European Security and Defence at a Strategic Crossroads
Session 1 – The last ten years : Lessons learned
NATO and the EU have gone through a significant change since the end of 1990s and have found themselves in a different climate both externally and internally. For NATO the past decade is marked not only by involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan but also by inner division the Alliance has seen over these two conflicts. Since the end of 1990s there have been two runs of NATO enlargement that have shown contrasting strategic priorities amongst members, which has altered the inner dynamics of the Alliance. The EU in the meantime has developed its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) whereby it has been engaged in several civil and military missions, positioning the European Union amongst global actors. Stemming from EU’s rising inititive in world politics there is considerable perspective for greater synergy between NATO and the EU. Although, according to the 2010 Strategic Concept, deterrence and collective defence remain bedrock for formulating Alliance’s future strategy, NATO is equally committed to protecting its security through crisis management and cooperative security.
There are several lessons to be learned from the conflicts that the Alliance has been engaged in since the new millennium. More attention should be given to NATO’s partner states that have participated side by side with the Alliance in its operations. Some of those partners have seen the toughest areas and challenges in Afghanistan and have paid a high cost in blood and treasure. Such contribution cannot be treated lightly, and capability development and training opportunities must be provided for those that wish to stay connected to the Alliance.
In its counter-insurgency operations NATO has relied on deployable expeditionary war fighting capabilities which in their nature differentiate from methods used in most peacekeeping operations in the 1990s. For NATO, it is crucial to retain the ability and capabilities to undertake war fighting and invest in the training and expertise required for Combined Joint Operations and the capability to deploy throughout Alliance’s territory. It is, however, still unclear to what degree some of the member states have sacrificed their war fighting proficiency in light of constrained resources. Continuing trend of defence spending and force reduction of European Allies is of increasing concern to NATO as it affects solidarity and transatlantic burden sharing. Europe must do more for its own security, especially in the light of rising defence spending in Russia and China and America’s shifting focus from Europe to Middle-East and Asia-Pacific region. Availability of the US assets for Europe cannot be taken for granted in the future. In the background of more and more limited resources the issues of Smart Defence and Joint Training Exercises should be addressed with higher regard.
Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have provided perhaps the most valuable lessons the Alliance has to learn from the beginning of the 21st century, but withdrawal from Afghanistan should not be seen as an end point for NATO operations. In the light of the Afghan experience, it is important to bear in mind for the coming missions that alongside war fighting, three issues of responsibility, governance and development must be addressed in order to achieve political success in a conflict area. Afghanistan started as a counter-terrorist operation, to which the dimensions of Stabilization and Reconstruction were only attached later. The Stabilization and Reconstruction phase that follows initial intensive fighting is usually the period which folds the most casualties. It is usually during that period when dealing with asymmetrical warfare becomes the key issue, which at first glance was seen as a new practice for the Allies. However, looking back in the history of the Brits, the French or the Dutch, counter-insurgency is not actually a fresh experience, as they learned their lessons of asymmetrical warfare already two centuries ago from the colonial warfare. Therefore counter-insurgency is not something strikingly new but rather a lesson forgotten.
Operationally speaking NATO was quite successful in Afghanistan in its fight against the Taliban. But can this also be seen as a success in broader terms? Past decade has shown that intervention usually accelerates the conflict and alters the initial goals of intervening forces. The politicians tend not to understand the conflict dynamics and seek to pursue the ’quickly in – quickly out method’, as they are far too optimistic about the local support to ideological justification of the intervention. Reality has shown that the subject population of humanitarian intervention might not share the ideals of freedom and democracy, due to which conflicts can remain volatile even after the regime is changed. Therefore the exhausting phase of Stabilization and Reconstruction cannot be left out or overlooked for the sake of bringing a solution to the conflict.
The notion of humanitarian intervention in general can be seen as a moral concept which at times is being practiced in a highly cynical way. In case of Libya external actors intervened with death toll somewhere around 270. In case of Syria, the number of casualties is counted in tens of thousands and the number is constantly rising, yet still no actions have followed.
Session 2 – The next ten years: Where do we go from here?
Looking at the construction of international politics in its largest sense, ongoing changes can be noted in the security structure of the world. The most important development is taking place at the highest possible level, as the current international system itself is changing. Liberal world order, the international practices and values that make the international system function in the way it does and has done for the West since the end of World War II and for the most of the world since the end of the Cold War, can currently be seen in a crisis situation, as it has not actually delivered on the promises that have been put up – it has not managed to deliver prosperous and secure, conflict-free world order.
As it is evident that certain restructuring of the international politics is about to happen, the sub-level to the global system, comprised of secondary institutions like NATO and the EU, will most certainly be affected by developments on the higher level. Since the changes seem to be happening regardless of whether the Western states approve or disapprove, the reasonable option would be to ‘go with the flow’. This meaning that, for preserving the liberal values of the current dominating security actors, the existing institutions, such as NATO and the EU, should be adjusted in a manner which would allow them to be operational in a new international arrangement whilst carrying on the values from the current one.
Thus the question that should be addressed while facing the future decade is how to forge the right kind of change for the existing institutions in a way that would preserve the current values in a new emerging era of international politics?
In order to face new challenges with a clear eye-sight NATO needs to sort out who it considers its partners and its opponents. This means establishing reviewed or new strategic partnerships based on shared interests with countries in the Middle-East, but also with Moscow and Beijing. Especially unclear is the status of Russia, as so far NATO has been riding two horses at once by depicting Moscow as a partner and then again as an adversary.
Inside the Alliance, new bargains underpinning the transatlantic relationship based on functionality and reciprocity are needed. European states have to increase their share in NATO spending in exchange for continuous assurances from the US part to hold high Article 5. Europe has been and will remain the ‘partner of choice’ for Washington, and this partnership should be further embraced by asserting the results already achieved. Largely due to cooperation in Afghanistan, NATO members have developed inter-operability in terms of personnel and logistics that has ensured the smooth functioning of the Alliance’s structure. Understanding and knowledge of mutual working methods has allowed 33 countries to rotate their troops in Afghanistan in every 6 or 9 or perhaps 12 months without any major command and communications issues, and this fluency inbetween Allies must be preserved.
Future operational areas for troops of NATO members will most likely be the Middle-East and Asia, the latter mostly due to Washington’s elevated attention towards Asia-Pacific region. However, the ‘pivot to Asia’ will not mean US withdrawal from Europe – ground force troop levels will remain consistent with what they have been in last decade and efforts for dealing with missile-defence will be increased.
The EU CSDP strongly carries the mark of austerity which will have its impact for the upcoming decade as well. Budget cuts have brought no conceptual revolution in military affairs of the EU but the austerity measures have been orientated towards prioritizing national defence policies. The phrase ‘pooling and sharing’ is becoming ever more popular in EU rhetorics but the practical level there has seen little progress so far.
In 2012 the total sum of defence budgets of EU members was estimated around €190 billion. These resources were used to ensure the functionality of 27 ministries and numerous headquarters, 20 air forces with 2 300 fighter aircrafts and 2 500 helicopters, 20 defence colleges, 35 000 armoured vehicles, 130 combat ships and etc. Of these weapon and support systems only a few can trace their origin back to the same manufacturer as output of various producers, including Russia, is used by the EU members. Such diversity needs to be reduced. An option for future harmonization of the use and procurement of assets within the EU would be a cooperation project for developing a coherent structure which would provide all necessary military means from armoured vehicles and helicopters to communication systems and field hospitals. This coherent set of systems could be tested using the Battle Group initiative which would involve all contributing countries. Out of the communication systems, the topic of Europe’s own satellite communication system should be brought out separately, as there are individual military satellite communications within the EU which are operated nationally and could be put to the use of producing the Union’s own EuroSatCom.
Changing the EU’s procurement and training policies to more co-optive could be a future example of functioning ‘sharing and pooling’ policy of which the best current example is Afghanistan, especially in terms of medical evacuation, air support and strategic logistics. The EU and NATO, with their ’pooling and sharing’ and Smart Defence policies respectively, have the same understanding of the potential of sharing assets and avoiding needless duplication. Thus, rooting the ’pooling and sharing’ approach could have a future in the EU, but it needs the co-thinking and understanding from ministers of finance and heads of governments. Another option for maximizing the security cooperation within EU would be to significantly intensify EU integration at a higher level. If the best security guarantee for the coming decade is seen in a more unified European Union, attention should be focused on how to get the member states to abandon the nation state paradigm and pursue becoming the united states of Europe.
Constant advance of technology has made small insurgent groups more and more capable in causing damage which must be noted in terms of EU’s domestic well-being. Especially worrying should be the fields of nuclear-, bio- and cyber-warfare where groups of just a few persons are able to cause serious harm. Domestic security will remain important for European states as the region is seen as an area for financing, recruiting and potentially conducting terrorist attacks by external Islamist terrorist groups. With the rather uncontrolled movement provided by Schengen area and increasing rates of illegal immigration from outside of the EU, human trafficking has intensified, which in turn provides more options for possible smuggling of elements of bio-, chemical- and nuclear-warfare into the EU. Also, in the light of recent Norwegian case, domestic extremism in the forms of far-left and far-right radicalism might be of rising concern.
Session 3 – Our backyard: Time for a tidy-up?
It is often the case that new conflicts emerge before the previous ones have ended. Settling a conflict is no easy issue, as it usually needs an escalation of actions to the extent where all conflict parties are exhausted or one side is winning decisively. Resolving a clash before the climax phase through foreign intervention usually leaves the conflict into a frozen state which is dangerous as the issues can be unfrozen at any time for political purposes. This is important to note as there are frozen conflicts present throughout Europe’s own backyard, from the Balkans to the Caucasus. Tensions in these areas are the results of unresolved escalation which can be put to political use. The question here is whether Europe alone is able to solve the security bundles in its own vicinity, or is there a need for additional actors with more resolute behavior. The answer seems to be that a power capable of decisively interfering into conflicts is only present across the Atlantic, which means that if things were to escalate in the Balkans or Transnistria, the US would most likely be engaged in these regions.
The Russo-Georgian war in 2008, with the accompanying territorial occupation and following military build-up, came as a shock as tensions were created and none of NATO’s requests and demands were fulfilled later on by Russia. From EU’s part, a satisfactory arrangement was reached between French Foreign Ministry and Moscow which by President Sarkozy’s actions was turned into something that basically justified the situation of Russian troops occupying Georgian territory, leaving another conflict to the state where it is now. Russia’s behaviour has become bolder ever since, resulting in airspace violations, for example in Iceland, that were unthinkable during the Cold War. In contrast to Moscow growing more daring, the Alliance seems to have gone from careful to apologetic in previous decade, which has resulted in no live Article 5 exercises being carried out. The last 10 years have also seen a shift of NATO’s focus, as a decade ago the value-based approach was being focused on, whereas in 2012 only interests are being talked about.
NATO’s shift to prioritizing interests over values in its relations with the Kremlin stems largely from Alliance’s operation in Afghanistan, in terms of which Russia is an imporant ally due to the Northern Distribution Network. NATO’s mission in Afghanistan is something that Russia is very two-faced about. On the one hand, it is appreciated in Moscow that NATO and its Allies are keeping extremist elements ‘busy’ and under control in the region. At the same time, it is debatable whether Moscow is really interested in the Coalition achieving its goals in Afghanistan because Western success story in the region would downplay Russian positions in that part of the world.
Afghanistan, with its ongoing turmoil, remains an issue for the Alliance, especially from the point of tidying up. As the Alliance’s mission is set to come to an end in two years, a post-2014 vision is necessary in order to address the issues that need to be resolved for unrest to end. Number one threat to Afghanistan in a longer term is corruption. It is currently one of the issues unresolved but it will have a great impact on how the country fares in the future.
In conducting its strategy the Alliance has limitations to its options. It is very often forgotten that NATO is executing the mission under UN mandate which determines NATO’s behavior. What started as a peacekeeping operation evolved into a counter-insurgency campaign. Link to international law is important to keep in mind as the Alliance is looking at a new mission post-2014 which will probably also be demanded to be based on a new United Nations Security Council resolution. The new mandate needs to be thought about thoroughly as this will clearly describe the works that the coalition will be allowed to do and these tasks have to address the actual needs of the country.
Prepared by Tato Kvamladze and Juhan Kinks, ICDS
Edited by re:finer