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Time to Put the Old Dog Down? Debating the Future of NATO

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) celebrated its 70th anniversary and after the long passage of time, it is almost as if the alliance has become a fixture of Europe’s security architecture. Founded at the start of the Cold War as a collective response to the threat of Soviet expansion into Western Europe, the alliance has since outlasted the conflict by close to three decades. This longevity should not be taken for granted. Similar organisations like the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) failed to even last the full stretch of the Cold War, and in order to remain relevant, the alliance has had to reinvent itself politically following the end of the Cold War, a process that again became necessary in the wake of 9/11. Indeed, it is the ability of Western Europe’s old guard dog to learn new tricks that has helped extend its lifespan beyond the completion of its original mandate.

Nonetheless, age has not been kind to the alliance. “No Action Talk Only” – a tongue-in-cheek play on the abbreviated version of alliance’s name –is a less than flattering description of its effectiveness but one that is perhaps becoming increasingly justified as criticisms against it mount. Ironically, it is the resurgence of Russia that has precipitated the latest round of soul-searching, with the annexation of Crimea and NATO’s relatively muted response highlighting concerns over its continued ability to live up to its raison d’être of being a collective bulwark against external encroachment. The findings of a recent study showing that NATO lacks the capacity to effectively defend its Baltic members against Russian adventurism does little to alleviate these concerns, nor do U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest allegations which suggest that the alliance has outlived its usefulness. NATO certainly has its flaws, but these imperfections aside, how valid is this latest wave of criticism? Is it perhaps time to put the old dog down?      

The U.S. and NATO: First among Equals

To address the question of whether the alliance still has a future, it is important to examine what allowed it to succeed in the past. Essentially, the question that should be asked is why has NATO managed to survive as long as it did where many of its peers have not. There is one important reason for this – the tangible commitment of U.S. military forces to the defence of Europe. Despite the U.S.’ own initial misgivings over the benefits and costs of maintaining a permanent military presence in Europe,[1]the fact of America’s eventual contribution provided the foundation upon which a lasting security arrangement could be based. The importance of this cannot be understated. Under the Cold War’s bipolar framework and with most of Western Europe’s post-war economies in tatters, American commitment was crucial to constructing a collective framework that was credible and effective enough to deter Soviet expansion.

Equally important was the idea that NATO was from the very onset more than just a military pact. It was also an alliance of shared values, underpinned by America’s commitment to rebuilding Western Europe’s shattered economies and fostering long-term economic growth and prosperity.[2]As encapsulated in the preamble to the North Atlantic Treaty, America’s involvement in NATO was not just a marriage of convenience – it is also an acknowledgement of the shared belief in “the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law”. NATO’s existence was therefore as much a product of ideology as it was of practicality. This does not however mean that the U.S. was purely altruistic in its outlook toward European security, but there were certainly more commonalities that could be leveraged and built upon than not. Resulting from this, NATO’s framework of collective security was a more deliberate and holistic undertaking than similar projects initiated in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, where partnerships were often more opportunistic in nature. U.S. involvement in Vietnam for example was more focused on finding military solutions at the expense of other possible diplomatic and political options, a decision that ultimately doomed the enterprise to failure.

A subtler but no less important contribution which the American involvement in Europe provided was to serve as a moderating force between its European allies, helping to allay pre-existing tensions and mistrust. It should not be assumed that a Europe unified is the natural state of affairs, particularly given the continent’s fractious history. It is worth pointing out that in the half-century prior to NATO’s formation, the greatest threat to stability in Europe was Germany, not the Soviet Union, a fact that was painfully demonstrated by the two World Wars. Even in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, Western Europe was more concerned with a potential threat of a revived Germany than that from the Soviet Union.[3]The U.S. may therefore be unequally yoked in terms of its contributions to Europe’s collective defence as compared to that of the other NATO member states, but its status in the alliance as a first among equals places it in a unique position to foster greater unity than would otherwise have been possible.

It is perhaps then this tacit acceptance of America’s unofficial leadership that has helped the alliance survive its initial birth pangs and even thrive thereafter. At the same time, it is this very dependence on American support that has made President Trump’s recent comments about the potential withdrawal of the U.S. from NATO so problematic. While Western Europe has come a long way since the bleak post-war years – the European Union’s (EU) total value of all goods and services produced (GDP) surpassed the U.S. in 2017 – future predictions for a NATO shorn of U.S. assistance are understandably pessimistic even if, to paraphrase the famous American author Mark Twain, the rumours of its death are greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, the historical record proves that NATO will be better off with the continued involvement of the U.S. than without.

The Case for NATO

Should NATO then be allowed to continue to exist? There are numerous angles with which to address this question but this paper shall focus on three conceptual perspectives. First, before deciding whether to put down the guard dog, it is important to consider why it was placed there in the first place. NATO’s primary mission has always been the defence of Western Europe, specifically from Soviet encroachment,[4] and while the end of the Cold War provided a brief respite from a state of constant vigilance, the recent tensions with a revanchist Russia suggest that the threat has merely been dormant. The issue then is less whether the guard dog still has a purpose but how the new parameters of its assigned domain should be defined.

Indeed, NATO’s post-Cold War eastward extension has been a significant contributing factor toward escalating tensions with Russia,[5]particularly with Russia’s interests predominantly focused in the post-Soviet region where it seeks to reinstate and maintain its position as the dominant regional actor, by military force if necessary.[6] Where NATO draws the line is important then because while Russia does not necessarily seek to recreate the Soviet Union,[7] it cannot tolerate Western encroachment into what it perceives as its own backyard. Part of NATO’s earlier success rested on the simplicity of its mission as well as the clear dualistic nature of the Cold War’s bipolar framework. NATO’s eastward expansion has however arguably corrupted its mission and added unnecessary complexity.[8]Despite the gains that have been made thus far by NATO, particularly in the Baltic region, further modification to the existing status quo must be tempered by prudence. 

Second, it has already been argued that NATO is more than just a military pact, but the extent to which the ties that bind its member states have evolved bears further examination. In his study on the security dynamics of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Dr. Ralf Emmers explored the concept of security communities. According to the constructivist approach, a security community is the final evolution of a defence network, which when fully integrated is characterised by shared identities, values and meanings; multiple and immediate relations among its members; and numerous instances of reciprocity based on long-term interest.[9]In this state, the use of force within the community becomes unthinkable, resulting in a lasting peace. After decades of cooperation, NATO’s member states have arguably become, or approached a state close to, what a security community is. While Western Europe enjoyed a long peace during the Cold War in terms of its successful avoidance of open war with the Soviet Union, the long peace was also embodied by the lack of hostilities between the member states of NATO, a feat that Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), a former Supreme Allied Commander, has described as the alliance’s greatest accomplishment. The value of maintaining this community therefore extends beyond the alliance’s military objectives, and its successful political and military integration of Germany is perhaps the most prominent testament to the alliance’s enduring ability to positively shape and influence the region’s security architecture.[10]

Furthermore, NATO’s existence serves to enshrine a regional form of strategic culture, one that directs the bellicose energies of Western Europe outwards against an external threat as embodied by the Eastern “Other”. Dr. Yitshak Klein defined strategic culture as “the set of attitudes and beliefs held within a military establishment concerning the political objective of war and the most effective strategy and operational method of achieving it”, and in the case of NATO, the most obvious means of countering the potential encroachment of a more powerful Eastern foe was through collective defence.[11]The nature of the foe is more subjective, but while the role of penultimate villain has most recently been filled by the Soviet-Russian menace, similar parallels can be drawn to historical precedents such as the Mongols and Ottomans. Neither is the notion of a collective response new, and the German historian Hubertus Prince zu Löwenstein and diplomat Dr. Volkmar von Zühlsdorff, observing the alliance in action during its formative years,even described it as but another manifestation in a long tradition of Western collective defence, one that included the likes of the Hellenic League and Roman Empire.[12] NATO of course formalises these mechanism more concretely, and with the western reaches of the European continent bounded by the sea, ensures the internal peace of Western Europe as long as sufficient buy-in exists in the centrality of the alliance to regional security.

Finally, the reality is that there is no real viable alternative to NATO. Even the United Nations (UN) is inadequate, hampered by its inability to take decisive action in the event of a crisis by the potential abuse of the veto powers afforded to the permanent members of the Security Council. This problem is exacerbated when such actions run counter to the national interests of that member, such as when the Soviet Union vetoed the 1947 decision to restore order in Greece following an earlier local communist uprising.[13]Ultimately, in spite of all its flaws and imperfections, NATO remains the most viable means of enhancing regional security, and while that speaks more to the lack of alternatives than to NATO’s own capabilities, it should not detract from the benefits the alliance brings as described above.

Final Musings

In closing, it is fair to say that NATO still has something to contribute in terms of enhancing stability in Europe, and by extension the world. Pressing issues will still need to be resolved, not least the repairing of NATO’s fractured relationship with the U.S., but the sense is that the continued presence of NATO is on the whole a positive rather than a negative. Like an old guard dog, NATO can at times be underappreciated, receiving less love than its contributions otherwise deserve. This is because the value of guard dog is measured in what does not happen. It is only in its absence that the guard dog’s true worth becomes evident although by then it might already be too late. At age 70, NATO is the venerable guard dog of Western Europe, and old it might be, it still has some teeth to bare.


[1] Douglas, Frank R. “American Focus on a Credible Defense of Western Europe.” Chap. 1 in The United States, NATO, and a New Multilateral Relationship. Connecticut & London: Praeger Security International, 2008. 7-27.

[2]Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4]Perlmutter, Amos. “The Corruption of NATO: The Alliance Moves East.” Chap. 7 in NATO Enters the 21st Century. London & Oregon: Frank Cass Publishers, 2001. 129-153.

[5]Ibid.

[6] Renz, Bettina and Hanna Smith. “PART 3: What does Russia want? The importance of understanding Russian goals and intentions.” In Russia and Hybrid Warfare – Going Beyond the Label, Aleksanteri Papers 1/2016. Helsinki: Kikimora Publications, 2016. 14-24.

[7]Ibid.

[8]Perlmutter, Amos. “The Corruption of NATO.”

[9] Emmers, Ralf. “Enduring Mistrust and Conflict Management in Southeast Asia: An Assessment of ASEAN as a Security Community.” TRaNS: Trans –Regional and –National Studies of Southeast Asia 5, no. 1 (2017): 75-97.

[10]Perlmutter, Amos. “The Corruption of NATO.”

[11]Klein, Yitzhak. “A Theory of Strategic Culture.” Comparative Strategy 10, no. 1 (1991): 3-23.

[12] Prince zu Löwenstein, Hubertus and Volkmar von Zühlsdorff. “The Right to Self-Defense.” Chap. 1 in NATO and the Defense of the West. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., Publisher, 1962. 3-16.

[13] Prince zu Löwenstein, Hubertus and Volkmar von Zühlsdorff. “When the West Disarmed.” Chap. 4 in NATO and the Defense of the West. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., Publisher, 1962. 40-50.

Ian Li is a Research Analyst with the Military Studies Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU, Singapore.

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India’s Sprouting Counterforce Posture

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In recent years, the technological advancements by India in the domain of counterforce military capabilities have increased the vulnerability of the South Asian region. While trying to disturb the strategic stability in South Asia, India through its adventuresome counterforce posture against Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a rogue state. Notwithstanding the repercussions, India is voyaging towards destabilization in the South Asian Region.

India’s enhanced strategic nuclear capabilities which includes-the development of Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs), Ballistic Missile Defence System (BMD), Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), supersonic and hypersonic cruise missiles, and acquisition of nuclear-capable submarines- indicate that India is moving away from its declared policy of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) towards a more aggressive, counterforce posture against Pakistan. The BMD and MIRV technology along with the provision of an advanced navigation system under BECA would embolden India to go for the first strike against Pakistan. While having reliance on BMD, as to be sheltered in return. These technological advancements made by India are sprouting a new era of counterforce posture, which would further make the South Asian region volatile and vulnerable to conflicts.

India’s urge to acquire counterforce capability is strongly associated with its doctrinal shift. As the stated posture requires flexibility in the use of nuclear weapons, which fortifies the first strike capability, and thus a deviation in India’s declared policy of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) has become more significant, particularly concerning its impact on regional stability. India’s declared policy of NFU, set out in Draft Nuclear Doctrine in 1999, followed by its first amendment in January 2003 has since then been into hot debates. Pakistan has long doubted the Indian policy of NFU, as the actions and statements by the officials of the latter have always been aggressive and protruding towards the former. India, now, is drifting away from its policy of NFU with the acquisition of counterforce capabilities, particularly against Pakistan. This is further evident from the statement issued by India’s Defense Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh, back in August 2019. It stated “Till today, our nuclear policy is ‘no-first-use’ (NFU). What happens in the future depends on the circumstances.” A change at the doctrinal level is evident in the Indian strategic enclave. Notwithstanding the challenges and repercussions caused by the counterforce strategy and with an attempt to destabilize the nuclear deterrence in the region, India would go unjustifiably low to attain such measures.  

In the same vein, India has been enhancing its nuclear capabilities for strategic flexibility against its regional rivals. By the same token, it wants to attain nuclear dominance, which would ultimately result in chaos in the region. The counterforce capability by India would compel its adversaries to heed towards the preemptive strike, in case of a crisis, out of the fear of the use of Nuclear weapons first by the patent enemy.  Moreover, the counterforce capability pushes the enemy to put the nuclear weapons on hair-trigger mode, which is directly linked with the crisis escalation.  The acquisition of counterforce capability by India would likely provoke a new arms race in the region. This would further destabilize the already volatile South Asian region. The far-reaching destabilization which India is trying to create, just to have an edge on the nuclear adversary, would be back on India’s face, faster than she knew it.

On the contrary, Pakistan has been maintaining a posture of Credible Minimum Deterrence (CMD) and does not claim to have a No-First Use (NFU) policy. Moreover, Pakistan’s nuclear capability is defensive in principle and a tool for deterrence. Given the Indian evolved notions of counterforce preemption, even now Pakistan would be left with no choice but to leave room for carrying out a ‘first strike’ as a feasible deterrent against India. Nevertheless, with the advent of technological innovations, its countermeasure arrives soon, too. Presently, there are two aspects that Pakistan should take into consideration; the growing Indo-US nexus and India’s concealed innovations in the nuclear posture. Though India is far from achieving counterforce strikes against Pakistan’s nuclear targets, concrete steps are required for maintaining future deterrence stability. With that intention, Pakistan might need to look towards its allies for getting hands-on the modern capabilities which includes- advanced communication and navigation systems, sensors, and advancements in artificial intelligence and otherwise, is essential for strengthening its deterrent capability. Pakistan should heed towards the development of absolute second-strike capability; as, what is survivable today, could be vulnerable tomorrow. Therefore, advancements in technology should be made for preserving nuclear deterrence in the future as well.

Summarizing it all, the existence of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence has created a stable environment in the region, by deterring full-scale wars on multiple occasions that might have resulted in a nuclear exchange. With the revolution in nuclear technology, the threat of nuclear war has emerged again. Instead of going towards the attainment of peace and stability in the region, India has been enhancing its counterforce capabilities. This would likely remain a significant threat to the deterrence stability in the region. Moreover, any kind of failure to maintain nuclear deterrence in South Asia could result in an all-out war, without any escalation control. India, in its lust for power and hegemonic designs, has been destabilizing the region. Both the nuclear states in South Asia need to engage in arms restraint and escalation control measures. This seems to be a concrete and more plausible way out; else the new era of destabilization could be more disastrous.  

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A pig in a poke of Lithuanian Armed Forces

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The proverb “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” perfectly reflects the situation in the Lithuanian armed forces. It is it unclear how the army will carry out its tasks, if everything that happens there runs counter to common sense.

The conscription took place in Lithuania. The recruits once again were revealed by an electronic lottery on January 7, 2021. 3,828 recruits were selected from the list of 38 thousand conscripts aged 18 to 23.

The idea of using electronic lottery in such a serious procedure arises a lot of questions among Lithuanians. Young people are suspicious of this method and fully admit the possibility of corruption. Nobody could check the results and so nobody could be blamed for random selection. The more so, the armed forces could get weaker recruits than in case of using usual ways of choosing among candidates. So, the army buys a pig in a poke.

This approach to recruitment in Lithuania results in presence of those with criminal intents and inclinations. Сases of crimes committed by Lithuanian military personnel have increased. Incidents with the involvement of military regularly occurred in Lithuania in 2020.

Thus, a soldier of the Lithuanian army was detained in Jurbarkas in October. He was driving under the influence of alcohol. A Lithuanian soldier suspected of drunk driving was detained also in Siauliai in December. Panevėžys County Chief Police Commissariat was looking for a soldier who deserted from the Lithuanian Armed Forces and so forth.

Such behaviour poses serious risks to public safety and leads to loss of confidence in the Lithuanian army in society.

Lithuanian military officials have chosen a new way to discourage young people from serving in the army, which is already not popular.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The ministry of defence decided to run a photo contest that would reflect service in the country’s armed forces. It is doubtful that such pictures will attract to the army, but the real situation is provided.

Usually, popularization is the act of making something attractive to the general public. This contest served the opposite goal. Look at the pictures and make conclusions.

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Fatah-1: A New Security and Technological Development About Pakistan’s Indigenous GMLRS

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Islamabad: It seems like 2021 has been a good start for Pakistan specifically with regard to stepping up its missile testing. On the 7th of January, the Pakistan military has successfully conducted a purely indigenously developed missile test flight known to be Fatah-1. As stated by various reports, Fatah-1 is an extended-range Guided Multi-Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) which itself is a developed variant of the guided MLRS family.

According to the recent statement given by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) about the newly developed rocket, it was stated: “The weapon system will give Pakistan Army capability of a precision target deep in the enemy territory.” Director-General of Pakistan Army, Media Wing, major general Babar Iftikhar on 7th January tweeted: “Pakistan today conducted a successful; test flight of indigenously developed Fatah-1, Guided Multi Launch Rocket System, capable of delivering a conventional Warhead up to a range of 140 km.”

Defense analyst Mr. Syed Muhammad Ali also stated in his capacity: “the new system was very fast, accurate, survivable, and difficult to intercept”. A video was also shared by ISPR on their official website, in which the missile launch can be seen while being fired from the launcher however, the details on when and where the test flight has taken place, along with the specification of the rocket system are yet to be announced.

Currently, Pakistan Army owns a wide range of Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM), Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM), Battlefield Ballistic Missiles (BBM), Rocket Artillery, and Surface to Surface Cruise Missile (SSCM). In the previous year, Pakistan had also maintained prime success in conducting the Ra’ad-II cruise missile and Ghaznavi surface-to-surface ballistic missile (SSBM). Besides, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on 30thDecember made apt progress when it comes to the national air defense arsenal as it was announced that PAF is beginning the production of the State-of-the-art JF-17 Thunder Block 3 fighter jets, at the same time acquiring the 14 dual-seat Jf-17 aircraft.

According to various reports, the JF-17 Thunder Block 3 will be said to have a new radar operational capability which will be far better in the practical domain as compared to the Raphael aircraft acquired by India. Whereas, the exchange of 14 dual-seat aircraft, manufactured with Pak-China cooperation were also given to the PAF which will be used for extensive training.

The recent successful testing of Fatah-1 has been considered to be another milestone for Pakistan as it tends to be a fitting response to the recent developments in the conventional capabilities carried out by India and also to India’s Cold Start Doctrine.

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