As long as Pakistan’s border region remains a sanctuary for insurgents, Afghanistan will never become truly secure." he will travel to Pakistan soon, and NATO and Pakistan must come to an arrangement concerning border security and the presence of the Taliban in Pakistan if any success is to be achieved in Afghanistan. The problem is that, at present, NATO's actions and those of the US where it acts alone, are stimulating support for the Taliban in Pakistan and destabilising the new government. De Hoop Scheffer has his work cut out for him.

The Secretary General's speech is available at the NATO website, and we will continue to report the Ministerial as it progresses.