By Nigel Chamberlain and Ian Davis, NATO Watch
The recent NATO Defence Ministers meeting in Brussels, the first since the announcement of a NATO summit next year in the UK, was accompanied by the usual tightly choreographed discussions behind closed doors followed by terse statements and briefings outlining key areas of success and forward momentum. There was little room for self-doubt or caution. This comment piece is designed to address that imbalance by highlighting four questions that NATO would rather not talk about.
1. Can NATO’s defence gap be bridged?
In response to a question from Dieter Eberling from the German Press Agency (DPA), prior to the first day of the Ministerial Meeting, Secretary General Rasmussen welcomed the German proposal to create a ‘Framework Nation Concept’. He said that such cooperation could lead to acquiring and developing much needed military capabilities and advance the Smart Defence concept and added that he expected that Defence Ministers would discuss it and decide to continue working on it.
The Secretary General didn’t mention this issue after the meeting but did confirm, in response to a question from Sabine Siebold from Reuters, that he had “heard a lot of appreciation for the German proposal” and that there had been a “very constructive discussion” on it. He added that “Ministers agreed that we should continue to work on this project” but qualified this with “I see the German proposal as one of several avenues to ensure that we can acquire the necessary military capabilities in the future”.
Adrian Croft and Sabine Siebold wrote later that British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters in Brussels: "We think this is a good initiative which has the potential to sidestep some of the delays that we have had in NATO processes in the past.” They point out that the proposal would help share the cost of expensive military systems at a time when many NATO allies are slashing defence spending in response to the economic crisis.
However, a senior European diplomat apparently said (on condition of anonymity): “It could prove dangerous, and limit allies' access to military capacities, if certain nations specialize uniquely in certain types of mission and disengage on others.” French officials in particular expressed concern that, under this approach, certain capabilities may no longer be available to NATO because German law requires that any foreign troop deployment is approved by parliament. Thus, it could also make it more difficult for NATO to use forces on operations because a parliament in one country could effectively veto military action by other nations in the cluster.
Earlier Spiegel Online reported that the German Plan Faces Broad Opposition as, according to officials, France was trying "to discredit" the German proposal and was "making a huge effort in the capitals and at NATO headquarters to pull over to their side those countries that have remained open, but had not yet clearly backed the plan”. Their conclusion was: "We have to count on France's fundamental opposition."
Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, Sarwar Kashmeri, suggests one way forward would be to ‘Seize the Moment to Fuse NATO with the EU’. He asserts Europeans do spend enough on their defence, over $250 billion dollars (almost equal to the US defence budget prior to 9/11), “a huge sum considering that the Europeans have no interest in policing the world”, but spent it inefficiently.
He believes that Europeans can overcome “their parochial defence thinking” and construct a European defence capability “but it will take a dose of straight talk and tough medicine from Washington to point them in the right direction”. Kashmeri states that deployments under the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) have demonstrated what can be achieved when Europeans decide to define and defend their collective interests, but the CSDP has been “marking time even as NATO continues to dissolve into a mechanism for generating coalitions of the willing”. He urges a fundamental reassessment of the relationship between the EU and NATO and the upcoming December 2013 meeting of the European Council.
US Defence Secretary Hagel has spoken of the need to resolve the worsening gap in defence capabilities within NATO, saying that “as NATO adjusts, it must address the gaps in military expenditures and capabilities of its partners. The tough decisions cannot continue to be deferred.” During the Cold War, the US accounted for roughly 50% of defence spending by NATO members. Now the US share is more than 75%, he argues. Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council Dr Jorge Benitez wrote in a recent article that "Either our European allies change their defence behavior or the US will, but the current imbalance within the NATO alliance is not sustainable. However, as NATO Watch has argued on numerous occasions, much of what the US spends has nothing whatsoever to do with NATO or European security.
2. Why such slow progress on NATO support for Libya?
Just prior to the Ministerial, a NATO statement was issued stating that the Alliance had agreed to respond positively to the request made by the Libyan prime minister for NATO to provide advice on defence institution-building in Libya. Officials provided few details about the mission but it is understood that a small team would advise on strengthening the security forces rather than hands-on training and be based in Brussels. In response to a journalist’s question the day after the announcement, the Secretary General said that the purpose of the mission is to help the Libyan authorities build defence institutions, such as a modern defence Ministry or general staff of the military. It could also be to help the Libyan authorities develop a security architecture and a defence sector.
Libya was one of the subjects discussed when the Secretary General met President Obama at the White House on 31 May. The President said that NATO has an important role to play in ensuring that Libya does not become a safe haven for terrorism. On 4 June Secretary General Rasmussen confirmed that NATO had decided to send an expert-level delegation to Libya to identify areas where it can provide security assistance. A team of experts dispatched to Libya was due to report back by the end of June. Endorsing this NATO effort, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said it would “enhance security for the Libyan people, and it will help address a security challenge on Europe's southern flank.”
In an opinion piece in allAfrica, Abdel Bari Atwan welcomed readers to the new ‘liberated by NATO’ Libya – a country “without the oil revenues which could make it rich, with no security, no stability and assassinations and corruption at unprecedented levels”. He referred to an article in the Economist covering a report about the implosion of Libya. He had been told that the capital Tripoli had no water or electricity for a whole week and that armed militia dominate and rule the streets in the absence of a workable government, a national security establishment and basic municipal services. He added that it was very rare to find a Western reporter in the country and even more rare to read a decent report about Libya and what is really going on there.
In his column in the Lebanon Daily Star, David Ignatius reminded readers that in March 2013 Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan requested US help in training a ‘general purpose force’ to protect government officials and safeguard basic services. He stated that Libya has become a nation of lawless militias where the government can’t hold meetings safely, yet US officials said any training would not start until next spring, at the earliest, despite President Obama stating that he wanted to accelerate assistance.
Ignatius says that his perceptions of Libya are shaped by a former student of his who has spent the last year in Tripoli studying constitutional reform who apparently warned in December 2012 that the imperative was for US training of Libyan security forces to protect government institutions. He questions why, nearly a year later, “we’re still waiting”.
Karim Mezran, a Libyan political scientist and senior fellow of the Atlantic Council says that the situation in his country is so fragile that NATO may have to send in its own security forces to keep order until the long-delayed training program is ready. This may be wishful thinking. We at NATO Watch do not expect any movement on support for Libya from Brussels until, and unless, the Obama Administration leads the way.
3. Are NATO and Russia going to cooperate to help eliminate Syrian chemical weapons
Answering a journalist’s question after the NATO-Russia Council, Secretary General Rasmussen said he “would suppose that all members of the NATO-Russia Council would stand ready to assist the UN and OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] if requested” but no concrete action was discussed in the meeting. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said: “It may well be that NATO will be asked for some assistance. Russia and NATO have many areas of common interest, including the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles.” And Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that if Russia received a request for help with eliminating the Syrian weapons, it would consider it and was ready to discuss the issue with NATO countries.
In an opinion piece in early September, NATO Watch Director Ian Davis and Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC) Director Andreas Persbo called for just such a cooperation and explained how it might be achieved, concluding:
Notwithstanding all the potential difficulties, the prospective prizes could be mouth-watering: not only a tentative route map out of the mess in Syria but also a broader strategic, normative and political rapprochement between NATO and Russia and a re-invigorated United Nations.
A senior NATO official referred to it as a “pretty good, pertinent piece” so we can only ask why the subject was not a main agenda item at the Ministerial?
Syria submitted its formal initial declaration covering its chemical weapons programme to the OPCW on 24 October, three days before the deadline for compliance. The OPCW statement said that “such declarations provide the basis on which plans are devised for a systematic, total and verified destruction of declared chemical weapons and production facilities” and that the declaration “includes a general plan of destruction for consideration by the OPCW Executive Council”. Inspectors have visited at least 21 of the 23 chemical weapons sites declared by Syria.
Michael Luhan, a spokesman for OPCW, told reporters that the declaration means that Syria would “no longer have the capability to produce any more chemical weapons, and it will no longer have any working equipment to mix and to fill chemical weapons agent into munitions.” The Executive Council of OPCW will review Syria's ‘general plan of destruction’ and decide whether to approve it by 15 November.
The United States has proposed shipping some of Syria’s chemical stocks for destruction to other countries and has approached a number of governments. Norway has turned down an American request that it participate, citing “time constraints and external factors, such as capacities, regulatory requirements”. Denmark has indicated that it stands ready to assist in their destruction. Both are Member States of NATO. As there is no information in the public domain to indicate if Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu’s offer to cooperate has been followed-up, this is beginning to look like a missed opportunity to improve NATO-Russian relations.
4. Where absolute secrecy prevails - absolutely
Tuesday 22 October 13.00 and 14.30 – Meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group
So what did our elected representatives have to say to each other in the NPG? Perhaps they ruminated on the following interesting piece of news?
The Dutch Public Prosecutor has decided he cannot indict former Prime Ministers Ruud Lubbers and Dries van Agt for publicly sharing the state 'secret' that there are US nuclear weapons assigned to NATO based at Volkel Air Base in Brabant. As the Dutch Government will neither confirm nor deny their presence, the prosecutor cannot determine if a state secret was shared.
Mr Lubbers made the revelation in a documentary for National Geographic, saying,
"I think they are an absolutely pointless part of a tradition in military thinking”. A spokesman for the Royal Dutch Air Force was quoted by Dutch broadcaster NOS as confirming that these issues "are never spoken of”.
Or perhaps our elected representatives discussed US plans to re-manufacture the existing variants of the B61 bombs into a newer version - the B61-12 - which will be more accurate. The Dutch and the Italians plan to replace their current nuclear capable F-16 jets with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Germany has no plans to replace its nuclear-capable Tornado jets when they leave service. The US also has B61s based in Belgium and Turkey but have withdrawn them from Greece and the UK – allegedly.
Retired US Marine Lt. Col. James Zumwaltis is concerned that Turkey is moving towards becoming an Islamist state while being part of NATO's 'nuclear sharing' arrangement. He writes that Turkey has 70-90 US B61 nukes at Incirlik Air Base, "most of which are kept in a constant readiness state for immediate loading onto US bombers. The United States plans to give Turkey its newest nuclear weapon in 2019. While US-installed safeguards exist on the weapons, in the world of high technology nothing can be an absolute guarantee".