Happy NATO Day! Okay, this is not an anniversary of anything NATO-esque. But heaps of posts a-twitter about NATO, its members and so on. So, some semi-random shots at some semi-random NATO members and NATO in general.
First, France is the best-est ally ever! Lots of people linking to this article. Yes, the Libyan adventure certainly raises France’s profile as an active contributor, assertive military and the rest. But to be fair to the French (yes, completely out of character for me, given how easy it is to make jokes in my big lecture class), the Libyan crisis is not the first time that the French have been assertive.
During the Afghanistan war (which, by the way, is still an on-going NATO mission), France moved from being relatively restricted to being quite willing to take risks. When Sarkozy replaced Chirac, we all got a NATO-friendly (to say the least) President. Sarkozy moved some and then nearly all of French combat forces from the safety of Kabul to the more dangerous areas of Kapisa.
Postwar French have never been pacifists–they just have been known for pursuring their own interests. A lot of those interests were in Africa, with Qaddafi serving as a critical obstacle to French ambitions. So, the French are so very bold now, taking the lead in the effort, even willing go without NATO. Still a fun time and an interesting contrast to:
Second, the Germans look more feeble than ever, when the Foreign Minister (for at least a few more days) Westervelle* said that Qaddafi is falling due to economic sanctions. Now, we have German politicians across the spectrum from Helmut Kohl to Joshcka Fischer saying that Westerwelle is as bad a foreign minister as
Colin Powell Condi Rice they can imagine.
*Unless you are Italy, having a Foreign Minister named Guido is always going to raise questions about credibility.
Here is Fischer’s first question and answer:
SPIEGEL: What is it about Germany’s current foreign policy and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle that bothers you?
Fischer: Pretty much everything. As the former foreign minister myself, the lack of fundamental convictions pains me. This is fundamentally much worse than losing your compass. We are being governed by those who have lost touch with reality and are denying what’s obvious to everyone else.
I am sorry, but Fischer is being oblique. I really wish he could open up and say what he is really thinking. Fischer then goes on:
No, the behavior of Germany’s government during the Libya conflict, its abstention in the UN Security Council (vote in March on whether to impose a no-fly zone in Libya), was a one-of-a-kind debacle and perhaps the biggest foreign policy debacle since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. Our country’s standing in the world has been significantly damaged.
Okay. Now, Fischer is being a bit less opaque. Actually, this entire interview makes me want to vote for the guy. Anyhow moving on:
Third, I found this on twitter: “Dutch Defence Minister calls for pooling and sharing military capabilities in Europe.” Sure, smaller means working harder and smarter. Sharing and pooling would be smart, but we can only pool and share with countries that will release the forces (troops, planes, ships, whatever) to the multinational effort with few conditions. That is: NO CAVEATS and few requirements for phone calls home for permission.
Maybe it is not wise to write here one of the conclusions for the forthcoming book on NATO and Afghanistan, but one of the implications of the Afghanistan experience (and of the Libyan one and so on) is that countries will rarely give up national control of their militaries even when they are delegated to the most institutionalized, robust, interoperable alliance on the planet. So, if you build a military so that it can only do certain things and needs to depend on others to fill critical gaps, you have to gamble that when you are deployed, you will be partnered with countries that have pretty loose rules. Otherwise, you might be asking for, say, helicopters to extract your troops from a battle but the helo pilot has rules about not being close to the battle or it being night-time or whatever. You cannot pool if the other guy cannot be counted on to pool right back.
No wonder Napoleon apparently said: I would rather fight a coalition than be in one. On the other hand, he lost to a series of coalitions, right? So, there is really no alternative for the Dutch or the Germans or the Canadians or, with their latest cuts, the French and the British, to working together. But don’t expect it to be easy, simple or efficient.
Defense budget cuts make sharing and specialization sensible. The politics of participating in alliance warfare make sharing and specialization very, very problematic.