"An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which has never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry." — Thomas Jefferson
I have written several blog posts on the ineffectiveness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and that the alliance has pasted its useful shelf life. Today I feel vindicated by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
The ongoing involvement in Libya and the inability of the NATO members to mount a unified campaign against Muammar Gaddafi has proven to be the death knell of the 62 year old alliance.
The Treaty of Brussels, signed on March 17, 1948 by Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and the United Kingdom is considered the precursor to the NATO agreement. The treaty and the Soviet Berlin Blockade led to the creation of the Western European Union's Defense Organization in September 1948. However, participation of the United States was thought necessary in order to counter the military power of the USSR, and therefore talks for a new military alliance began almost immediately.
These talks resulted in the North Atlantic Treaty, which was signed in Washington, D.C. on 4 April 1949. It included the five Treaty of Brussels states, as well as the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. Popular support for the Treaty was not unanimous; some Icelanders commenced a pro-neutrality, anti-membership riot in March 1949. The NATO mission statement was as follows:
“The Parties of NATO agreed that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America[ shall be considered an attack against them all. Consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense will assist the Party or Parties being attacked, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
“Such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force" does not necessarily mean that other member states will respond with military action against the aggressor(s). Rather they are obliged to respond, but maintain the freedom to choose how they will respond. This differs from Article IV of the Treaty of Brussels (which founded the Western European Union) which clearly states that the response will be military in nature. However, it is often assumed that NATO members will aid the attacked member militarily. Further, the North Atlantic Treaty limits the organization's scope to regions above the Tropic of Cancer, which explains why the Falklands War did not result in NATO involvement.
Greece and Turkey also joined the alliance in 1952, forcing a series of controversial negotiations, in which the United States and Britain were the primary disputants, over how to bring the two countries into the military command structure. The incorporation of West Germany into the organization on May 9, 1955 was described as "a decisive turning point in the history of our continent" by Halvard Lange, Foreign Minister of Norway at the time. A major reason for Germany's entry into the alliance was that without German manpower, it would have been impossible to field enough conventional forces to resist a Soviet invasion. Indeed, one of its immediate results was the creation of the Warsaw Pact, signed on May 14, 1955 by the Soviet Union, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and East Germany, as a formal response to this event, thereby delineating the two opposing sides of the Cold War.
The unity of NATO was breached early in its history, with a crisis occurring during Charles de Gaulle's presidency of France from 1958 onwards. De Gaulle protested at the United States' strong role in the organization and what he perceived as a special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. In a memorandum sent to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on September 17, 1958, he argued for the creation of a tripartite directorate that would put France on an equal footing with the United States and the United Kingdom, and also for the expansion of NATO's coverage to include geographical areas of interest to France, most notably French Algeria, where France was waging a counter-insurgency and sought NATO assistance.
Considering the response given to be unsatisfactory, de Gaulle began to build an independent defense for his country. He also wanted to give France, in the event of an East German incursion into West Germany, the option of coming to a separate peace with the Eastern bloc instead of being drawn into a NATO-Warsaw Pact global war. On March 11, 1959, France withdrew its Mediterranean Fleet from NATO command; three months later, in June 1959, de Gaulle banned the stationing of foreign nuclear weapons on French soil. This caused the United States to transfer two hundred military aircraft out of France and return control of the ten major air force bases that had operated in France since 1950 to the French by 1967.
Though France showed solidarity with the rest of NATO during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, de Gaulle continued his pursuit of an independent defense by removing France's Atlantic and Channel fleets from NATO command. In 1966, all French armed forces were removed from NATO's integrated military command, and all non-French NATO troops were asked to leave France. This withdrawal forced the relocation of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) from Rocquencourt, near Paris, to Casteau, north of Mons, Belgium, by October 16, 1967. France remained a member of the alliance, and committed to the defense of Europe from possible Communist attack with its own forces stationed in the Federal Republic of Germany throughout the Cold War. A series of secret accords between U.S. and French officials, the Lemnitzer-Ailleret Agreements, detailed how French forces would dovetail back into NATO's command structure should East-West hostilities break out.
Over the years NATO thwarted the advances of the Soviet Union into Western Europe and Turkey. The alliance first began to crack when not every member became involved in the crisis in the former Yugoslavia and he bombing war of Kosovo. Neither had posed a direct threat to the security of the NATO nations.
By the time the United States became involved in Afghanistan in 2012 not every NATO member put troops into the field yet Afghanistan’s role by harboring the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, was considered an attack against the United States. Countries such as Spain, Greece, and Turkey refused to engage in combat operations against the Taliban with Germany offering only non-combat logistical support.
By the time France and Italy convinced the United States to support their “No Fly Zone” and bombings in Libya less than half of the Alliance members were participating. Germany out rightly refused to participate in any way and Turkey was strong-armed by France and Italy to provide some logistical support.
Over the ensuing years the role of the United States increased to the point where by the beginning of 2012 the U.S. was paying 40% of the bill for NATO.
Yesterday Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave his final speech to the Security and Defense Agenda think tank in Brussels by saying, “NATO was facing collective military irrelevance after years of inadequate defense spending by most of its members.”
The Los Angeles Times reports:
“In one of his last major addresses before his retirement this month, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Friday that NATO's sometimes shaky air campaign in Libya had "laid bare" the shortcomings of the alliance, which he said was facing "collective military irrelevance" after years of inadequate defense spending by most of its members.
In March, the alliance unanimously backed the decision to go to war in Libya to protect civilians from forces loyal to Moammar Kadafi,[sic] but Gates noted that less than half of NATO's 28 members were participating in the military operation and fewer than a third are conducting airstrikes against ground targets.
"Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they cannot," Gates said. "The military capabilities simply aren't there."
The assessment of NATO's capabilities came at the end of an 11-day around-the-world trip that included stops in Asia and in Afghanistan, during which Gates said goodbye to U.S. troops after four and a half years in office. A former CIA analyst, Gates has used the trip to review America's place in the world, including the state of the transatlantic security relationship that has been at the center of his four-decade long career in government.”
The Los Angeles Times report continues:
“In recent weeks, the U.S. has stepped up its involvement by providing nine additional aerial refueling aircraft, according to the senior American official. Overall, U.S. aircraft are flying roughly 75 percent of the sorties, Gates said.
Gates praised the role in Libya of Norway and Denmark, which he said had provided 12 percent of the strike aircraft for the operation but had carried out one-third of the airstrikes.
Even after years of public and private pressure by Washington on NATO allies to increase military spending, Gates conceded that there was little prospect of that happening, especially with the intense fiscal pressure many governments in Europe now face.
He called instead on NATO countries to allocate their limited military budgets more wisely, on weapons and other capabilities that complement, rather than duplicate, spending by other members of the alliance.
Gates said that the U.S. share of NATO military spending has risen to more than 75 percent, while there were only four other members of the alliance -- Britain, France, Greece, and Albania -- whose military spending now exceeds 4 percent, the target set by NATO.
As a generation of American leaders whose outlooks were not formed during the Cold War come to the fore, Gates warned that there would be "dwindling appetite and patience" for the U.S to expend the funds on nations "apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reduction in European defense budgets."
Gates has made no secret of his frustration with NATO bureaucracy and the huge restrictions many European governments placed on their military participation in the Afghanistan war. He ruffled NATO feathers early in his tenure with a direct challenge to contribute more front-line troops that yielded few contributions.
Even so, Gates' assessment Friday that NATO is falling down on its obligations and foisting too much of the hard work on the U.S. was unusually harsh and unvarnished. He said both of NATO's main military operations now — Afghanistan and Libya — point up weaknesses and failures within the alliance.
"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," Gates said.
Without naming names, he blasted allies who are "willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets."
The U.S. has tens of thousands of troops based in Europe, not to stand guard against invasion but to train with European forces and promote what for decades has been lacking: the ability of the Europeans to go to war alongside the U.S. in a coherent way.
The war in Afghanistan, which is being conducted under NATO auspices, is a prime example of U.S. frustration at European inability to provide the required resources.
"Despite more than 2 million troops in uniform, not counting the U.S. military, NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a deployment of 25,000 to 45,000 troops, not just in boots on the ground, but in crucial support assets such as helicopters, transport aircraft, maintenance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and much more," Gates said.
For many Americans, NATO is a vague concept tied to a bygone era, a time when the world feared a Soviet land invasion of Europe that could have escalated to nuclear war. But with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO's reason for being came into question. It has remained intact — and even expanded from 16 members at the conclusion of the Cold War to 28 today.
But reluctance of some European nations to expand defense budgets and take on direct combat has created what amounts to a two-tier alliance: the U.S. military at one level and the rest of NATO on a lower, almost irrelevant plane.
On a political level, the problem of alliance purpose in Libya is even more troubling, he said.
"While every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have participated, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission," he said. "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."
Afghanistan is another example of NATO falling short despite a determined effort, Gates said.
He recalled the history of NATO's involvement in the Afghan war — and the mistaken impression some allied governments held of what it would require of them.
"I suspect many allies assumed that the mission would be primarily peacekeeping, reconstruction and development assistance - more akin to the Balkans," he said, referring to NATO peacekeeping efforts there since the late 1990s. "Instead, NATO found itself in a tough fight against a determined and resurgent Taliban returning in force from its sanctuaries in Pakistan."
He also offered praise and sympathy, noting that more than 850 troops from non-U.S. NATO members have died in Afghanistan. For many allied nations these were their first military casualties since World War II.
For years NATO has been a paper tiger and it was only the threat of the use of nuclear weapons that kept the Soviet Union at bay throughout the Cold War. I can recall many conversations with my German friends from 1985 through 1998 while traveling in Germany and doing business. Not one of them was committed to NATO. They did not want to spend the required 4% of GP on defense and many were committed to pacifism. The believed they were doing “good” in Bosnia-Herzegovina as they perceived they were preserving the peace in Europe, yet reluctant to use troops in combat for any reason.
Today’s Eurocrats have no stomach for defense or the money to pay for it. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union Western Europe has been spending its “peace dividend” on their social welfare programs — a peace dividend they got by living under the security umbrella of the United States for 62 years. It’s time for the U.S. Congress to come to its senses and reexamine in role in Europe’s defense and let them spend their own money to fight their battles and exert their influence, Just as we should with the United Nations it’s time for Uncle Sugar to pull the plug and defend our national interests with our troops and our money. If the Canadians and Brits want to come along, fine, but they will need to pull their share of the wagon.