hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

NATO: Get a (Strategic) Grip Cameron

Alphen, Netherlands. 19 February.  One of David Cameron’s many failings is his total lack of strategic understanding and his tendency to see all and every big issue purely in terms of short-term domestic politicking.  He is at it again.  The NATO Summit in Wales on 4-5 September at Celtic Manor Golf Club will be one of the most important such gatherings of the past decade.  In December 2014 NATO will end major combat operations in Afghanistan.  It is time to properly consider the strategic future of the Alliance.  Given that context one would think that London in general and David Cameron in particular would be gripped by the need to establish a summit agenda early.  Not a bit of it.  For Cameron the Summit is not about NATO’s strategic future.  It is about the Scottish vote in the September 18 independence referendum and women’s votes in the 2015 General Election. 
Over the past fortnight three very senior insider sources have told me the same thing.  London has not even begun to think about either an agenda or desired outcomes for the summit.  Indeed, the only idea floated at the very highest level of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a summit statement on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.  Yawn!
Do not get me wrong, UN Security Council Resolution 1325 is important but this NATO nonsense is all too indicative of the obsessive political correctness which is destroying Britain as a serious power.  The symbolic choice of ‘Celtic’ Manor is also simply too gauche for words.  Indeed, by placing 1325 and matters Celtic front and centre it is clear that all Cameron wants from the Summit is a photo-op which somehow implies a big leader of a big Britain on a big international stage.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 
In my latest book “Little Britain? Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power” ( one of my arguments is that too often British leaders routinely confuse politics with strategy.  The Wales Summit is a classic example.  Wales should be the NATO Reinvigoration Summit.  There are four critical outcomes the British should be seeking in Wales.
First, the failing 2010 NATO Strategic Concept must be reinvigorated.  To that end the Alliance needs to undertake a proper scan of the changing strategic horizon.  NATO is a political-military alliance built on political realism.  Its job is to respond to the world as it is and in the worst case what the world could become, not as Alliance leaders would like it to be. Strategy needs big thinking and political courage from big leaders and now is the moment.
Second, a new transatlantic security contract must be established reflective of the many challenges the Alliance will face as the US pivots to Asia-Pacific and Europeans are forced to take on ever more responsibility for Europe’s rough neighbourhood.
Third, NATO’s collective defence must be brought into the twenty-first century.  Alliance missile defence, cyber-defence and the modernisation of NATO’s conventional and nuclear deterrent must be anchored in a reinvigorated Article 5.
Fourth, a new Alliance force concept is needed to underpin NATO defence planning firmly established on lessons from over a decade of operations.  This would include an Operational Capability Concept and reinforce the idea of clusters of Alliance nations modernising their deployable forces together built on lessons-learned and a well-established programme of exercising, training and, above all, experimentation.
NATO is today far from achieving any of these goals.  Indeed, my sources tell me that money is being actively diverted away from the vital Connected Forces Initiative to fund the rapidly-inflating €1 billion cost of NATO’s bloated new Brussels headquarters.  And, far from leading the charge towards strategy and efficiency the British are as usual being penny wise and pound foolish by reducing all and everything to an issue of short-term cost.
The only other thing that will happen at the Summit will be that NATO leaders will declare ritualistic ‘success’ in Afghanistan.  They will highlight the usual nonsense about the number of girls now attending schools compared with 2001 and the headline numbers of the Afghan National Security Forces.  They will ignore the huge gulf between the strategic ambition of 2001 to ensure Afghanistan is no longer a threat to its own peoples or anybody else and the 2014 reality.    
Naturally, no summit could solve all of these issues but with a modicum of British vision and a tad of British leadership the Wales Summit could help set the Alliance finally and firmly on the road to twenty-first century relevance.  Instead, London’s strategic myopia and endemic short-termism will ensure that the Wales Summit is backward and inward looking.
As a NATO taxpayer I really wonder why bother given the cost of this jamboree.  At least Alliance leaders can play a round of golf if they have nothing else worth discussing.
NATO: Get a (strategic) grip, Cameron!
Julian Lindley-French

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