Thursday, 9 February 2012

NATO Extends Baltic Air Patrols

The Washington Post and others report that NATO has decided to extend the air patrols it mounts over the Baltic States until 2018. These patrols are a largely symbolic measure of reassurance for the Baltics. This comes against a background of awkward relations between NATO and Russia, with the CFE Treaty in abeyance, and Russian concerns over NATO BMD plans leading to a deadlock in talks on cooperation and to increasing tension over tactical nuclear forces. The Baltic States are also amongst those who are most fearful of Russian intentions, for obvious reasons, especially as the US has announced a withdrawal of half its remaining forces in Europe - leading some Europeans to doubt their long term commitment to the region.

What this gesture highlights is that, should Russia wish to conquer the Baltic States (and there is absolutely no evidence they do) there is basically no way they could be defended. Genuine security for Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia lies in a long term improvement and normalisation of relations between NATO and Russia, not in the presence of 4 aircraft flying over their territory.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Daalder, Stavridis Should Consider the Problems Libya Intervention Caused

US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder and Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) Admiral James Stavridis have penned a piece on the NATO operation in Libya for Foreign Affairs. NATO Monitor was, naturally, expecting to read an analysis which painted NATO in the best light possible, but from the very first line the article seems to overstate the case, when the authors write:
NATO's operation in Libya has rightly been hailed as a model intervention.
and then later in the piece they write:
By any measure, NATO succeeded in Libya. It saved tens of thousands of lives from almost certain destruction.
Well, up to a point Lord Copper as Evelyn Waugh put it. Not even the strongest supporter of Operation Unified Protector could pretend that it was an absolute and unqualified success, but that is where Daalder and Stavridis take this. In so doing, they have to ignore evidence during the operation and also to simply not comment on the consequences that have started to emerge since NATO ceased military action. They write:
Washington also led the charge for the UN resolution that authorized the intervention, justifying the action as consistent with "the responsibility to protect," the norm that calls on the international community to intervene when governments fail to safeguard their own civilians.
Most would agree (and NATO Monitor certainly does) that the initial actions to protect Benghazi from the regime's offensive, and the destruction of what remained of the Libyan air force on the ground, plus the protection offered to other cities in the face of sustained assault by Gaddhafi's forces could all be explained under the 'responsibility to protect' (R2P) mandate. Beyond that, the situation becomes much more complicated. NATO military force was used, not to protect civilians, but to assist in attacks on the regime. Instead of protecting cities, NATO was facilitating military assaults on them. It can be argued that no civilians could be safe while Gaddhafi remained in power, but that would be to deny the divided nature of Libyan society and the fact that some Libyans continue to support him even now he is dead. It was always likely that the stretching of the mandate by NATO to meet the political goals of the US, UK and France would be problematic. Many have noted that the NATO interpretation of the R2P mandate has undermined the concept itself. For example, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung has written:
The intervention was clearly authorized by the United Nations Security Council (UN-SC) in Resolution 1973. Nevertheless, it is the first time for the international community to call upon the principle of a “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) - established by the UN General Assembly in 2005 - to justify the Libyan campaign. With the Libya operation we are on new ground. There has not been any precedent yet which would clearly justify that the threshold to take resort to the concept of R2P is reached. What is intensifying this uncertainty is the politically desired regime change, which is clearly not authorized by the UN-SC and would under the given mandate not be legitimate for NATO to perform. Both the uncertainty concerning the exact criteria needed to trigger the R2P as well as the problem of a regime change will have consequences for both international law and the sovereignty of nation states far beyond the mission in Libya since humanitarian interventions and the closely related R2P could conceivably become a new precedent.Regardless of how the R2P will be enshrined in the future, the clear distinction between regime change and the protection of civilians has to be respected today.
As NATO pushed the boundaries of its mandate, Russia and China said clearly that they would not be quick to grant the Alliance such a mandate again. And now, for reasons of power politics, they have made good on those statements and blocked international intervention to help the people of Syria as their own government attacks them. If NATO had been more cautious in Libya, and stuck to the mandated purpose of Unified Protector by protecting people from military assault no matter who the attacking party and who the target, then while it is unlikely there would yet be a decisive outcome there, it is likely that there would be a military stalemate forcing a political solution. R2P requires impartiality, and the humanitarian NGOs and international groups that conceived the principle are deeply disturbed at the way it has been reinterpreted and misapplied in Libya. The tragic case of Syria is showing all to clearly why Unified Protector was not an unqualified success. The consequence, in the short term, is that there is no protection for the people of Homs.

NATO's impartiality was further undermined by the actions of France in breaching the UN arms embargo. This had been swiftly agreed in February 2011. France argued that the subsequent mandate of March authorizing 'all necessary measures' to protect civilians had varied the arms embargo., They argued further that they were arming rebel groups with light infantry weapons to enable the protection of civilians. For many, this stretched R2P beyond breaking point. It is very hard to accept that providing weapons to fuel a civil war in any way protects civilians. French actions also undermined the UN Security Council on arms embargoes, which by precedent apply to the entire territory of a country unless a resolution states that it only applies to certain groups within a country. Legal protections for civilians and the authority of the UN to prevent conflict were suddenly doubly undermined.

There are areas where the argument in the Foreign Affairs article are valid. For example, where the authors write:
[NATO] conducted an air campaign of unparallelled precision, which, although not perfect, greatly minimized collateral damage. 
they are undoubtedly right. The great care taken to do everything possible to avoid direct civilian casualties from NATO strikes is commendable. No doubt lessons learned in Afghanistan played a great part in this, and it is likely that Unified Protector is almost unique in the low level of civilian casualties caused by airstrikes. NATO's military infrastructure and experience of operations from Bosnia onwards contributed to this outcome. The authors correctly state that: 
The first lesson is that NATO is uniquely positioned to respond quickly and effectively to international crises. Some countries have significant military reach. But when a group of countries wants to launch a joint intervention as a coalition -- which confers political legitimacy -- only NATO can provide the common command structure and capabilities necessary to plan and execute complex operations. 
NATO is a unique multi-national institution. Its international command structure is indeed unmatched. As a regional organisation empowered to enforce UN mandates, this military power can be of great use. But the member states of the Alliance need to learn to act as they are authorised, not as they wish they had been authorised, or as is consistent with the political desires of NATO governments.

However, the lesson that Daalder and Stavridis take from Unified Protector is not this, it is that NATO member states must cooperate more to build a still more effective military infrastructure. They say that European members of NATO must do more so the US can do less. This burdensharing argument is as old as the Alliance itself. They write:

NATO began to address these shortfalls before the war in Libya began. At the Lisbon summit in November 2010, for example, the alliance adopted a new "strategic concept" to guide it for the next decade. In it, the allies committed to deploying the "full range of capabilities necessary to deter and defend against any threat to the safety and security of [its] populations." It also identified and prioritized the ten capabilities that member states agreed were essential to the organization's strength not only in today's operations (such as enhanced methods to counter improvised explosive devices and improvements in information sharing) but also in the future (such as missile defense and joint intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance -- a key deficiency in Libya).
The alliance will now have to summon the political will to implement these standards in a period of fiscal austerity. NATO countries can continue to invest in their military capabilities on their own -- which means investing inefficiently and often insufficiently, while leaning on an increasingly impatient United States to make up the difference. Or member states can invest through NATO and other multinational programs, saving money, promoting cooperation, sharing capabilities, and demonstrating solidarity. NATO will continue to succeed only if every member state chooses the latter course.

It is depressing that this is the only conclusion that they seek to draw from the Libya experience. There are other conclusions that must be drawn which are more profound, and which are rooted not just in a narrow examination of NATO's military efficiency in Operation Unified Protector, but in the realities on the ground then and now. It is essential to look at the effects of the operation beyond the end of hostilities, in Libya and across the region.

One major concern is the proliferation of small arms and light weapons from Libyan arms dumps throughout Libya and across the region. There has been great concern about the flow of MANPADS and other weapons out of Libya. The US believes that only 5000 of 20000 MANPADS have been recovered. There are deep concerns that Al Qaeda related groups in Africa might buy such weapons to try to shoot down western aircraft, as has happened in East Africa in the past.  There are reports that Libyan weapons have been smuggled to rebel groups in Sudan. Some of the weapons have already left north Africa. For example, Haaretz has reported that some Libyan weapons have reached Hamas in Gaza.

These weapons flows have also facilitated conflict in neighbouring countries, notably Mali. Gaddhafi had recruited Tuareg tribes to come to his support, and armed them heavily. Following the defeat of the regime, they returned to the northern Sahara in Mali and Niger. Well armed and ready to fight, they have restarted a rebellion in Mali that had been quelled as recently as 2009. Attacks have been made on several cities, including Timbuctou, and there has been fighting between Tuaregs and the Malian army. 20,000 people have already been displaced in this sparsely populated region. This instability and the risk of internal conflict is also feared in Tunisia and other countries including Niger, Chad and Sudan.

In October the UN called on Libyan authorities to halt the flow of weapons out of the country and control the weapons within their borders. This highlights another problem the NATO operation left behind it. Libya has no national government. The National Transitional Council, with its power base in Benghazi, controls little of the country and few of the diverse militias that remain. Some 300 militias are still armed and ready to fight. There are regular attacks on towns, most recently Bani Walid was taken over by Gaddhafi loyalists and militiamen from Misrata attacked a refugee camp killing men, women and children thought to have supported the old regime. In short, the country is unstable and there is a great risk of further violence and potentially of civil war. Many scores remain to be settled and it cannot be ruled out that the country will be divided.

If Ambassador Daalder and SACEUR Stavridis had published a truly honest assessment of the NATO mission they would have mentioned these facts. Any analysis of the effectiveness of this or any other humanitarian intervention has to include the problems caused or exacerbated by the intervention, and not just look at what might have gone right. In claiming to have saved thousands of lives, the authors must accept that their actions have led to deaths in Libya, Mali and Sudan. They should also accept that they have, however unwittingly, exacerbated the risks of terrorism across the region.

Most serious, however, is the damage done to the emerging R2P international law norm. Humanitarian law is a fragile thing, and the protections offered to civilians in conflict zones are weak. All Security Council members, and all NATO members, have a duty to ensure that they are even handed in actions intended to prevent harm to civilians, and that unlike in Unified Protector, heir operations are not simply a cover for other political goals.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

'The Cable Reporting from Munich Security Conference

Foreign Policy blog The Cable has made some good posts at the Munich Security Conference. Notably, this quote from Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski:

The question posed to Sikorski and the other panelists at the Friday evening discussion was whether Germany could play a role in Europe today similar to the role the United States played in Europe after World War II. Sikorski said that Germany doesn't have the attributes of a hegemon, such as an overwhelming economy, a large military budget, and an international role commensurate of a preeminent regional power."So you will not be a benign hegemon in Europe and you shouldn't even try," Sikorski told his largely German audience. He even referred to lingering concerns about German power left over from the WWII period."Why is Russia always a bigger security challenge than Germany for Poland? When Germany gets too big for its boots, we always automatically add allies," Sikorski said. "So don't get too dizzy with success."Ouch."Germany cannot be said to be said to be similar to the United States [in the post WWII period]," Sikorski said. "The position of benign hegemon for Germany is not attainable, and therefore I would propose your actual position in the EU, which is a very honorable one, is the position of the largest shareholder."
Did Poland join NATO to counter Germany as much as Russia? Was it a reaction as much to World War Two as the Cold War? There is an element of that under the surface.

Of course, Poland doesn't have a stable history of independence. It is unlucky to be situated with no strategic or obvious natural borders, and between two large neighbours, so these fears are deeply ingrained in the national psyche. But it is unusual to take a slap at a neighbour and ally in public like this - especially at a time when the Germans have done nothing to deserve it!

Afghan Cost Cutting Could Bring Security Problems

Reuters has published an excellent piece on the cost concerns pushing NATO to look at smaller Afghan National Security Forces of around 230,000, instead of 350,000 as currently planned. The article reports the cost story that NATO Monitor mentioned yesterday, and has one interesting quote:

Diplomats and NATO officials said there were concerns about the dangers of building up such a large force and then cutting it back."The problem is: what are they going do?" said one diplomat. "You don't want large numbers of armed unemployed."

This is absolutely the heart of the matter. If you train up and equip 350,000 troops, or less, and then retain only 230,000 then you have thousands of trained and armed men who will turn to some form of insurgency. It would make no sense whatsoever, and yet it seems to be an option that NATO is considering for reasons of political expediency at home.

Between the possibility of ending the NATO combat role early, and the apparent problems of sustaining funding for the ANSF afterwards, there is a serious risk that the West, with its war weary publics is in danger of simply abandoning the country to its fate. It doesn't help that there has been no convincing rationale for being in Afghanistan since the Taliban were toppled and Al Qaeda destroyed in the country after 9/11, and no politician has been able to make  an argument that sounded in any way convincing to voters.

But this does raise the question, what have the years of fighting and loss of life been for? What strategic goal has been served?

A Pakistani View on the 'State of the Taliban'

General Talat Masood rejects the main thrust of the NATO State of the Taliban report. It is clear that relations between NATO and PAkistan have been further poisoned by this episode, which is serious for NATO as it needs the Pakistani supply lines to maintain ISAF sustainably.

Friday, 3 February 2012

NATO Looking for Help to Fund Afghan Security Forces

One topic that was raised at the Defence Ministers gathering this week was future funding of the Afghan National Security Forces beyond 2014. This is absolutely vital as the Afghan government is in no position to pay the estimated $6 billion per year necessary to equip, train and deploy their police and army units.

By 2014 it is planned to have 350,000 ANSF personnel in place, although some think this is too many. For example, French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet told journalists that "A reasonable number would be 230,000." In contrast, the Taliban are thought to number in the region of 20,000 fighters, although that number could certainly increase quickly.

NATO Secretary General told the press that NATO was appealing to the entire international community to help secure the future of Afghanistan by contributing to the bill, and when pressed if he meant China and Russia, as well as others, replied:
“It’s a call on the whole of the international community to contribute to financing the Afghan security forces because I think it is also in the interest of countries in the region to see a stable and secure Afghanistan.”
This is certainly something NATO needs to get right, and in comparison with the bills that they are paying to keep combat forces in country, $6 billion per year spread between all NATO members is very little. NATO Monitor is having trouble figuring out why China and Russia would find it in their strategic interest to help NATO out with this, especially Russia since NATO is so unresponsive to their concerns on BMD and CFE.

(Read more here and here, and watch the press conference here.)

Pakistani View on NATO Supply Problem

The Pakistan Observer has an interesting analysis from a Pakistani point of view on NATO's supply line problems. It concludes:
Stocked-up supplies and reliance on the NDN thus far enables the US and NATO to sustain the war that for many looks no longer winnable although the United States has had to pay six times as much to import supplies via alternative routes. The writing on the wall is that the US will have to mend fences with Pakistan.

Putin: NATO BMD 'aimed at Russia'

Russian PM and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin appeared on Russian TV yesterday and condemned US and NATO ballistic missile defence plans (See here for example). Reminding viewers that the United States is the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons in a war, he said that the Euro BMD system is:
undoubtedly aimed at neutralizing the nuclear rocket capability of Russia.
He added that NATO doesn't want partners, but vassals. This hard line on NATO-Russia has long been part of Putin's thinking. But he is correct to say that Russian attempts to make a genuine military partnership out of the BMD proposals, with a truly joint system between Russia and the Alliance, have been completely rebuffed by Brussels.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Afghans Concerned at NATO 2013 Withdrawal Talk

There are signs of a worried reaction from Afghanistan that the US might be getting ready to leave early. One report we've read says:

Earlier in Kabul, a senior Afghan security official said his government had not been informed of Panetta’s announcement and said it “throws out the whole transition plan.”“Transition has been planned against a timetable and this makes us rush all our preparations,” he said. “If the Americans withdraw from combat, it will certainly have an effect on our readiness and training, and on equipping the police force.”
 There has been a smattering of surprised and concerned responses from NATO allies too.

Is Israel Getting Ready to Attack Iran, and What Will NATO do if it Does?

So, there's a little brouhaha going on on the sidelines of the NATO defence ministerial. David Ignatius at the Washington Post has published a piece saying that Us Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes that the Israelis are getting ready to attack Iran in May or June. Panetta, in Brussels for the NATO meeting, has refused to deny the report.

Clearly this is meant to send a strong signal to Iran that now would be a good time to come back to the table. And Ignatius says that the US has warned Israel against this course of action, and will stay on the sidelines. For their part, the Israelis want (Ignatius says) favour going alone and can hit Iran for five days - but even the hawks he spoke to acknowledge that this will only set Iranian nuclear work back a few years.

Of course, the problem for the Israelis is that this is all fantasy. If Israel attacks, then there will be attacks against Jewish people and organisations around the world, as well as against Israel. There would also likely be attacks against US military targets in the region at the least. Some kind of general war would massively destabilise a volatile region. What's worse, Iran would instantly withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty citing what would be in such circumstances justified national security concerns, and would then be free to go hell-for-leather for the bomb with no legal constraints. Everything in the situation would be much worse.

And what would NATO do? Certainly not join the attacks, but would US nuclear facilities in Turkey be a target for Iranian retaliation? It is possible. What then of the Alliance's Article V defence guarantee? Would NATO be forced to go to war alongside the US and Israel? Such a situation doesn't really bear thinking about.

Meanwhile, Haaretz is reporting a NATO Defence College report which says that NATO must be ready to build much closer links with Middle East allies if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. Haaretz says the report says that NATO should:
.. should consider war games and joint exercises and even expanding cooperation by deploying nuclear weapons in countries that were party to NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative forums.
Now, NATO Monitor hasn't read the full report (we'll post more fully on it soon), but it is hard to see how the Middle East would be made safer by more western intervention in the form of some kind of nuclear stand-off between Iran and Israel/NATO. It is much easier to see that an Israeli/American/NATO attack on Iran would be a disaster in the region and the wider world.

It is deeply depressing that for decades the very powers now seemingly sliding towards an attack on Iran have refused to take seriously either the Arab/Israeli peace process or calls for a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East. No pressure has been put on Israel or other US allies in the region to give up nuclear, chemical or biological weapons as part of a wider process of peacebuilding. Equally, no real pressure has been brought to bear since the 1990s for any meaningful dialogue on the peace process itself. Nor has any meaningful attempt been made to treat Iran as a sovereign state and equal partner in discussing the full range of its security concerns - after all, US policy has been for the overthrow of the current Iranian state for three decades.

There is no simple or easy solution to this complex web of security issues. But allowing the most hardline Israeli government ever to dictate policy for the rest of the world makes no sense, for us or for them. The effort currently being put by hawks into a drive for war would be much better spent on a drive for mutually beneficial threat reduction and confidence building measures that simply have not been tried. In the end, Israel is going to have to live in its region and it can't exist forever in a state of war, heavily defended but with no real security. Iran has a right under the NPT to civilian nuclear technology, and the US and its allies are going to have to live with that. If their leaders could be sure they aren't going to be overthrown by the US, then their incentive to militarise that capability is dramatically reduced - especially if Israel is part of a regional WMD Free deal.

NATO's adventures in Libya and Afghanistan should have taught the alliance that the wider Middle East is a complicated place where simplistic military solutions always lead to wider complications than first expected. It should, therefore, ignore the siren voices calling on it to become involved. 

Pakistan to Reopen NATO Supply Lines?

Since the attack on the Pakistani border posts last year, NATO has had no supply lines into Afghanistan fromt he south. Now, the Pakistani government has signaled that it will press its parliament to allow the reopening of NATO supply lines to Afghanistan very soon. (See this AFP story).

It is likely that Pakistan will in future tax convoys passing through its territory, but given the strategic difficulties of supplying Afghanistan from the north or by air, that's a tax NATO will have to pay.

The government cannot be sure it will win this debate, and indeed Jamaat-e-Islami (The Islamic Party) issued a statement saying that convoys would resume "over their dead bodies". They cited drone attacks by the US on Pakistani soil as a reason to refuse permission to supply ISAF.

Many other groups and parties also oppose any compromise with NATO. The debate will be difficult for the government, and if supply convoys do start to move from Pakistan again, it seems likely that more extreme elements in Pakistan are ready to use violence against them.

Smart Defence, Just Cuts or Genuine Reorganisation?

At his press conference after today's defence ministers' meeting broke up, Anders Fogh Rasmussen talked about the Smart Defence initiative he is pushing to make the most of diminishing resources available to NATO member states:
Today we also discussed Smart Defence. We agreed we have to make sure that every cent we spend delivers the maximum effect, with the maximum efficiency together. We have to decide what capabilities our Alliance needs. And we have to prioritise, specialise and cooperate, to make sure we can get them.
We have identified a number of areas where Smart Defence would make a real difference –  such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; logistics and maintenance; and training. Allies are discussing a number of projects which will deliver real improvements and make maximum use of the limited resources we have. By the time we meet in Chicago, I would expect us to have political agreement on a significant number of projects, as well as an approach for a longer term strategy, which sees Smart Defence at the hub of the way we do business.
Because economic hard times will come and go, but we always need security. And we need to stay serious about our security. 
This discussion comes notably against a background where the US has announced significant cuts in its presence in Europe. Allies are questiong exactly what it means that the US is planning to cut 2 out of 4 brigade combat teams remaining in Europe, as well as an air wing? Is the US cutting back its commitment to Article V and the defence of the Alliance? Some in the Baltic States and eastern Europe with the most pronounced fears about Russia might see it that way.  Or, at a time of budget cuts, is the US simply redeploying resources to places they are needed, recognising the reality that there is little to no chance of a land war being waged against NATO far into the future? (See the Chicago Times for a good discussion of the issue)There are concerns that less training time will mean less inter-operability, and that it will become more difficult to mount NATO operations in future.

European nations should look to put their own house in order before being too critical of the US. Maintaining many separate defence budgets and overlapping military capabilities, NATO's European allies spend a large fraction of the US defence budget and yet get little for it. Greater budgetary and defence policy integration across Europe, even with significantly reduced expenditure across the continent, could actually leave European allies with more troops, more planes, more ships available for the defence of Europe or for the projection of power for peacekeeping or other purposes. Such a move by the Europeans would likely mean more coordination inside the EU, and would necessitate deeper EU/NATO cooperation. Political realities make that difficult. (The Tribune also ran a piece on a speech that Cathy Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy made the other day)

So, now we wait for Chicago to see whether the Smart Defence initiative means anything, or whether NATO's drift in this area will continue.

Euro Missile Defence Command to be at Ramstein

AFP is reporting that the NATO base at Ramstein in Germany will host the command for the NATO missile defence. The base also hosts Allied Air Command. Interceptors will be based in Romania and Poland, with sea based ones home-ported in Spain.

At the same time, RIA Novosti has reported that Russia may be prepared to allow joint missile defence exercises with NATO planned for March to go ahead. However, the Russians are still seeking legally binding written guarantees from the US that the Euro BMD system will not have the capability to counter Russian missile launches.

The issue has, as NATO Monitor has often discussed, been a block in talks around the basket of conventional and nuclear arms control discussions between the US and Russia. NATO and the US continue to insist that the European BMD system is a counter to potential threats from Iran, and nothing to do with Russia. The Russians counter that the system may be configured that way at present, but that could change with time.

As we have said before, NATO has to make an assessment. Is it's security enhanced more by reducing possible conventional and nuclear threats from Russia, or by deploying a BMD system of at best dubious reliability against an Iranian threat that doesn't actually exist?

Rose Gottemoeller on the US, Russia and Arms Control

Rose Gottemoeller, US Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance  gave a short interview this week on arms control efforts with Russia, and mentioned the NATO Deterrence and Defence Posture Review. It's only short, so is worth posting in full:

Interview: Judy Dempsey - International Herald Tribune

Rose Gottemoeller
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
Washington, DC
January 19, 2012
QUESTION: Late last year, the Americans broke off conventional arms control talks with Russia. Why?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: The situation simply could not continue indefinitely. The Russian Federation had “suspended implementation” of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) in December 2007. Last fall, we decided we needed to take action. Together with a group of other Treaty signatories--NATO allies and partners Moldova and Georgia--we agreed to halt implementation of the Treaty with Russia. We continue to implement the CFE Treaty with all the other states-parties. We were sending a message; we considered it to be a rational countermeasure, and did it more in sorrow than in anger. It was a message to Russia that we would like to see them come back into implementation of the Treaty. The United States is committed to revitalizing the conventional arms control regime in Europe and continues to consult on finding a way forward with our Treaty partners.

QUESTION: What could restart negotiations?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Right now, I think we’re in a good place. It is still premature to talk about negotiations, but ceasing the implementation of the CFE Treaty toward Russia actually opens up an environment to explore new opportunities for the future of conventional arms control in Europe. But first we need to do some very basic work on the concepts and substance, together with our allies and partners, including the Russians. Everybody knows that the CFE Treaty simply is not relevant anymore to the current security situation in Europe. It was negotiated at a time when the Warsaw Pact was still standing against us.
QUESTION: It was a Cold War relic?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: What we have now is an opportunity for a regime that would be clearly post Cold War. We need to think ahead about what will be most helpful, contributing to resolving the frozen conflicts and strengthening regional security. I think the Russians have the same interest in stable and predictable security relationships as other countries.
QUESTION: If you look at the entirety of Russia’s security outlook, tactical nuclear weapons are an important card, because its conventional forces are so weak. Where do we stand with regard to tactical nuclear weapons?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: It is true that the Russian military doctrine is quite clear on the strategic importance they give to tactical nuclear weapons. But we need to pull the aperture wider. When President Obama signed the New START Treaty on April 8, 2010, he said that the United States would like to negotiate further reductions in three categories of nuclear arms: in deployed strategic nuclear weapons, in non-deployed strategic nuclear weapons (for example, held in storage facilities) and in non strategic nuclear weapons, the so-called tactical nuclear weapons, which are the ones that concern Europe. The President made it very clear that we want to tackle all three categories in the next arms reduction negotiations with Russia.
QUESTION: But why should the Russians agree to cuts in tactical weapons?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Again, you have to look at the full picture. The Russians have always said that they are concerned about U.S. up-load capabilities…
QUESTION: …meaning that the U.S. could relatively quickly bring back a substantial number of reserve nuclear weapons from storage…
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: …and that could be a part of the picture for future negotiations. I am not saying that we are making an official proposal at this point. But you have to have an idea what the trade-offs might be.
QUESTION: So far, there really has not been much movement on tactical weapons.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: I would not say that. In fact, there has been movement in two areas: First, the United States has made it clear that we want to begin talking sooner rather than later about the issues affecting further reductions. And we want to begin talking sooner rather than later about transparency measures that we might pursue even before we get back to the negotiating table. And so, we are looking at some ideas in that regard. In the meantime, there is some important homework that we have to do within the NATO Alliance--the NATO Deterrence and Defense Posture Review is taking place right now. We know that NATO is committed to an extended deterrent and will remain a nuclear alliance for as long as nuclear weapons exist. In May, we are going to have the NATO summit in Chicago. That is an opportunity to reach some conclusions on what NATO policy is going to be with regard to non-strategic nuclear weapons.
QUESTION: Does missile defense complicate things?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: We hope not! (laughs) Because we talk until we are blue in the face to make the point that we believe cooperation on missile defenses in Europe would be very much in the interests of the Russian Federation. Our goal is to reach agreement on a political framework to move missile defense cooperation forward and strengthen the overlapping capabilities that we have. We want to address the common threat that ballistic missiles pose for security in Europe, including for Russia. Through this cooperation, Russia would see first-hand that this system is designed and capable to defend only against missiles originating from the Middle East. At the same time, we have been trying to convey to them also that U.S. and NATO missile defenses in Europe are not intended nor will they be capable to undermine the Russian strategic offensive armed forces. The Russians remain to be convinced. But I don’t think it’s a hopeless situation. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Afghan Withdrawal Debate Online!

Twitter allows participants in the NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Brussels to share a few thoughts. After US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said yesterday that:
Hopefully by the mid to later part of 2013 we'll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advise and assist role,This doesn't mean we're not going to be combat-ready, but rather that the U.S. and other international forces will no longer be in the formal combat role we're in now.
This followed French President Sarkozy's announcement that France would withdraw forces from the country by the end of 2013, prompted by the killing of French soldiers by an Afghan trainee. This posed major problems for NATO as France plays a major role in the training mission for Afghan security forces.

This set the scene for an interesting discussion this morning, but the row-back started early. This morning as US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder tweeted that:
Day 1 of  DefMin w/ . Transition in will be key issue. Making good progress; need to stay -agreed course
This was quickly followed by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tweeting that:
  decisions in Lisbon remain bedrock of our strategy in. Alliance will stick to agreed Lisbon target
Expect start transition last group  districts and provinces mid-2013. Complete transition to full security responsibility by end 2014
However, the difference seems to be one of emphasis rather than great substance. Wired are reporting a NATO background briefing on the topic:
In a background briefing for reporters, a NATO official I’m not allowed to name pointed to mid-2013 as the beginning of the final phase for its “transition” to Afghanistan control. By then, the “lead responsibility for the planning and conduct of operations” against the Taliban will fall to the Afghan soldiers and police (and militiamen) that NATO trains, the official said. In other words, the heavy lifting on the transition will basically be done by 2013, not 2014.
 US experts say that Panetta's announcement would not mean a much faster or deeper drawdown than currently planned, simply a shift in the way the mission is carried out.

There won;t be final announcements on this today or tomorrow, but expect something at the Chicago Summit.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Panetta Wants Early End to Afghanistan Combat Role

Here's a surprise. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wants the US and NATO out of their combat role in Afghnaistan by the end of 2013. (See the original report here). The French decision to do this unilaterally must have had an effect. No wonder the US has finally decided it has to talk with the Taliban.

The trouble is that politically motivated announcements like this, which are good for the electoral timetable back home (in France and in America) do nothing to contribute to the security of the people of Afghanistan. In fact, they simply prove to those Taliban fighters who involuntarily gave information for the State of the Taliban report that they are right, and if they simply wait, the westerners will be gone.

BBC leaks NATO Afghan report, the truth hurts or at least embarrasses!!

The BBC has been leaked a report compiled for NATO from interrogations of thousands of captured Taliban fighters. The report, The State of the Taliban, states that the Pakistani ISI intelligence service is aiding and even directing Taliban activities. It says that many Afghans prefer the Taliban to the corrupt Karzai central and regional governments. It reveals that many Taliban fighters regard NATO military gains as completely illusory, since they are biding their time and will retake territory at their leisure when NATO withdraw from it.

So far, so unremarkable. This tells us little that independent journalists and analysts haven't been saying for a long time. However, it is reassuring to know that (however quietly and however far behind the scenes) NATO does not believe the unrealistically rosy reports put out by its own PR machine.

What this report does bring into question is how NATO can extract itself from Afghanistan without complete and utter embarrassment. France is likely to press at tomorrow's Defence ministerial, and then again at the Summit in Chicago in May, for an early withdrawal. It is becoming increasingly clear that the mission that is supposed to define NATO's role for the 21st Century (at least in part) is ending badly.

With the US administration and the Karzai government entering into apparently separate talks with Taliban representatives about the future beyond 2014 when NATO ends its combat mission in the country, the harsh reality of tactical success and strategic failure for the alliance is hammered home in the State of the Taliban.

In retrospect, the decision around the last elections to prop up the discredited President Karzai and the kleptocracy he has constructed to "govern" Afghanistan looks worse and worse. The only question now for NATO is how to save face while getting out, and even that looks harder by the day. If nothing else this will make the debate around the ministerial meetings more interesting.

Even if ISAF is still trying to sound positive (see this video) the truth is out, its embarrassing and it hurts!

(Note: Extracts of the State of the Taliban report can be found on the BBC website here)