“Today, Allies committed, by 2020, to having 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons, four combat vessels, ready to use within 30 days or less”.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, 7 June 2018
NATO’s New Realism?
Alphen, Netherlands. 8 June. NATO took some important steps yesterday to modernising Article 5 collective defence. NATO also enjoyed a ‘first’ – the first ‘Defence Ministerial’ in its shiny new railway terminus, sorry, headquarters. At American bidding, the ministers agreed a NATO Readiness Initiative. The so-called ‘Four Thirties’ will be central to reinforcing deterrence in an emergency by enabling rapid reinforcement of forward deployed forces. The proposed force is a kind of beefed-up version of the old Allied Command Europe Mobile Force which was disbanded in 2002 (due to British defence cuts) and was designed to act as a strategic reserve able to move quickly to any NATO hot-spot. Critically, the new force will plug a dangerous gap between spearhead forces, immediate follow-on forces (NATO Response Force), and the bulk of NATO forces which would take up to 120 days to mobilise in an emergency. If, that is, the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.
My hope is that the June 2018 Defence Ministerial will also come to be seen as the prelude to a July 2018 NATO Summit at heads of state and government level at which realism finally broke out amongst the Allies. And, that the prospect of real war might just make those discussing a trade war at today’s G7 meeting in Canada pause for thought. My other hope is that Secretary-General Stoltenberg will be given the credit for his quiet professionalism and his determined focus on returning the Alliance to the fundamentals of an innovative, modernised Article 5 collective defence. If, that is, the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.
Adaptation in Action
Some very good people have been working for a long-time to realise the agreements at this week’s ministerial. The adaptation of the NATO Command Structure is a vital step towards an Alliance that will be able to respond quickly to crises across both the conflict spectrum and the Euro-Atlantic theatre, a vital component of a credible deterrent. The new Joint Force Command in Norfolk, Virginia will be a vital partner for Allied Command Transformation and re-establish a relationship between new thinking, new doctrine and new ‘doing’ that was broken when the US scrapped its own Joint Force Command. Critically the new command will also help preserve all-important interoperability with US forces. If, that is, the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.
The new Enabling Command based in Ulm, Germany is a contemporary realisation of Omar Bradley’s famous dictum that ‘amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics’. The Alliance must be able to generate high-end military force quickly or move the right for force to the right place rapidly and then sustain such a force for the entirety of an emergency. If not, the very foundation of military power projection (there is no such thing as a static defence these days) upon which twenty-first century Article 5 defence and deterrence stands will be critically undermined. Readiness of force and rotation through an emergency are the twin components upon which the Alliance conventional deterrent relies. Too weak or too slow and the threshold to possible nuclear force is lowered. Of course, to realise such a force the nations must keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.
The Defence Ministerial also confirmed a new Cyber Operations Centre, evidence that NATO is truly beginning to adapt to the new warfare that stretches across hybrid, cyber and hyper domains and which was the centre-piece of the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative (https://www.globsec.org/news/globsec-nato-adaptation-initiative-final-report/) which was led by General John Allen and for which I had the honour to be lead writer. If NATO is to meet the challenge of twenty-first century ‘war at our seams’ deterrence and defence will need to stretch across resiliency, protection and projection. Indeed, if NATO is to maintain all-important military comparative advantage its forces will also need to be empowered with a new form of mission command flexibility at all levels that will need to reach across the seven domains of twenty-first century warfare: air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge. But, only if the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.
Secretary-General Stoltenberg also pointed out the, “four consecutive years of real increases in defence spending”. He went further, “All allies are increasing defence spending. More allies are spending 2% GDP on defence and the majority of Allies now have plans to do so by 2024”. Stoltenberg highlighted the $87 billion more that Canada and the European allies have spent on defence since 2014. And, that, “When it comes to capabilities, Allies have committed to investing 20% of their defence spending on major equipment”. One does not have to read deep down between Stoltenberg’s lines to see NATO’s boss endeavouring to forestall a Trump-bashing over equitable burden-sharing at the forthcoming Summit. Burden-sharing will be the elephant in the elegant conference room and if Canada and the European allies want the Alliance to survive, and to be more than a force generator for coalitions led elsewhere, they will all need this time to keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.
Trump-Proofing the Alliance
This is precisely why recently I proposed to both the White House and London that when President Trump make’s his big ‘you bloody Europeans start pulling your military weight or else’ speech during his July visit to NATO and the UK he might want to do it on the deck of Britain’s brand new 72,500 ton heavy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. By the way, the first of ‘Big Lizzie’s’ teeth arrived yesterday at RAF Marham in Norfolk, England in the form of four F-35B strike fighters. For once, well done Britain! Good timing. In other words, President Trump needs to avoid making a, ‘you Europeans are a bunch of free-loading, appeasing, weak and pathetic wasters who for too long have sponged off the American taxpayer and I am going to put a stop to it’ type of speech. Why? Because America needs allies.
Rather, and respectfully, the President’s speech should read something like this: “Today, I am standing on the deck of this beautiful, gorgeous ship (I am factoring in Trump-speak). This mighty brand new, multi-million dollar warship. And, friends, you know what, she does NOT fly the Stars and Stripes but the White Ensign, the symbol of our Old Ally Britain and Britain’s mighty Royal Navy which has for centuries brought order to the world’s oceans. HMS Queen Elizabeth, great name friends, is proof-positive that with the right will our European allies can step up to the plate. And, that our Europeans allies have finally come to realise that America can only defend them if they do more to defend themselves. Proof positive that when the Allies keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to NATO really is the shield which protects us all and a sword which together we can all wield in the name of righteous peace. The good news? Next year our British allies will launch another of these great ships”. Cue Royal Navy F-35Bs flying over in salute.
The Allies have committed, by 2020, to having 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons, four combat vessels, ready to use within 30 days or less”. But, only if the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to. This train must leave the station. It cannot afford to be late!