By Alan W. Dowd
JULY 2019—The heart and soul of NATO is Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty: “An armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” Yet as the Cold War and the Soviet Empire melted away, Article V diminished in importance, and NATO reinvented itself into something of a global emergency response force. Between 1995 and 2011, NATO intervened in the Balkans to stop ethnic cleansing, in Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban, off the Horn of Africa to fight piracy, in Iraq to train Iraqi soldiers and in Libya to prevent a Balkans-style bloodletting. But new threats and old enemies have emerged in NATO’s backyard, forcing the alliance to return to its traditional role of deterrence.
NATO 2.0 is rising to the challenge of Cold War 2.0, but the alliance still has lots of ground to cover to reconstitute the quality and quantity of deterrent military strength needed to keep this new cold war from turning hot.
Before discussing the capabilities of NATO 2.0, we have to spend a moment on the causes of NATO’s return to deterrence.
In the past 12 years, Putin’s Russia has waged cyberwar against NATO member Estonia; invaded and dismembered NATO aspirant Georgia; developed and deployed missiles that violate the INF Treaty; invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, in violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum; shot down a civilian airliner; reactivated the 1st Guards Tank Army, a large armored force based in western Russia equipped with 500 main battle tanks; conducted scores of provocative “snap” military exercises; hacked into Western political systems and used weaponized leaks to undermine democratic institutions; armed the Taliban in Afghanistan; made outlandish claims on the Arctic and remilitarized its Arctic facilities; supplied North Korea with jet fuel; and increased military outlays by 125 percent.
As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg concluded during his recent address to Congress, Russia is engaged in “a massive military buildup from the Arctic to the Mediterranean.”
In addition, recent months have seen Russia’s air force revive the dangerous Cold War-era practice of buzzing and hounding U.S. warships. Russia’s army is menacing the Baltics and Poland. Russia’s navy has captured Ukrainian warships in international waters, taken over the Sea of Azov, gained a strategic foothold in the Mediterranean (courtesy of Syria), slipped warships into the English Channel for provocative sail-throughs, and returned to the Atlantic with gusto. Pentagon officials say Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic is “more than we’ve seen in 25 years.”
To be sure, Putin’s military is a shell of the Red Army. But it pays to recall that Putin’s military spending binge and aggressive actions occurred as most NATO members slashed military spending and shelved Article V.
Putin wasn’t the only person who took notice of NATO’s drastic drawdown.
In 2011, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates openly worried about the “lack of will” and “lack of resources” among NATO’s European members.
During the fight against ISIS, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter implored “all the Europeans…to make more contributions.”
At the end of his administration, President Barack Obama grumbled about “free riders” in Europe. At the beginning of his administration, President Donald Trump called NATO “a bad deal for America.”
Those of us who support NATO must admit that such criticism is not unwarranted. Simply put, some members of the alliance have failed in recent years to live up to the responsibilities of membership.
During the Cold War, for example, the U.S. accounted for 50 percent of NATO military spending; today, the U.S. share of NATO military spending is around 70 percent.
“We still do not have fair burden sharing within our alliance,” Stoltenberg concedes.
To address this problem, NATO in 2006 called on members “to commit a minimum of 2 percent of their GDP to spending on defense.” Yet by the end of 2019, only nine of NATO’s 29 members will meet that standard.
Years of underfunding, according to the British government, have led to “alarming deficiencies in the state of NATO preparedness.”
For example, the Royal Navy has been reduced from 89 ships to 65. Britain deployed two aircraft carriers in 2008; none a decade later. Britain’s Joint Helicopter Command had 257 aircraft in 2008 but just 164 by 2016.
At the height of the Cold War, West Germany had 2,125 tanks. Today, Germany has just 225—fifty percent of which are not combat-ready. Germany has just 21 operational helicopters (out of 126); 39 operational Eurofighter jets (out of 128); and one combat-ready submarine (out of six). Incredibly, German troops were reduced to using black-painted broomsticks to simulate machine guns during a 2014 NATO exercise.
But the problems were not quarantined to the other side of the Atlantic. In 2011, the Obama administration deactivated the Navy’s 2nd Fleet, which had been focused on defending the Atlantic and supporting NATO. In 2012-13, the Obama administration deactivated three key Army brigades in Europe and pulled every American main battle tank out of Europe—the first time since 1944 that Europe had been left unprotected by American heavy armor
Moreover, the way some allies approached NATO’s first Article V mission (the war in Afghanistan) did more to tarnish Article V than burnish it: Italy wouldn’t permit its fighter-bombers to carry bombs. German troops were required to shout warnings to hostiles—in three languages—before opening fire. Denmark refused requests for additional fighter-bombers. Germany, Italy and Spain avoided Afghanistan’s violent south.
So, the U.S. contributed 71 percent of all forces, while non-NATO members Australia, Georgia and Sweden deployed more troops than many founding members of the alliance.
Reawakened to the dangers on its eastern flank—and reminded that the world is not beating its swords into plowshares—NATO members are revitalizing the alliance.
Stoltenberg recently reported that by the end 2020, NATO’s European and Canadian members will add $100 billion extra to their defense budgets. Twenty-six members increased defense spending in 2018. By 2024, two-thirds of the alliance will reach the 2-percent-of-GDP standard.
Britain has put to sea the HMS Queen Elizabeth—the first of two brand-new aircraft carriers. The HMS Prince of Wales will be commissioned next year. British troops are spearheading NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Estonia. The British Defense Ministry has reversed a decision to close its base in Germany. British forces have trained nearly 10,000 Ukrainian military personnel. And Britain is expanding its role in the Arctic.
The French government is boosting its defense budget to $361 billion for the 2019-2025 period, up from $233 billion for the 2014-2018 period. As Defense News reports, the new budget will yield 6,000 new personnel, four nuclear-powered attack submarines, five frigates, six armed Reaper drones, 28 Rafale fighters, 55 Mirage 2000D fighters and 15 tanker aircraft.
Canada is increasing defense spending by 70 percent over the next decade.
The entire alliance has rallied behind a U.S. proposal to develop capabilities to deploy 30 troop battalions, 30 aircraft squadrons and 30 warships to any European crisis zone within 30 days of a go order.
America is doing its part for the common defense.
After Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the Obama administration quadrupled military spending in Europe (from $789 million to $3.4 billion), launched the European Reassurance Initiative to provide tangible evidence of America’s commitment to NATO, increased air deployments in Eastern Europe, returned three armored brigades to Europe, and committed U.S. troops to NATO’s forward-deployment plan in the Baltics and Poland.
The Trump administration has earmarked another $1.4 billion for Europe’s defense, resurrected the 2nd Fleet, brought Montenegro into NATO, authorized weapons deliveries to Ukraine, increased naval operations in the Black Sea, deployed troops to Georgia for training exercises, and rebranded the European Reassurance Initiative as the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI). As part of EDI, the U.S. is upgrading military installations in Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Latvia and Estonia. These EDI-related upgrades will allow for rapid deployment of fourth- and fifth-generation warplanes, heavy bombers and support aircraft.
The Defense Department recently shipped more than 620 ammunition containers to the port of Nordenham, Germany—“the largest single shipment of ammunition for Army and Air Force units in Europe in more than two decades,” according to Military.com.
In addition, Pentagon officials are working with Polish military officials on a plan to permanently base U.S. troops in Poland, which has pledged billions to build and sustain a permanent American presence.
Yet America’s investment in NATO is not just about European security. It’s also about U.S. security.
Indeed, ever since its founding in 1949, NATO has contributed directly to securing American interests.
The most important way NATO serves U.S. interests is as an insurance policy against great-power war.
For the United States, Article V insures against another European conflict triggering another world war that would inevitably—due to economic and trade ties, cultural and historical links, and humanitarian motivations—draw in the U.S.
For the rest of NATO, Article V insures against invasion—a security guarantee backed by the United States. Without that guarantee, there’s no security, as history has a way of reminding those on the outside looking in—from Cold War Hungary to post-Cold War Ukraine.
Like all insurance policies, there are costs associated with NATO. A recent study revealed that U.S. defense expenditures earmarked for Europe amount to $36 billion per year. That’s a lot of money. But consider what we get in exchange for that insurance premium: a Europe not at war with itself, a Europe reinforced against invasion, a Europe free from any hostile power, and the vast trade and economic benefits that flow from these realities. Representing almost half of global GDP, NATO’s members are the engine of the world economy. U.S. trade with NATO allies is more than $1.6 trillion annually.
The “myth is that our allies are making us poor by free-riding on our military expenditures,” as Gen. William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency, argued before his passing. “How are we to explain that the United States has gotten richer than its allies? Proponents of this argument cannot explain why. They fail to realize that our military alliances, by lowering transaction costs, have facilitated the vast increases in international trade from which the United States profits enormously. Our military costs should be seen as investments that pay us back.”
In short, NATO is neither a drain on America’s treasury nor a chain dragging America into Europe’s wars. It’s the very opposite.
“If we didn’t have NATO today, we’d need to create it,” as Gen. James Mattis concludes. “NATO is vital to our interests.”
Photo Credit: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_148417.htm – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg