hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Thursday, 14 September 2017

SHAPE-ing Irma

Alphen, Netherlands. 14 September.  You know, I suppose I should be writing today about European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Onion 2017 address, which he made yesterday to the European Parliament. So here goes: more EU; more power for the Commission President; more EU defence (the Juncker Bunker?); much more EU foreign policy; an EU finance ministry to control Europe’s money; everyone to join the Euro like it or not; less member-state (except Germany); damn Brexit and sod the Brits (or is that the other way around?)!  Clear? Right then, that sorted. Won’t happen.

Back to the real world. NATO is nervous this morning, not to mention my friends in Riga, Tallinn, Vilnius and Warsaw. You will recall that last month I wrote about Zapad (West) 2017. As I write this massive Russian nuclear-tipped, 100,000 strong military exercise is getting underway. Zapad 2017 ‘sandwiches’ the Polish-Lithuanian border between Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.  If Moscow so chose it could very quickly roll this exercise forward into an invasion of the Baltic States.  The invasions of Georgia and Ukraine followed similar such Russian exercises.

In fact, my focus this morning is rather on the efforts of NATO allies in the Caribbean to help the poor people therein recover from the mega-hurricane Irma. Now, I am loathe to load more work onto NATO’s Allied Command Operations and it senior strategic headquarters, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe or SHAPE. They will have their collective eyes and ears focused firmly on NATO’s Eastern Flank this morning. But, hear me out.

On Tuesday I had a great chat with General Philip Breedlove, until May 2016 NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR). Phil and I are working closely on a new paper entitled Future War NATO that will be published shortly as part of Harmel 2.0, the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative, and for which I am the lead writer. We discussed the crisis in the Caribbean and the efforts of Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the UK to support the peoples in the region, some of whom live in former colonies, actual ‘dependent territories, and in the case of the French and Dutch islands that are technically part of both countries.

There has been much criticism of the aid efforts of all the countries involved.  In fact, not only was there significant levels of resource and force already pre-positioned, the sheer scale of the devastation wreaked by Irma swamped the efforts of the countries involved. They have spent the last week reinforcing that effort, as evinced by the Dutch decision yesterday to send the impressive amphibious assault ship the HNLMS Karel Doorman. And, to be fair to President Juncker it was good to see him yesterday offer EU support.

However, much of the problem has been a lack of co-ordination of the efforts of the four NATO members engaged therein. SHAPE would be ideally placed to lead such operations. Indeed, it even has the Comprehensive Crisis and Operations and Management Centre (CCOMC) embedded at its core which is designed to co-ordinate both military and civilian efforts.

Phil Breedlove also made an important political point to me that he has granted permission for me to share with you.  Such a NATO effort now would also send a strong message of solidarity to those in the Western Hemisphere bit of NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Area.  There is every reason to believe that Washington and others would be appreciative of such an effort. Make no mistake, the need for the European bit of the Alliance to send such messages to the North American bit is, and will become, ever more important. The days of one-way NATO are over.

SHAPE? Right now it is busy, but the clue is in its role; it is a strategic headquarters. Recently, I have been doing a lot of scenario-building and table-top war-gaming. Every future crisis I create involves NATO facing multiple, diverse and widely-separated simultaneous crises. In other words, NATO and SHAPE had better prepare to engage at one and the same time a future, and quite possibly, even bigger Super-Zapad and an Irma. It is simply the way of NATO’s twenty-first century world.  

Zapad 2017? In fact, I don’t think Russia will invade anywhere today. Rather, Moscow is sending me and you a message. Don’t worry Moscow, I hear you. Message received and understood: “We need a strong NATO!”Clear?

Julian Lindley-French

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