The Transatlantic Link after Chicago

Karl-Heinz Kamp
NATO Defence College
Year published

A review by Nigel Chamberlain, NATO Watch

The Transatlantic Link after Chicago, Karl-Heinz Kamp, NDC Research Report, Research Division, NATO Defence College, May 2012 (5 pages)

Despite the post-Summit griping, Kamp concludes that it seems prudent for NATO’s further evolution that at least every two years the alliance’s political leaders gather to give guidance. Acknowledging the limitations of the Chicago Summit, he states that omitted from the discussions was any debate about former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates’ forceful questions on how to address the reality of declining defence budgets and increasing demand for more burden-sharing. He reiterates that recent developments have highlighted “the growing mismatch between NATO’s ambitions and available resources”.

Kamp then examines the post-Chicago outlook under the headings ‘Decisive Trends and Developments’, ‘Consequences for the Transatlantic Link’, and ‘Political and Military Requirements’.

Decisive Trends and Developments

Having prepared the ground for the first of three standard presentation headings, the reader is immediately confronted with seven noteworthy security policy developments, the first of which, the current financial crisis, has three special strands for us to consider over-and-above preceding financial crises – its order of magnitude, its universality and its unpredictability. Having explained the depths of the crisis he concludes that the United States will ‘bottom out’ sooner than Europe but that, despite the political rhetoric, “there is not the slightest chance for higher defense expenditures in any major NATO member state. Deep cuts in NATO’s military capabilities will be inevitable”.

The second likely development will be increasing aversion to supporting ‘out-of-area’ operations with a greater emphasis on partnership interventions to “defuse smoldering crises” and to “enable regional actors to take security and stability into their own hands”.

The third trend is the possibility of regional instability inside NATO countries, or between member states, due to destabilisation, political extremism and societal breakdown. The volatility of the Arab world may present the fourth development facing NATO as “further uprisings or violent protests will surely occur” accompanied by demands for humanitarian intervention and debate about who will contribute to such missions.

A fifth development, a nuclear-armed Iran, could strain transatlantic relations in four ways – by revitalising the internal debate about nuclear weapons policy, by opening divisions over the advisability of military action against nuclear installations, the possibility of being called for defensive duty to protect Turkey and how to react collectively in the event of the closure of the Strait of Hormuz.

A sixth trend is the “constant worsening of the NATO-Russia relationship” based on missile defence disagreements, NATO enlargement disputes and increasing political influence and military imbalance between Russia and NATO.  As confrontation escalates, there are likely to be arguments within NATO about who is most to blame and how best to move the relationship in a more positive direction.

And lastly, there are the possible consequences to face from the US’ tactical switch away from Europe and towards Asia. Kamp suggests that most NATO members understand this need for some realignment and that they will have to cope with a reduced US engagement in European affairs.

Consequences for the Transatlantic Link

Despite his gloomy, if frank prognosis, Kamp remains ‘rather positive’ about the prospect of “preserving the transatlantic link and the relevance of NATO”. He outlines how forms of military intervention may be constrained by financial reality and hardware capability. ‘Coalitions of the Willing’ are more likely to be formed through NATO acting as ‘enabler’ or ‘facilitator’ for ‘Out-of-Area’ operations.

He explained, in some detail, how the Libyan campaign can be viewed as “a model for future burden-sharing in NATO and for a new transatlantic bargain”. He foresees the necessity of Europeans leading and executing most operations without direct US involvement. This, in turn, should encourage military action with all NATO members ‘on board’. This would result a stronger, more balanced transatlantic relationship with the US maintaining its powerful influence in Europe and Europe being able to call on the support of the US in the time of greatest need.

Political and Military Requirements

NATO must fulfil three military and political requirements if it is going to cope with the upcoming challenges – Smart Reductions, Interoperability and A Strategic Perspective.

Smart Reductions is a sub-set for the existing, much-vaunted NATO initiative of ‘Smart Defence’ which addresses procurement in hard times. Smart Reductions builds on this and calls for member states to synchronise their approach to defence cuts to ensure a smoother transition to fewer assets for more effective joint capabilities.

Interoperability, another key buzzword in NATO circles, stands for higher levels of understanding and greater cooperation at all levels and is linked to Secretary General Rasmussen’s ‘Connected Forces Initiative’ which Kemp admits is “so far more a catchword brought to the fore in a public speech than a viable concept”.

Finally, the author says that all Europe member states need to take a strategic perspective which extends beyond their collective geographical borders. While drawing attention to the fact that some have not yet acquired this vision, he stops short of naming them. While Washington neither really expects direct European military support for its global actions or for Europeans to increase their defence budgets it does expect Europeans to acknowledge the reality that the protection of ‘global interests’ might require the use of military force.

In this brief paper, Kemp has suggested the way forward for NATO in the intervening period between the Chicago Summit and the next one in around two years. Brief yes, but also concise, logical, almost jargon-free and highly realistic – not a collective of describing words I have been able to put together in assessing most of NATO’s publications and statements, thus far.