Monday, 23 February 2009

European Missile Defence Slow Down

The Polish and Czech supporters of European BMD deployments were right to be worried. As reported earlier, Defense Secretary gates met with them and let them know that missile defence deployments in Europe are on the back-burner. Here's the transcript from his press availability on the subject:

Q (Off mike) -- Report. Mr. Secretary, ... The second thing is this casts the issue -- the subject of a missile defense project and the new attitudes of the American government towards this subject, and what could you explain about it? Is America going to continue the project in Poland? And the third thing --

SEC. GATES: ... We did talk about missile defense in my talks with Prime Minister Tusk and Defense Minister Klich. I basically told them that we needed some time for this administration to review the plans for the third site, to look at it in the context of our relationship with both Poland and the Czech Republic, our relationship with the NATO alliance, the commitments we have made as members of the alliance in terms of European missile defense, and also in the context of our relationship with the Russians. And we need to look at all of that, and I simply asked the Polish leaders for a little time for the administration to be able to do that.

US Defense Secretary Gates on Afghnaistan and NATO

Us Defense Secretary Robert Gates underlined the importance of resolving the Afghan conflict satisfactorily, both for the Obama administration and for the future of NATO as a whole. Speaking at the end of the informal NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Krakow he said that:

.. we all agreed that we must intensify our efforts to bring security and stability to Afghanistan and to ensure that the Afghans were capable of sustaining themselves. It is, after all, their country, their fight and their future. In the near term, it is critical that the alliance provide enough troops to ensure that the August elections are credible. Part of the reason President Obama chose -- (audio break) -- upwards of 17,000 additional U.S. troops to the theater.

We also must accelerate the growth and size and capability of the Afghan National Army and police, a key goal that still requires more resources from member nations. At the same time, we cannot neglect the need for a long-term increase of civilian contributions and the necessity to improve coordination between civilians and military components.

... I also believe that President Obama's comprehensive review of our strategy, which will be undertaken with our allies and rely heavily on their input, will yield concrete, attainable objectives that will then focus and guide our overall strategy. ... I believe we are facing a very tough test in Afghanistan, but I have no doubt that we will rise to the occasion, as we have done so many times before.


Q Canadian Television. You've spoken about increase in the civilian component to the Afghan mission. I wonder if you would find it acceptable for those nations that aren't able or unwilling to send more troops -- whether that would be a suitable alternative. And in the Canadian context, if the Canadian mission is set to end in 2011, could you see an increased civilian role being a replacement in --

SEC. GATES: I think that all of the nations who are engaged in Afghanistan ought to contribute what they can contribute. A number are doing both. We are doing both. The Germans are doing both, in a significant way. The British are doing both -- both the civil and the military side. We are making a substantial addition to the military side, and if other countries are unable to transfer their military commitment but they are willing and able to make a contribution on the stability side, on the development side, those contributions would be very welcome.

I think it's also a point worth making that, you know, the review that the administration has underway is going to be a -- it's not only a comprehensive review in Afghan strategy, it's an inclusive review that includes our allies, non-NATO partners and others. It includes the Afghans and the Pakistanis and others. And in parallel with that, we will be developing what we believe other nations might be able to contribute. And so I think a point worth making is that our new president has not yet asked anybody for anything. We are trying to develop, through this review, what those needs are most likely to be, and at that point, I believe before the NATO summit, we will be making those requests, but as yet they're not resolved.

Gates tied success in Afghanistan to the future of NATO in a forceful way. Given the dificulties thew Alliance faces there, and the lack of operational clarity within the Alliance this is a risky path to take. President Obama will have to work hard in Strasbourg to persuade his fellow leaders to adopt a new strategy for the whole region, to work more closely together, and to allow the commanders on the ground to do their job with less political intereference, if NATO is to have any hope of concluding its presence in Afghanistan with what looks like a victory.

It is clear that simple support for the Karzai government is not enough. NATO leaders must recognise the realities of Afghanistan's complex web of local, regional and (relatively weak) national structures. Many mistakes have been made over the past few years. It is far from clear that htese can be rectified. Now Gates, at Obama's instruction, is laying NATO's future credibility as a military force on the line in a conflict that may, simply, be unwinnable.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Gates Signals Missile Defence Delay to Poles

As NATO Monitor suggested yesterday, Reuters is now reporting that US Defense Secretary Roberts Gates asked his Polish colleagues for patience on missile defence, and said that the Obama administration is reviewing the project. This is in strong contrast to the Bush administration, which was trying to push the project through as fast as possible.

Reuters says that during the NATO ministerial gates had spoken with his Polish colleague Bogdan Klich and told him of the delay.

Some members of Congress, including influential Democrat Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) - the chair of the Strategic Forces sub-committee of the House Armed Services Committee - have suggested that they may cut the mid-course BMD system because it doesn't work and cannot be seen as cost-effective.

NATO Response Force for European Defence?

Back in October, during the informal Defence Ministers meeting in London, NATO Monitor reported moves to allow the NATO Response Force to operate within Europe in the event of aggression against a NATO member state. This discussion grew out of Eastern European concerns about Russia, following the war with Georgia.

Now Reuters reports that UK Defence Secretary John Hutton has followed up on that with a new proposal to his colleagues during the Krakow ministerial debate on Allied transformation this morning.

"I hope it might make it easier for NATO to do more in Afghanistan, certain in the knowledge that there is a dedicated homeland security force that will have no other call on its priorities than European homeland security," Hutton is quoted as saying.

The FT reported Thursday that Hutton would propose a 3,000-strong force, and hoped that it would help alleviate Eastern European concerns about NATO's transformation into a 'global security provider', rather than a purely territorial defence Alliance.

NATO sources say the idea was well enough received that it will be further discussed in the Summit run-up.

The 'Old' NATO

Many NATO leaders are keen on talking about Alliance transformation, NATO's new tasks and the future of the Alliance. The thing is, as former Warsaw Pact countries joined the Alliance, they weren't signing up for the 'new' NATO, they were signing up for the old one. That is, they looked to NATO to defend them from external threats. The Russian war with Georgia strongly reinforced this view. Yesterday, the Kyiv Post reports that it was restated forcefully by Polish Deputy Defence Minister Stanislaw Komorowski:

"We now face a different situation," Komorowski told a panel during the informal NATO defense ministers' meeting. "We're after the crisis in Georgia and I can assure you that there is much more of a discussion right now within the alliance, to a large extent because many partners realize that the enemy unfortunately can be much closer to our borders." "We have to take this into account when we plan the future of the alliance," he added.

This is a dichotomy that will need to be dealt with future Strategic Concept adaptation talks.

The New Tone at NATO pt II

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke to journalists yesterday, and reflected the very different tone of the Obama administration. On Russia he said:

There are Russian behaviors that are a concern to us. We also need the Russians in other areas. So we need to work this relationship through, I think, in a constructive way that allows us to move forward. But at the same time mindful of some of their actions that still give us a problem.

He added that:

We are concerned about the Iranian missile threat, and as long as that threat exists we will continue to pursue missile defense, as long as we can make sure it works and that it's cost-effective and we want to pursue it in partnership not only with our NATO allies, but also with the Russians. .. I am hopeful that with a new start that maybe there are some opportunities with the Russians that we can pursue.

So, the tone is one of cooperation across divides to meet security threats. On missile defence, Gates has fallen in line with the sceptics on the Democrat side. Cost effectiveness and 'being sure it works' are things that the Pentagon cannot achieve, either at present or for many years to come. This is code for saying - we're shutting mid-course defences down.

James Appathurai, the NATO Spokesman, also told journalists that Gates had briefed his colleagues on US policy and NATO, saying:

Secretary Gates also explicitly promised the allies, and that process has already begun, a process of engagement with NATO, with NATO allies, on the U.S. review process. They want to hear what allies have to say as they, the United States, engage in their own process of strategic review. He also said that the U.S. intends to finish this process of strategic review well before the NATO Summit, so that the consultation process between the end of the review process and the NATO Summit can take place so that everybody is moving in the same direction by the time we get to Strasbourg and Kehl.

So, things will be changing in time for the Summit. NATO Monitor is also aware of some impending personnel appointments by the Obama administration in this area, and because of these is confident that positive policy developments will come out of the review.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Tone Softens on NATO Enlargement

In a shift from the Bush years, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has taken a much softer tone on future NATO enlargement. The Ukrainian Kyiv Post notes:

The enlargement process will continue, but we will make it equally clear that Russia's legitimate security concerns won't be ignored or overlooked," Scheffer said referring to NATO's future strategy. "The new strategic concept must make it very clear that both tasks [NATO enlargement and good relations with Russia] remain essential.

This contrasts with the harder tone set in the past, when NATO leaders insisted that neither Russia nor any other country outside the Alliance could have a veto on NATO enlargement, and that the matter was one for NATO alone to discuss. It seems that the Obama administration's desire to 'hit the reset button' on relations with Russia (as Vice-President Joe Biden put it in Munich a week or so ago) is already having a positive effect.

US Defense Secretary 'Disappointed' by NATO

As Alliance leaders discuss Afghanistan this afternoon, US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates has expressed disappointment at the NATO response to the US reinforcement of its forces in the country. The Times has a good story on this.

It has been predictable since President Obama's Berlin speech last Summer that he was on a collision course with Europe over the lack of European commitment to Afghanistan. While NATO is pursuing a strategy that few outside the Alliance believe has any chance of success, the damage that NATO is doing to itself by failing to present a united front on the issue is beyond question.

Meanwhile in a speech at a conference in the margins of the NATO meeting (of which more later) NATO Secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called for an adapted strategy for Afghnaistan, with a focus on the region as a whole.

Poles, Czechs Fears on US Missile Defence Reversal

One of the sideline discussions in Krakow will be on missile defences. The Czechs and Poles fell over themselves in the dying days of the Bush administration to sign agreements to host respectively a radar and interceptor sites for US mid-course ballistic missile defences. The Polish goverment of Donald Tusk did so only reluctantly in fear of Russia after the short war with Georgia last Summer. The Czechs through themselves into the deal with enthusiasm.

Both nations failed to take a look at the future after President Bush. president Obama repeatedly signalled his cepticism on the mid-course system. The Democrat controlled Congress last year passed restrictions on the deployment of the system in Europe. They tied funds for the project to operationally realistic testing, forcing the Pentagon to prove the system actually works. This contrats with the Bush administration 'spiral development' approach, involving deployment of a system that is known not to work, and then improving it year on year while 'operational' until it does work.

In recent weeks, Obama staffers have signalled a number of different options. Assistant Secretary of Defence Michelle Flournoy told her confirmation hearing that there would be a review of the system before deployment, most likely as part of the 2011 Quadrennial Defense Review. At the same time, Representative Ellen Tauscher (chair of the House Armed Services Committee sub-committee on Strategic Forces) has said that the current restrictions would stay in force and that, with the budget squeeze that will come with the financial crisis and recession, systems such as mid-course missile defences, would liekly be cut.

All of this leaves proponents of missile defence in the US and Europe feeling as though they have been left high and dry. The Washington Times (a conservative newspaper) carries a piece today by a scholar from the far-right heritage Foundation saying that:

Russia´s bid to shut down these missile defense sites is a power play to split NATO and to frighten Eastern Europe into distancing itself from NATO and the West. Moscow's hope is that Poland and the others will deem the Americans to be unreliable, and that accommodating Russia is the only safe path to security. The Obama administration had best remember this before it bargains away both Europe´s protection against Iran and the integrity of NATO.

This is matched by statements from a spokesman for the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a neo-con pressure group, that:

"A lot of people put a stake in this project and they will feel disappointed — even betrayed" if it fails."

You can read the full story on that on the AP Wire. In sort, the Bush administration's supporters on missile defence are panicked. They know that the European defences will not go forward in the short-term and are trying to pressure the Obama administration through scare tactics - accusing the Democrats of being soft on defence. it isn't going to work. The Czechs and the Poles will be left to rue their short-sighted cosying up to President Bush in the weeks before he left office. It is a lesson to them in the need to better follow Washington DC politics. For the rest of us, we can sigh in relief that a barrier to talks with Russia on future nuclear arms reductions, and European security in general, will be removed.

NATO Defence Ministers Meet

NATO Defence Ministers meet today in the first of two informal Ministerials to prepare the ground for the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit in April. Foreign Ministers will meet in March to finalize plans for the Summit.

NATO Spokesman James Appathurai gave a background briefing on the meeting. Afghanistan, as might be expected, will feature large in discussions. President Obama has been saying, since before his election, that the US will do more there in return for more from its Allies. This was a message that Vice-President Joe Biden reinforced last week at Munich.

The US has announced that it is sending an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, and the NATO meeting will discuss how many other Allied troops can be committed, and whether nations such as Germany are ready to lift the caveats on the use of troops that prevent them (amongst other nations) participating in combat missions in the south of the country. This has received at best a lukewarm reception from most Allies.

President Obama is pinning his hopes on 'victory' in Afghanistan and the Alliance would now seem to to be pinning its future credibility as a military force on a successful outcome. The trouble is that there is little chance of a straightforward military victory that would allow NATO to declare that it has won, and leave the country. NATO forces control little territory outside Kabul and major regional centres. The Karzai government is weak, and in almost open conflict with the foreign powers that sustain it. it is incumbent on those who believe that NATO can be a 'global security provider' to show that they can resolve the military and political situations in Afghanistan, leave the country relatively peaceful, in order to preserve NATO credibility. A tall order indeed.

Expectations for the Summit have been steadily downgraded over the past months. It seems that this will be, like Bucharest and Riga, a primarily ceremonial affair focused on 60 years of peace in Europe. The Allies will begin a discussion about the revision of the Alliance Strategic Concept, but it is clear that no serious work will be done in Strasbourg. One reason for this is that, with a new US administration, there simply hasn't been time for those in Washington to review policy and prepare a new initiative. Strasbourg-Kehl will see the adoption of a Declaration on Alliance Security, which will be worked on by Defence Ministers this week. Some sources say this will be the basis for the Strategic Concept revision.

Turkish officials told journalists that defence planning, including nuclear planning, would also be discussed. No other sources were prepared to discuss this.

Other topics for discussion will include Kosovo, the NATO Response Force, and missile defences in Eastern Europe. One particular irritant is a border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia concerning Slovenian access to the Adriatic. Slovenia has already stalled EU accession negotiations over this, and is threatening not to hold the necessary referendum to ratify Croatian accession to NATO, which would cast another dark shadow over the April Summit. NATO relations with Georgia and the Ukraine will also be on the agenda, but it seems that further enlargement is being soft-pedalled for the moment. This will be an interesting meeting.

Munich Security Conference Debates the Future of NATO

There was a strong debate about several aspects of the future of NATO at the Munich Security Conference last week. Participants eagerly awaited speakers like Vice-President Joe Biden, and National Security Advisor James Jones as they sought to understand how the Obama administration would work with its Allies. There were also lively discussions on the future direction of the Alliance itself, its continuing role in Afghanistan and the wider implications of that mission for NATO. The conference exposed, once again, major differences between 'old' and 'new' Europe on the role of the Alliance in the defence of European territory. Relations with Russia were much discussed.

I have written an analysis of these debates which you can find 9together with relevant excerpts from delegates' speeches) at

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Nuclear Disarmament Hits the Mainstream

The first day of the Munich Security Conference has finished. And one big feature was the place of disarmament in security building. This conference, formerly known as the Wehrkunde, was the haunt of the hyper-realists of the Cold War. But now, the elimination of nuclear weapons from global arsenals has truly hit the mainstream.

The realist par excellence Henry Kissinger delivered his first speech at Munich for some time, and used it to advance his arguments for the elimination of nuclear weapons, saying

Over 200 years ago, the philosopher Immanuel Kant defined the ultimate choice before mankind: World history would ultimately culminate in universal peace either by moral insight or by catastrophe of a magnitude that left humanity no other choice. Our period is approaching having that choice imposed on it.

The basic dilemma of the nuclear age has been with us since Hiroshima: how to bring the destructiveness of modern weapons into some moral or political relationship with the objectives that are being pursued.

Any use of nuclear weapons is certain to involve a level of casualties and devastation out of proportion to foreseeable foreign policy objectives. Efforts to develop a more nuanced application have never succeeded, from the doctrine of a geographically limited nuclear war of the 1950s and 1960s to the mutual assured destruction theory of general nuclear war of the 1970s.

Proliferation of nuclear weapons has become an overarching strategic problem for the contemporary period. Any further spread of nuclear weapons multiplies the possibilities of nuclear confrontation; it magnifies the danger of diversion, deliberate or unauthorized.

How will publics react if they suffer or even observe casualties in the tens of thousands in a nuclear attack? Will they not ask two questions: What could we have done to prevent this? What shall we do now so that it can never happen again?

Considerations as these induced former Senator Sam Nunn, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former Secretary of State George Shultz and me - two Democrats and two Republicans - to publish recommendations for systematically reducing and eventually eliminating the danger from nuclear weapons… my colleagues and I have chosen an incremental, step-by-step approach. Affirming the desirability of the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, we have concentrated on the steps that are achievable and verifiable.

Sam Nunn has described the effort akin to climbing a mountain shrouded in clouds. We cannot describe its top or be certain that there may not be unforeseen and perhaps insurmountable obstacles on the way. But we are prepared to undertake the journey in the belief that the summit will never come into view unless we begin the ascent and deal with the proliferation issues immediately before us, including the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.

The danger posed by nuclear weapons is unprecedented. They should not be integrated into strategy as simply another more efficient explosive. We thus return to our original challenge: Our age has stolen the fire from the gods; can we confine it to peaceful purposes before it consumes us?

You can read his full speech here.

This speech follows from the two Wall Street Journal articles that Kissinger and his colleagues have published, and is part of their personal engagement in this cause. As such, remarkable as it seems to say, this speech was not unexpected. However, as others followed suit, it became clear that the elimination of nuclear weapons is now squarely part of the international political centre-ground. The Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Moratinos, speaking on global governance, stiull found time to say that:

In these early years of the 21st century, we have still not managed to achieve the ambitions of disarmament that were born after the end of the Cold War. An effective policy of disarmament and non-proliferation (currently of vital importance, when there still remains the danger of terrorist groups gaining access to weapons of mass destruction) would constitute an effective instrument for security and for increasing trust.

The Indian National Security Advisor, Mayankote Kelath Narayanan, spoke on the same theme,. offering a very substantive contribution:

India has been, and still remains, a strong and unwavering advocate of global nuclear disarmament, reflecting the passionate advocacy of nuclear disarmament of its first Prime Minister, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.  Even to-day, India is perhaps the only nuclear weapons State to express its readiness to negotiate a Nuclear Weapons Convention leading to global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons.

In October 2006, India put forward a set of proposals at the United Nations General Assembly in a Working Paper which outlined certain steps that could lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons.  I might here mention a few of these suggestions here:

  • Reaffirm the unequivocal commitment by all nuclear weapon States to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons;
  • reduce the salience of nuclear weapons in security doctrines;
  • reduce nuclear danger, including the risk of accidental nuclear war, by de-alerting nuclear-weapons to prevent unintentional or accidental use of nuclear weapons;
  • negotiate a global agreement among nuclear weapons States on ‘no-first-use’ of nuclear weapons;
  • negotiate a universal and legally-binding agreement on non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon States;
  • negotiate a Convention on the complete prohibition of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons; and
  • negotiate a Nuclear Weapons Convention prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and on their time-bound destruction, leading to the global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons.

While awaiting concrete and practical measures for the elimination of nuclear weapons and the means of delivery, and the creation of a legal regime or universal applicability, India welcomes the renewed interest in and support that nuclear disarmament has received from statesmen as well as experts in the field.  India is prepared to engage with the various proponents of nuclear disarmament and to meaningfully contribute to these initiatives.  India has taken note of the initiatives in this regard launched by four eminent statesmen – Dr. Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn, whose ideas are now included in the ‘Hoover Plan’.  India’s position was very recently enumerated by India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.  First, on June 9, 2008, to mark the 20th anniversary of the presentation of the Action Plan by Shri Rajiv Gandhi at the United Nations, and next, when the Prime Minister addressed the UN General Assembly in September 2008.  The running theme of both the speeches was a reiteration of India’s support for a Nuclear Weapons Convention and endorsement of a nuclear weapons-free world as enshrined in the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan of 1988.

The debate on disarmament, specially nuclear disarmament, gives rise to the hope of greater understanding that could lend itself to a firm commitment for action on nuclear disarmament.  As concrete steps towards this end, I shall mention the following:

  1. Reaffirmation of the unequivocal commitment by all States possessing nuclear weapons to the goal of complete elimination of nuclear weapons.  Commitments must be clear and unambiguous and convey some urgency for achieving this goal.  This would apply to NPT States as well as non-NPT States.
  2. Reduction of the salience of nuclear weapons in security doctrines.  It is unfortunate that despite the end of Cold War, there has not been any appreciable change in the centrality of nuclear weapons in the security doctrines  of the major nuclear weapon powers.
  3. Adoption of measures by States to reduce nuclear dangers, including preventing the unintentional or accidental use of nuclear weapons.  Since 1998, India has been sponsoring in the General Assembly a Resolution entitled “Reducing Nuclear Danger”.  We welcome the fact that more countries are now paying attention to global de-alerting of nuclear weapons.
  4. Negotiations on global agreement among the nuclear powers of a ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons. 
  5. Negotiations towards a universal and legally binding agreement on non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon States.
  6. Negotiation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention on the prohibition of the use, and threat of use, of nuclear weapons.  Since 1982, India has proposed that such a Convention be negotiated in the Conference on Disarmament.
  7. Negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would prohibit the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and on their destruction leading to a global non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons within a specified time-frame.

I would like to conclude by once again recalling Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s stark warning when he presented his Action Plan to the UN General Assembly in 1988.  He said that the ‘alternative to co-existence is co-destruction’.  We hope that the message of this Conference will be firmly in favour of humanity’s co-existence in a nuclear weapon free world.

His full speech can be read here.

German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier added his voice to the growing chorus, even mentioning the Global Zero campaign. 

This development in support for global nuclear disarmament is, in some ways, truly astonishing. The campaigns for the elimination of nuclear weapons gained some traction during the 1990s with the work of the Canberra Commission and others. Of course, the NPT has committed its members to work for this goal since 1970. But it is only now that many are some starting to take it seriously. It is precisely in for a such as this that a nuclear weapon free world must be discussed; and it is precisely the ministers, officials and elder statesmen (and they are mostly men) of global security who must work seriously for the implementation of the steps towards a nuclear weapon free world, if it is to be achieved. The anti-nuclear activists and peaceniks have a big part to play, but it is only with the co-option of their ideas by more conservative forces that their goals can be achieved.