Libya, Europe and the future of NATO

Always waiting for the US cavalry

It LOOKED, for a moment, like a return to the days of European interventionism. For the first time since Suez, Britain and France led an intervention in the Middle East. And unlike the disaster in Egypt in 1956, the action in Libya of 2011 was supported by America and by part of the Arab world too.

America was visibly reluctant to get involved, let alone lead the action. And, having helped to knock out Libya’s air defences and conduct some of the initial air-to-ground strikes, it pulled back from the front-line operations. But America’s role remains essential, not least in providing air-to-air refuelling, as well as intelligence and reconnaissance for the European allies.

The war in Libya, far from heralding a new era of European activism, has once again highlighted the limits of Europe’s military power, as Robert Gates pointed out today in his valedictory speech in Brussels. He is not the first American defence secretary to complain about low, often declining, defence spending in Europe (The Economist recently ran an interesting

Nor is it the first time Mr Gates himself has bemoaned the weakness of European allies. Last year he said the “pacification” of Europe, at first a great achievement, had gone too far and posed a threat to Western security. But his comments today were delivered with the sharpness of a man who knows he is at the end of his career and no longer needs to beg for favours. The speech is worth reading in full. But here is one passage that should make Europeans cringe.

To be sure, at the outset, the NATO Libya mission did meet its initial military objectives – grounding Qaddafi’s air force and degrading his ability to wage offensive war against his own citizens. And while the operation has exposed some shortcomings caused by underfunding, it has also shown the potential of NATO, with an operation where Europeans are taking the lead with American support. However, while every alliance member voted for Libya mission, less than half have participated at all, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission. Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t. The military capabilities simply aren’t there.

In particular, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets are lacking that would allow more allies to be involved and make an impact. The most advanced fighter aircraft are little use if allies do not have the means to identify, process, and strike targets as part of an integrated campaign. To run the air campaign, the NATO air operations centre in Italy required a major augmentation of targeting specialists, mainly from the US, to do the job – a “just in time” infusion of personnel that may not always be available in future contingencies. We have the spectacle of an air operations centre designed to handle more than 300 sorties a day struggling to launch about 150. Furthermore, the mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country – yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the US, once more, to make up the difference.

As well as a paucity of European military resources, NATO faces two other dangers, Mr Gates said. One is the passing of his generation of American leaders, like himself, for whom the security of Europe was the over-rising pre-occupation of their careers. The second is that America, itself under pressure to cut defence spending to curb high deficits and debt, might soon give up on Europe: if the European taxpayers do not want to pay to preserve their own security, why should Americans shoulder the burden? Only five of the 28 NATO allies meet NATO’s recommendation that countries should spend at least 2% of GDP on defence: America, Britain, France, Greece and Albania. Today America’s key security interests are in the Middle East and in Asia. Europe will be the obvious place for America to cut expensive overseas commitments.

Europe has more soldiers than America, but can deploy far fewer of them on overseas operations. This is partly the result of history: in the cold war European armies were built to hold the line in Europe, while awaiting reinforcement by American forces which, by definition, had to be designed for expeditionary warfare. Another is that “Europe” is not a sovereign state, but a collection of small- and medium-sized countries. Its considerable defence spending is hoplessly fragmented among a multitude of armies, air forces and navies.

Specialisation, pooling and sharing equipment is the obvious way forward. Defence experts across Europe have known this for a long time and, here and there, countries have embarked on some important experiments. A recent paper by the Centre for European Reform, and think-tank in London, makes some sensible recommendations ( PDF). But what is rational in terms of defence accounting too often falls foul of political and operational reality. Many smaller countries have little interest in international commitments. And the bigger states that still retain some kind of global vision, like Britain and France, do not want to be dependent on smaller states for their military capability.

Poland, which takes over the presidency of the European Union next month, plans to make a renewed attempt to boost European defence co-operation. It is also pushing for a bigger EU autonomous military headquarters, though the need for this is unclear, given that even the NATO air operations centre had to be reinforced by American experts, as Mr Gates noted acidly. Moreover, Poland is among those countries singled out by Mr Gates for failing to do enough in Libya.

That said, Mr Gates did pick out some allies for praise in carrying out a disproportionate share of the bombing campaign in Libya: Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Canada. Why have they stepped forward when so many have not? Perhaps, suggests one American officials, it is because the action in Libya is seen by them not as an act of big-power bullying, or as part of an endless and ill-defined “war on terrorism”, but as a humanitarian action: the first test of the UN’s new doctrine of “responsibility to protect”. It is not just the fate of Libyans that is in the balance in the war against Muammar Qaddafi, but the commitment of Europeans to maintain – and, when necessary, deploy – serious military forces. Responsibility to protect requires, first and foremost, the means to protect.

Source: June 10th 2011

Gates Warns NATO It Risks Growing ‘Irrelevance’

BRUSSELS — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sharply criticized NATO nations on Friday for what he said were shortages in military spending and political will, warning of “a dim if not dismal future” and “irrelevance” for the alliance unless more member nations contribute weapons, money and manpower.

In his final policy speech, Mr. Gates issued a dire warning that the United States, the traditional leader and bankroller of the alliance, is exhausted by a decade of war and its own mounting budget deficits and simply may not see NATO as worth supporting any longer.

“The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense,” Mr. Gates said.

Although NATO ambassadors attended Mr. Gates’s speech, the reaction was muted, and there was little response from NATO capitals, which have heard similar criticisms from Mr. Gates before, though not in such candid terms. “But people should take note,” one NATO ambassador said. “This is not just an old curmudgeon leaving office. He cares about the alliance and says you need to start investing in it.”

The United States accounts for about three-quarters of total military spending by all NATO countries, and has in the past taken the lead in military operations and provided the bulk of the weapons and matériel. But in a post-Soviet world, there is growing resentment in Washington about NATO effectively paying for the defense of wealthy European nations.

Those strains have deepened considerably during the air war against the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the first NATO-run multilateral war where the United States has pulled back from leadership.

The strains come from differing commitments to the war from different NATO countries, the difficulties of coordinating air attacks, deficiencies of aircraft and ammunition and the simple cost of the operation, which is going on longer than many countries, including France, expected when it began on March 19.

If the United States did not have large stockpiles of ammunition, a senior NATO official said, the Libyan war would already have come to a halt. The Americans are selling the ammunition, but it was the American military budget that paid for its manufacture and stockpiling.

Similarly, NATO allies must still rely on American AWACS and refueling aircraft, American suppression of air defenses and American intelligence gathering. Even in a secondary role, by mid-May, according to a Pentagon memo circulating in Washington, the Financial Times reported, United States operations in Libya had already cost $664 million.

To a certain extent, the Libyan campaign represents precisely the shift that Mr. Gates warned was coming — namely, the European nations paying for more of their own security, and to that extent represents a “major strategic shift,” said François Heisbourg, a defense expert at the Foundation for Strtaegic Research.

But the Libyan campaign has also revealed inadequacies in European budgets and equipment that are likely to have a bigger impact on European spending than any swan-song scolding from an American official, no matter how respected.

At around $2 million a day, by some estimates, France is spending almost as much on Libya as it is on Afghanistan, French officials said on Friday, and about the same as the United States.

Even at a lower estimate of roughly 1 million euros — about $1.45 million — a day Libya has already cost France at least $120 million. But the costs are likely to have increased since the United States pulled back from a frontline position.

The French military budget is about $900 million for 2011, said René Carlé, the defense expert for the finance committee of the National Assembly. But the budget is “always underestimated,” and the government typically comes back to parliament for supplementary funding. In 2008, the final operations budget was $1.2 billion, he said.

Last year, he said, French operations in Afghanistan, where there are ground troops, cost around $675 million. Adding that to Libya will badly stretch the budget, and then there will be further costs to restock.

Britain, too, is being cagey about its spending in Libya, even as the current government vows to cut military outlays by about 8 percent over the next four years. There are estimates that Britain is spending about the same amount as France, around $9.8 million a week. But the British defense secretary, Liam Fox, has said that the budget is adequate for both Libya and Afghanistan.

Britain and France rank second and third within NATO on defense spending, after the United States. But Britain’s military budget is only about 7.7 percent of Washington’s (France’s is about 6.6 percent). Norway and Denmark have tiny military budgets of only $6.4 billon and $4.5 billion respectively, yet they have been flying strike missions over Libya, while much larger countries like Germany and Spain have not — but not because they lack the capacity, but because they disagree politically with the air strikes.

Europeans argue that they are spending blood and treasure to support Washington in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, far from Europe, and they are eager to draw down their forces there. NATO, some argue, would be best served, since Russia is no longer judged an adversary, as an alliance with more limited goals like defending Europe against other kinds of threats, like piracy, cyber war or natural disasters.

But Mr. Gates is not alone in arguing that the European allies of NATO must spend more to keep credibility with the United States.

In February, even before the Libya campaign, NATO’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, delivered a similarly strong warning about shrinking military expenditures to Europeans at the Munich Security Conference.

If the trends continues, Mr. Rasmussen said, “we risk a divided Europe,” “a weakened Europe” and “a Europe increasingly adrift from the United States.” He noted the rise of China and the impatience of Washington and said: “If Europe becomes unable to make an appropriate contribution to global security, then the United States might look elsewhere for reliable defense partners.”

Nick Witney, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that the comments reflected a familiar Gates theme. But “irrespective of how little or much Europeans choose to spend on their defense,” he said, “the fact is that the Americans will increasingly be looking to the Pacific and will be looking to decrease their military investment in areas like Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.”

Steven Erlanger reported from Paris. Reporting contributed by Stephen Castle in Brussels and Romain Parlier in Paris.

Source. IHT 10th June 2011

Źródło: Source. IHT 10 th June 2011
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