Posted: 09/04/2017
I would like to post, as food for thought, an interesting article by Harlan Ullman issued on Defence News. Since the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949, the alliance has often been riven with dire predictions about its future viability. That NATO survived the demise of the military threat for which it was established to contain _ the Soviet Union _ reflected why global security needed such an organization that was founded to defend the way of life not just for its 28 members. But with a recrudescent Russia challenging the old order in Europe, and non-traditional dangers in the form of the Islamic State group (IS) and other jihadi-inspired terror groups posing existential threats to the Middle East and disrupting Europe through the forced migration of hundreds of thousands of refugees, a revitalized NATO would seem self-evident. It is not. Despite the actions taken at last year"s NATO summit in Wales to bolster defenses against potential Russian encroachment into Western Europe, many of NATO"s members seem ambivalent or indifferent to the potential dangers emanating from the east and the south. While NATO maintains a small training mission in Iraq, the alliance is doing very little to contain and ultimately defeat IS. And the once-powerful NATO contribution to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan has, along with America"s withdrawal of the bulk of its troops, become token. With Russia"s aggressive intervention into Ukraine and now Syria and the declared establishment by IS of a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, where is the leadership in NATO calling for appropriate responses? US President Barack Obama preferred astrategic pivot to Asia, and while his administration threatened to intercede in Syria if the country's president, Bashar Assad, used chemical weapons against his countrymen and then demanded Assad must go, that belligerent rhetoric was empty. And the US tactic ofleading from behind in the air campaign that would force Libya"s then-President Moammar Gadhafi from office and lead to his death provoked a civil war with no end in sight. These facts raise the question of whether NATO is relevant to the 21st century or is simply a relic. To be sure, the Rapid Action Plan and new exercises and deployments to show resolve in the face of Putin"s Ukrainian gambit were taken at Wales. Yet, virtually all these responses are tactical and not strategic or political actions to reset the alliance on a new course to deal with the issues, threats, dangers and uncertainties of the 21st century. It has been the senior military who have largely proposed these changes to counter and deter Russia, obviously approved by political authorities _ but where and who are the political leaders arguing to adapt NATO to what a former supreme allied commander termed thisnew, new world"? The answer is that these leaders are missing in action. It is easier to spend rhetoric and words in response than to attempt to change the alliance"s actual course. However, unless leadership emerges, NATO runs the real risk of becoming moribund. What should be done? Next year"s heads of government NATO summit to be held in Warsaw provides perhaps a last opportunity to rejuvenate the alliance. A new, overarching concept is not needed. But a change in strategy is. To counter and deter Russia, bigger, more expensive weapon systems are not the answer. Instead, in the regions most vulnerable to Russian intimidation _ the Baltic and Black Sea states _ there should be a shift to what has been called aporcupine or hedgehog defense. This defense would be based on so bloodying any potential Russian incursion west to make such an undertaking too expensive. Armed with thousands of ground-to-air missiles such as Stinger and anti-armor weapons such as Javelin along with sea mines and other capacities to blunt an attack, this defense would be formidable. The other alliance members would provide supporting capability against Russian cyber, propaganda and economic tools, and indeed could even deploy small numbers of forces to demonstrate commitment. Such a strategy would not incur huge costs and indeed might actually prove less expensive. However, work needs to start now. Regarding IS and threats from the south, NATO could help promote a NATO-like alliance in those regions by expanding the Gulf Cooperative Council. To prevent provocation with Iran, a similar arrangement with Tehran should be pursued. NATO is at a, and perhaps the most, critical juncture in its history. Will it be a relic, or will NATO remain relevant? Only NATO can make that choice.