Obama’s trip to Europe this week focused the Washington think tank community on NATO and European relations.
This week’s Monitor analysis looks at how NATO is being pushed by US hawks to undergo certain changes to face what is perceived a renewed threat from Russia. However, the threat is more complex than it was during the Cold War in that many of the newer NATO members in Eastern Europe are militarily less powerful than the older NATO membership, which means they must be strengthened with deployed units from elsewhere. The analysis looks at what is being contemplated to be done and what is being done currently.
Think Tanks Activity Summary
The Heritage Foundation also looks at Obama’s trip to Europe and makes some suggestions on countering Russia. They note, “The President should make clear to Russia that any armed aggression toward a NATO member will immediately cause him to call for NATO to invoke Article 5 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty. The President should emphasize that the survival of NATO depends on the development of increased defense capabilities by European member states, as well as on the willingness of all NATO member states to stand up to Russian efforts to re-establish a sphere of interest in the independent states of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. President Obama should halt base closings in Europe and pledge a firm commitment to America’s military presence across the Atlantic. It is time for NATO to scrap the 1997 agreement with Russia, which limits the basing of NATO assets in Central and Eastern Europe. This would offer more opportunities for joint military training and demonstrate U.S. commitment to transatlantic security.”
The American Enterprise Institute looks at NATO’s dwindling land forces. They note, “Today’s allied land forces are smaller, lighter, designed principally to handle a wide range of out-of-area contingencies, and capable of operating in multinational coalitions. Moreover, they have been infused with operational experience from deployments in the Balkans, Africa, Iraq, and Afghanistan. But looking forward, the question is whether these forces have become too small and, because of budget constraints, lack the equipment to deploy rapidly and sustain themselves operationally. Combined with the planned cuts to America’s land forces, is NATO on the verge of losing a traditional, key strategic capability-the ability to control both territory and population?”
The Washington Institute looks at Turkey’s commitment to NATO and its recent moves to distance itself from the alliance. In this new Institute Research Note, author Richard Outzen argues that while it is premature to view this as an epochal event, examining longer-term trends brings greater concern. Turkey’s domestic political sentiment, trade patterns, and geostrategic thinking are undergoing a profound change — and this does portend fundamental shifts in Turkey’s relationship with the West in coming decades. U.S. policymakers should study these trends and work to mitigate possible negative consequences.
The CATO Institute looks at American military spending and argues that other NATO allies are relying too much on American defense spending for their own defense. They conclude, “We could have revisited our alliances after the end of the Cold war. We could have paid more attention to the culture of dependency we created among our allies. Instead we continued to spend vast sums on the military, discouraging others from developing their capabilities, and removing their will to use their militaries in ways that could have advanced both their and our security. Today, our wealthy allies are little more than wards of Uncle Sam’s unending dole, and they will remain militarily irrelevant so long as we continue along our present path.”
The Carnegie Endowment looks at Assad’s election in Syria. They argue that Assad will follow the Egyptian pattern and present himself as the alternative to terrorism. They conclude, “Following the June 3 election, Assad will continue to allow groups like the jihadi group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to operate in order to emphasize that terrorism is a shared interest for Syria and the West. He is likely to increase cooperation on the destruction of chemical weapons to show the international community that he can be trusted. He will in the meantime try to position himself as a reliable international counterterrorism partner. How the West reacts to the Syrian election sends important signals to Assad. It is crucial for the international community not to repeat the same, ongoing mistake of the Egyptian scenario. So far, condemnation of the Syrian election has not gone far beyond the level of rhetoric. The West needs to act urgently and decisively to break the cycle of hypocrisy that has allowed numerous Arab dictators to continue oppressing their own people by positioning of themselves as Western security allies.”
With the Egyptian presidential election over, the Washington Institute argues that the US must advance its relationship with Egypt. It concludes, “For the U.S.-Egyptian relationship to truly be “strategic,” Washington must have a sense of its strategy in the region and Egypt’s place in it. Such a strategy should involve strengthening weakened bilateral alliances, emphasizing security cooperation and bolstering allies’ own capabilities, and promoting long-term democratic and economic reform. A successful American policy in Egypt will not careen between these objectives but seek to advance them together — for example, by using a strong alliance as a platform to advocate reform and defend human rights. Yet a sensible policy must also recognize, amid Egypt’s internal turmoil, the limits of American influence in all of these areas by adopting a long-term view and prioritizing broad multilateral support for any policy initiative.”
The Heritage Foundation looks at fighting the terrorism threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They conclude, “Iraq is a crucial theater in the war against al-Qaeda and a key oil producer whose surging oil exports are increasingly important for the world oil market. The Obama Administration has neglected to adequately address the metastasizing threat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. It should work much more closely with the new Iraqi government to combat ISIS and implement a comprehensive national reconciliation strategy to drain away support for the Sunni insurgency and stabilize Iraq.”
The CSIS also looks at the crisis in Iraq. The problems Iraq faces in 2014 are a legacy of mistakes made during and after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but increasingly the nation is dealing with the self-inflicted wounds of its leaders who abuse human rights, repress opposing factions, and misuse the Iraqi police and security forces to their own end. It pessimistically notes, “No outside power can change the situation.”
The Carnegie Endowment argues that maybe the European Union can restart the Israeli/Palestinian peace talks. They note, “However, from a decade-to-decade perspective, many of the main ideas for settling the conflict were incubated in Europe before they became common diplomatic wisdom. Most notably, the two-state solution that now is touted as the “known solution” was one that U.S. officials found literally unspeakable for many, many years. Not so in Europe. The first time that the European Community, the precursor to the EU, tackled the question was with its 1971 Schumann Document, which proposed the creation of demilitarized zones, the Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, and the internationalization of Jerusalem.”
The RAND Corporation looks at the evolution of al Qa’ida and other Salafi-jihadist groups. It finds the number of Salafi-jihadist groups and fighters increased after 2010, as well as the number of attacks perpetrated by al Qa’ida and its affiliates. Examples include groups operating in Tunisia, Algeria, Mali, Libya, Egypt (including the Sinai Peninsula), Lebanon, and Syria. These trends suggest that the United States needs to remain focused on countering the proliferation of Salafi-jihadist groups, which have started to resurge in North Africa and the Middle East, despite the temptations to shift attention and resources to the strategic “rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific region and to significantly decrease counterterrorism budgets in an era of fiscal constraint.
NATO – Revision 2.0
Probably the biggest news coming out of Obama’s trip to Europe this week was the increased focus on NATO’s defense against Russia. Advocates of such course admit the task isn’t one that can be solved by a three day visit to Europe. To them it requires the restructuring of NATO from a rapid reaction force that could be used in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, back to a conventional land army that is tasked to defend Europe from the newly rising Russian threat.
Yet, this change isn’t merely a return to the old NATO of the Cold War. That NATO was comprised of economically powerful nations with large conventional land armies. And, although there were several countries bordering the Warsaw Pact nations like Greece, Turkey, and Norway, the major emphasis during the Cold War was on protecting West Germany from a massive armored attack across the German Plain.
Today’s NATO faces more challenges. Not only are there more nations “threatened” by Russia projection of influence and power today, they are considerably more vulnerable than NATO was 25 years ago, when the Soviet Empire collapsed. The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have no fighter aircraft of their own and can only muster three tanks between them. Estonia is already spending over 2% of their GDP on defense spending (the NATO goal for member nations) and Latvia and Lithuania are promising to double their spending in order to reach that goal.
The other major European NATO powers are spending more, but are still falling behind. Only Great Britain and Greece joined Estonia in hitting the two percent benchmark, and Greece reached that goal more as a response to Turkey than Russia. Poland has been increasing military outlays, in a major arms modernization and spent 1.8 percent last year (that will go up to 1.95 in 2015). France and Turkey fall short. Germany comes in at 1.3 percent. Italy is at 1.2 percent. Overall, NATO hit 1.6 percent last year.
By comparison, America defense spending was 4.1 percent of GDP.
NATO’s Shifting Mission
One reason for the low defense spending by the other NATO allies is the shifting mission of NATO from a conventional military alliance to a post Cold War small, rapid reaction force. Smaller, more mobile forces didn’t need the level of spending, which pleased NATO countries, which could use the additional money for domestic programs.
Many analysts even saw post Cold War NATO, not as a military alliance, but as an alliance of democracies. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in 2002, “NATO can be usefully re-imagined. Its new role should be to serve as incubator for Russia’s integration into Europe and the West. It is precisely because NATO has turned from a military alliance into a trans-Atlantic club of advanced democracies that it can now safely invite Russia in…NATO is dead. Welcome, Russia, to the new NATO.”
Needless to say, that idea is now dead. But, it can’t merely return to the old NATO concept with a massive conventional army in Germany. There are more fronts to cover and several weak allies that must be protected until they develop more powerful militaries.
Obviously the keystone to an eastern NATO defense is Poland. Poland has the largest military establishment in Eastern Europe and is strongly committed to its defense against Russia. It has also contributed towards the mission in Afghanistan, which means it has a small core of combat trained troops. It also has the largest army in Eastern Europe, with about 900 tanks and over 100 combat aircraft. Although much of the equipment is former Soviet, they are aggressively modernizing with new German Leopard tanks.
US military strategists are looking in to the problem; however they see, with the exception of Turkey, the rest of the front line NATO nations are militarily weak and could be easily invaded by Russia. That means NATO must not merely rely upon a massive, slow moving conventional military force in one place, but a mobile force capable of quickly deploying to a threatened NATO country and being capable of combating a Russian Army as soon as it enters the theater.
The US has already begun working on this. In April, approximately 600 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade deployed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland for training and NATO exercises. In March the United States increased the Poland Aviation Detachment (AVDET) with additional F-16s. These F-16s and airmen will act as a tripwire in Poland and improve coordination with the Polish Air Force. In addition, three C-130J aircraft were deployed to Powidz Air Base, Poland, as part of a regularly scheduled two-week AVDET rotation.
Another need is for NATO to pre-deploy equipment and forces to front line nations that will not only act as a tripwire, but can allow for a rapid mobilization in a crisis.
One such operation is the NATO air operations in the Baltic nations. In March, the United States deployed an additional six F-15Cs to augment the four F-15Cs already in Lithuania in order to have a quick reaction interceptor aircraft force to protect Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The U.S. rotation began in January and ended in early May. Since then, Poland, the United Kingdom, France, and Denmark, have assumed the air policing mission in the Baltic.
Although the threat in Southeast Europe is less, NATO has also increased its presence there. Canada deployed aircraft to augment NATO air policing in Southeast Europe. In addition, there is the Black Sea Rotational Forces (BSRF) based out of Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) Air Base, Romania, which includes 250 Marines. There are also 500 U.S. troops and 175 U.S. Marines temporarily based out of MK Air Base. The Marines are part of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) that is designed to respond to a broad range of military operations in Africa and Europe.
The NATO meeting this week in Brussels saw additional measures to rapidly reinforce NATO nations. NATO defense ministers agreed to a Readiness Action Plan, which will improve the NATO Response Force’s (NRF) capability, upgrade NATO’s intelligence and awareness, pre-position equipment and supplies in frontline NATO nations, and focus NATO exercises on the threat from Russia. The United States pledged several thousand service members to the NRF, including a brigade combat team from the 1st Cavalry Division, air-to-air refueling tankers, and escort ships.
NATO ministers also approved Germany’s initiative on “Framework Nations,” which will help boost multinational forces in Eastern Europe. The NATO Secretary General welcomed the decision by Denmark, Germany and Poland to start work to raise the readiness of Multinational Corps North East in Poland. “This will strengthen our ability to address future threats and challenges in the region. And it is a significant contribution to our collective defense,” he said.
NATO will also have to increase cooperation with non-NATO nations friendly with the West. NATO Defense Ministers met their Ukrainian counterpart Mykhailo Koval in the NATO-Ukraine Commission. They reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s security and defense reforms. A comprehensive package of measures aimed to increase the capacity and strength of the Ukrainian armed force will be finalized in the coming weeks.
Although NATO doesn’t have the manpower to station large combat units in the frontline NATO nations, they need to step up exercises that rotate more forces through these nations, while increasing cooperation with the militaries of these countries. To that end, NATO launched a large-scale exercise, STEADFAST JAVELIN 1, in Estonia on May 16. Around 6,000 troops from Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States participated in the exercise which finished on May 23. Many participants were already in Estonia taking part in the annual Estonian-led KEVADTORM14 exercise that began on May 5 and was merged into the NATO-led event.
Finally, individual NATO nations will have to reconfigure their militaries to the new reality. This may mean that armored units that were scheduled for demobilization may remain active. NATO nations that were anxious to retire main battle tanks too large for operations in places like Afghanistan may keep them active. It may also mean more emphasis on armor technology than there has been in the past decade. US military industrial complex will get its lion share of course from any future military build up
And modernization by these countries…..
Is This Enough?
Although NATO’s defense forces are considerably smaller than they were at the end of the Cold War 25 years ago, the NATO nations have cobbled together a plan that will refocus NATO on the current threat, while giving the individual nations a chance to modernize their respective defense forces.
NATO does have several advantages that help. First, it has more of a defense in depth that it during the Cold War. 25 years ago, most of Western Europe was within range of the Russian military. Today, countries like Germany, France, and England are far removed from the potential front lines, which make it harder for Russia to deliver a decisive blow against NATO.
Another advantage according to US military leaders is that NATO’s military – especially the major nations of the UK, France, Germany, and the United States have more technologically advanced militaries than the Russian Army, which still relies on leftover equipment from the Cold War. They can hit harder and more effectively than Russia can ever hope to.
Ironically, the post Cold War NATO also gives the alliance another advantage they claimed. The focus on small rapid reaction forces that could carry out combat operations in Afghanistan is critical to countering the Russian threat today. Since the Eastern NATO frontier is so large, NATO must rely upon the rapid movement of forces from theater to theater during a crisis. These forces, which contain a large number of combat hardened troops that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, will be more capable than their numbers suggest.
NATO planners boast also that NATO has a much larger logistics chain – both in its military and its commercial infrastructure. That means the military units of the US, France, Britain, and Germany can rapidly deploy into Eastern Europe in case of a crisis.
They stress finally, NATO has a much larger economic base than Russia. Therefore, was the winning edge during the Cold War and, if anything, the advantage is even greater today than it was a quarter century ago.
To the military adventurists ,although Russia remains a threat to Europe, NATO has started to take the threat seriously. Until several of the newer NATO nations upgrade their conventional combat capabilities, they will have to rely upon the major NATO nations to provide technologically advanced, highly mobile, professional forces to act as a tripwire and counter to Russian military might. The only question that remains is if European NATO members will be able to sacrifice much needed funds for another illusion of preparing for a new cold war that only benefiting the trans-Atlantic military industrial complex.
President Obama Goes to Europe: Top Five Policy Recommendations
By Nile Gardiner, Theodore R. Bromund, and Luke Coffey
June 4, 2014
Issue Brief #4234
President Obama’s visit to Europe this week will be an important opportunity for the U.S. President to restate America’s commitment to the transatlantic partnership, strengthen the NATO alliance, and shore up European opposition to Russian aggression against Ukraine. Across the Atlantic, President Obama should also take note of the mounting disillusionment with the European Union, expressed in recent European parliamentary elections, and voice his support for the principles of national sovereignty and self-determination in Europe, as well as economic freedom and free trade. Below are Heritage’s recommendations for what the President should do and say in his meetings with European leaders and in his public and private statements.
To Defeat Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Stronger Counterterrorism Cooperation Needed
By James Phillips
June 3, 2014
Issue Brief #4233
Iraq faces major political, national security, and economic challenges that should be addressed by the new government that emerges from the April 30 elections. Last year, more than 7,800 civilians and 1,050 members of the security forces were killed in political violence and terrorist attacks, making it Iraq’s deadliest year since 2008. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), formerly known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, has staged a bloody comeback and seized large swaths of territory in western Iraq. Its leader has threatened attacks against the U.S. homeland, and it is recruiting foreign fighters in Syria who could carry out this threat. Washington urgently needs to step up cooperation with Iraq to address this mounting threat.
Our Freeloading Allies
By Christopher A. Preble
May 29, 2014
One of the overlooked aspects of President Obama’s speech at West Point yesterday was his call for other countries to step forward, and do more to defend themselves and their interests. He also expected them to contribute “their fair share” in places like Syria.
It might have been overlooked because it was neither new, nor unexpected. Polls consistently show that Americans believe we use our military too frequently, and they are tired of bearing the costs of policing the planet. Meanwhile, the minority who believe that we should be spending more on the military – 28 percent of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll – might not feel that same way if they knew how much we spend as compared to the rest of the world, especially our wealthy allies.
Iraq in Crisis
By Anthony H. Cordesman and Sam Khazai
Center for Strategic and International Studies
May 30, 2014
Iraq is a nation in crisis bordering on civil war in 2014. The country now faces growing violence, a steady rise in Sunni Islamist extremism, an increasingly authoritarian leader that favors Iraq’s Sunnis, and growing ethnic tension between Arabs and Kurds. The recent Iraqi election offers little promise that it can correct the corruption, the weaknesses in its security forces, and the critical failures in governance, economic development, and leadership. The problems Iraq faces in 2014 are a legacy of mistakes made during and after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but increasingly the nation is dealing with the self-inflicted wounds of its leaders who abuse human rights, repress opposing factions, and misuse the Iraqi police and security forces to their own end.
NATO’s land forces: Losing ground
By Guillaume Lasconjarias
American Enterprise Institute
June 4, 2014
The state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) land forces is something of a paradox. Although the alliance has no equal in terms of its gross domestic product, commands a wealth of human and social capital, and boasts the world’s largest aggregate defense sector, NATO’s land forces in particular have lost ground when it comes to their overall combat capacities. In member states, the effects of the worldwide economic crisis on defense budgets have been compounded by dwindling public support for the continued commitment of national armed forces to apparently insoluble foreign conflicts. Nevertheless, as the alliance draws down its longest and costliest mission in Afghanistan, now is the time to review the lessons learned from a decade of sustained combat operations and to ensure they are implemented in time for the next major deployment. Overall, the idea is to shift from a “NATO deployed” to a “NATO ready” mode; the challenge, according to US General Philip Breedlove, current supreme allied commander in Europe, is to maintain the operational excellence acquired over the past decade
Assad’s Election: A Security Quest
By Lina Khatib
June 2, 2014
On June 3, 2014, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looks forward to securing a new seven-year presidential term in a sham election conducted in the shadow of regime violence. A key objective for Assad in his third term is consolidating his “counterterrorism” campaign—in other words, presenting his crackdown on Syrian opposition groups as a fight against jihadism. In doing so, Assad is betting on the eventual support of, or at least coordination with, the international community in this new “war on terror,” which would secure his position in power. Although Western countries have called the June 3 election a “parody,” Assad’s bet is not too far-fetched. The Egyptian case shows why.
Can the EU Revive the Cause of Middle East Peace?
By Dimitris Bouris and Nathan J. Brown
May 29, 2014
Two very strong assumptions have governed much international diplomacy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the past decades. The first is that the solution is known, so all that is necessary is strong leadership—and U.S. determination—to arrive at that goal. The second is that European action is not likely to have much independent effect, so Europe can at best only support American efforts. The unhelpfulness of the first assumption is now apparent to all but a few diehards. That makes it an especially important time to demolish what remains of the second assumption. This is not to suggest that Europeans can succeed where Americans have failed. Rather, Europe might be able to have some long-term positive effects in precisely those areas where the United States has decided not to go. This conclusion flows not from unrealistic optimism but from a hard-nosed look at the past.
Turkey’s Commitment to NATO: Not Yet Grounds for Divorce
By Richard Outzen
Research Notes 19
The history of Turkey’s relations with the United States and NATO has been characterized by stable commitment on security matters and remarkable volatility in political matters. In a time of great political change in Turkey — the end of military tutelage and the ascendance of political Islam over Kemalist secularism — how far from the North Atlantic political consensus can Turkey move without affecting its security role within NATO? The preliminary decision taken by Turkey last year to select the Chinese HQ-9 intercept system for its air defense network caused much speculation in Western capitals about whether this development marked a definitive change in Turkey’s strategic identity.
Egypt After the Election: Advancing the Strategic Relationship
By Michael Singh
May 30, 2014
Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s apparent victory in Egypt’s presidential election this week marks the beginning of a new chapter for his country, though not necessarily the end of its political and economic turmoil. The past three years have not only left Egypt gripped by domestic troubles and economic malaise, they have also resulted in further deterioration of bilateral relations. Cairo has looked inward, immune to advice or influence, while Washington has looked on in bewilderment. Although American officials continue to describe relations with Egypt as “strategic,” they have in fact become transactional, with one side trading its immediate needs for the other’s: the United States needs a stable and cooperative Israeli-Egyptian relationship and preferential access to the Suez Canal, while Egypt needs military hardware and international recognition. Paradoxically, Egypt has had the upper hand in the relationship despite its troubles, mainly because it believes it can turn to others to meet its needs in the short run — Russia for military equipment, the Persian Gulf states for aid, and the international community for validation. Washington, in contrast, has no geopolitical substitute for Egypt.
A Persistent Threat The Evolution of al Qa’ida and Other Salafi Jihadists
By Seth G. Jones
This report examines the status and evolution of al Qa’ida and other Salafi-jihadist groups, a subject of intense debate in the West. Based on an analysis of thousands of primary source documents, the report concludes that there has been an increase in the number of Salafi-jihadist groups, fighters, and attacks over the past several years. The author uses this analysis to build a framework for addressing the varying levels of threat in different countries, from engagement in high-threat, low government capacity countries; to forward partnering in medium-threat, limited government capacity environments; to offshore balancing in countries with low levels of threat and sufficient government capacity to counter Salafi-jihadist groups.
Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
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