Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Monday, June 17, 2013

NATO’s “Smart Defense” Initiative: Maximization and Responsibility-Sharing

NATO’s “Smart Defense” imitative came front and center at the NATO summit in Chicago last year, and has had many supporters and detractors (one French Senator went as far as to say it was simply an extension of the American military-industrial complex). The “Smart Defense” initiative, however, represents an excellent opportunity for NATO. With the Cold War over for more than twenty years, many have called into question NATO’s relevance, advocating more ad hoc alliances such as the so-called “Coalition of the Willing” or the conglomeration of nations, led by the UK and France, which intervened in Libya during the uprising against Colonel Gaddhafi.
Many in Europe fear for their security because of a perceived turning away by the U.S. from Europe (most notably President Obama’s “pivot” toward Asia). As global security priorities change from so called “traditional” to “non-traditional,” and specifically as European security issues present new and unprecedented challenges, “Smart Defense” may be the prime opportunity for NATO to adapt to the new era and revitalize its pertinence in global and Trans-Atlantic security.
Throughout human history, military power has generally been equated with troop numbers and the related ability to project force en masse. Yet even in ancient times this was not always the case: at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., an alliance of Greek city-states fielded an army against Persian King Xerxes, whose army was eight times the size of the Hellenic alliance. While the issue of who the real victor of the battle was is often a matter of historical, even cultural, perspective, at the end of the day a Greek army was able to hold its own against a vast military power by which it was outmanned eightfold.
Most Americans generally associate U.S. military projection abroad with deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, which are of course winding down. The U.S. military is, however, actually deployed in virtually every part of the world, with highly trained, élite units such as the Special Forces (the “silent professionals”) serving in a training and advisory capacity to local indigenous forces, imparting expertise in the fields of counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, jungle warfare, etc. While U.S. troops may not be doing much or even most of the actual fighting, their work is nonetheless a critically important facet in U.S. military projection and security.
The premise of the Atlantic Alliance’s “Smart Defense” initiative is that “each euro, dollar [or] pound sterling counts.” Or, as NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rassmusen has stated: “In an age of austerity, we cannot spend more. But neither should we spend less. So the answer is to spend better.” The top priorities for European security now include financial security, energy security and conflict prevention/resolution. As such, many of the new threats that NATO faces and will continue to face in the 21st century will not require large troop numbers, but rather will emphasize having a highly skilled, educated and agile core of personnel. As Doug Brooks and Fiona Mangan point out, there is no sense in having warriors with special skills and abilities “peel potatoes."
Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation predicted that the U.S. budget sequester will have negative geopolitical implications for U.S. national security and the country’s ability to project power abroad. Yet sequestration was already preceded by NATO’s Smart Defense Initiative, and may simply compliment the Smart Defense plan. One should hope that the budget sequestration will not last forever, or even for a terribly long time, but the need to maximize spending power of every penny should incentivize the West, rather than work to its defense and security detriment.
It is no secret that of all 28 NATO member states, the U.S. is by far the largest guarantor of security. Many, in fact, assert that U.S. military power vis-à-vis Europe’s relative lack thereof has created a culture of dependence in Europe. Of late, however, many NATO states have shown a greater willingness to take initiative in military operations abroad. For instance, Canada under Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made participation in peacekeeping operations a cornerstone of its defense policy, and France has taken the lead in combating Islamic militants in Mali. If the U.S. government makes spending cuts in the defense sphere, it may induce U.S. allies in Europe to strengthen their own militaries and take more responsibility for their own defense.
As alliance members begin to take more responsibility for their role in the organization, it’s possible that member states may even specialize in certain areas. With cyber security as a new and emerging issue, Estonia, one of the most wired countries in the world, may take the lead in developing the cyber defense capabilities of the alliance (they would no doubt be in a position to do so, having been the victim of massive cyber attacks from Russia). Likewise, France may become the spearhead for force projection in West Africa, as France has long regarded its post-colonial African territories as constituting a sort of “near abroad”. The same applies to the field of intelligence: the secret services of a small nation like Lithuania are often called upon to fill the intelligence gap for the intelligence services of larger, more powerful countries vis-à-vis the Baltic States.
Despite the apparent shift in economic, political, and security priorities to the Asia-Pacific region, the United States still conducts the overwhelming majority of its trade with fellow NATO allies, and the infrastructure for defense cooperation and interoperability is already firmly established, to the tune of nearly seventy years. Those who argue that NATO is simply a relic of the bipolar, Cold War world should understand that with a new, multi-polar world with multiple threats and potential challengers, the U.S. and its allies can even less afford to lose such valuable partners. Smart Defense should be taken as an opportunity to fortify the organization and increase its relevance on the global stage.
The biggest challenge for this new program, at the risk of sounding cliché, is to implement Smart Defense in a smart manner. Each NATO member should focus on strengthening its military capabilities within its national defense budget constraints, and should focus on what it, as an individual country, brings to the alliance as a whole, whether in terms of technical specialty, soft power projection or even geographical leverage.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Is the US Scrapping the Pivot?

A few days ago political scientist and Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer made an astute point on Twitter: "Hillary/Donilon/Geither to Kerry/Rice/Lew. Lots, lots less Asia focus in 2nd term Obama team. Let's hope Xi Jinping doesn't notice." I think Bremmer's assessment is spot on. Practically all of the most important people who have worked to implement the economic, diplomatic, military-security, and political components of the so-called Pivot to Asia have left the Obama administration. Even (former Defense Secretary) Leon Panetta, who did significant work on the pivot, is gone.

And it's not as if the outgoing personnel are being replaced with a new cast of Asia hands. John Kerry, Susan Rice, Samatha Power, and so on, are most comfortable working on transnational relations, ethno-religious conflicts, genocide, failed states, Africa, and the Middle East. All of these issues are important, to be sure, so is peace and stability in Asia. At this point, it seems the Pivot has quickly become a thing of the past.

Of course, we can debate whether the Pivot was the right set of policies to cope with a rising, confident Asia, a region with much promise and potential pitfalls. I have questioned the Pivot's emphasis on military and security affairs in Asia, believing it risked appearing too provocative to China. That said, if the Pivot wasn't working, if it wasn't achieving it's designed goals, that's not a good reason for America to scrap completely its focus on Asia. Create and execute a different Asia policy. But, alas, apparently that's not the case.

Just look at what John Kerry has spent most of his time on in his new position: the Middle East. He made a quick three-day visit to Japan, China, and South Korea in mid-April, a trip that was narrowly focused on crisis diplomacy involving North Korea. On the other hand, Kerry has already made four trips to the Middle East, as he tries to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives and resolve the ongoing violence in Syria. In fact, those four visits don't include his travels to Russia and Belgium, where he continued his diplomatic maneuvering on Syria.

I fear this is what foreign policy will look like for the rest of Obama's term in office. Team Obama will fixate, as has been the case in American foreign policy, on Middle Eastern politics. Asia will surface from time to time, only when a crisis emerges or when the US coordinates a visit with Asian political leaders, like today's trip to California by Xi Jinping. This is unfortunate.

By again obsessing about the Middle East and downplaying the importance of Asia, the U.S. will, in effect, cede ground to China in the competition for power and influence, especially in Asia. As a result, China can breathe a sigh of relief. Team Obama has probably just relaxed the noose of containment. America's allies, such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, etc., should be very concerned about their status and position in the region. And once again, the U.S. is likely left wanting for a set policies that can protect its interests in Asia.