Tag: military intervention

NATO Has Become a Form of U.S. Foreign Aid

The NATO summit starts Sunday in Chicago and will be the largest gathering ever held by the alliance. This is fitting given NATO’s desire to act around the globe. While U.S. officials say no decisions on further expanding membership will be made at the meeting, they explain that the door remains open. Adding additional security commitments in this way would be a mistake.  

The United States has always been and will continue to be the guarantor of NATO’s military promises. In reality, NATO could not pay its bills without the United States, much less conduct serious military operations. American alliance policy has become a form of foreign aid. Nowhere is that more true than in Europe.  

America’s alliances once had a serious purpose: to increase U.S. security. NATO joined the United States and Western Europe to prevent the Soviet Union from dominating Eurasia. The alliance lost its raison d’être in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. Communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe had toppled. The Warsaw Pact soon dissolved. Ultimately the Soviet Union collapsed.

Yet 23 years later NATO labors on, attempting to remake failed societies and anoint winners in civil wars. There’s no big threat left: Russia isn’t going to revive the Red Army and conquer the European continent. Moscow was barely capable of beating up on hapless Georgia.

Moreover, the Euro zone crisis threatens to turn NATO’s military capabilities into a farce. Virtually every European state is cutting back on its military, even France and Great Britain, which traditionally had the most serious—and most deployable—forces. NATO always looked like North America and The Others. Today the only power prepared to battle even a decrepit North African dictatorship is America.

Yet like the Borg of Star Trek fame, the alliance wants to ever-expand, absorbing every country in its path. Bosnia—an artificial nation who military was cobbled together from three warring factions—hopes to join. So, too, Macedonia, which remains at odds with Greece over its very name. Georgia, which triggered a war with Russia in apparent expectation of receiving U.S. support, wants in. Montenegro, which has no military of note, is also interested.

There is even talk of adding Kosovo, another artificial country in which the majority ethnically cleansed national and religious minorities while under allied occupation. Serbia, bombed by NATO in 1999 and still resisting Kosovo’s secession, is on the long list. As is Ukraine, a country with a large Russophile population and a government that acts more Russian than Western.

Adding these countries would greatly expand America’s liabilities while adding minimal capabilities. The United States would have to further subsidize the new members to bring their militaries up to Western standards while making their disputes and controversies into America’s disputes and controversies. Worst would be expanding the alliance up to Russia’s southern border, giving further evidence to Moscow of a plan of encirclement. As Henry Kissinger once said, even paranoids have enemies. Indeed, Washington would not react well if the Warsaw Pact had included Mexico and Canada.

The United States cannot afford to take on more allies and effectively underwrite their security. It is not worth protecting Georgia at the risk of confronting Russia, for instance. Moreover, now is the time to end this foreign aid to wealthy European countries. The Europeans have a GDP ten times as large as that of Russia. Europe’s population is three times as big. The Europeans should defend themselves.  If they want to expand their alliance all around Russia, let them. But the U.S. government, bankrupt in all but name, should finally focus on defending Americans, not most everyone else in the world. 

NATO: An Alliance Past Its Prime

On May 20, the 2012 NATO Chicago summit will bring together the heads of state from the alliance. The agenda reads like a rundown of major world events in the past two years: the Arab Spring, the Libyan civil war, the global financial crisis, and the war in Afghanistan. It seems no problem is too big for NATO.

Of these topics, the most pressing and headline-grabbing will be the plan NATO and the United States establish to gradually turn responsibility for security in Afghanistan over to the Afghan national forces. But also of note are the topics—“lessons learned from Libya,” and the “Smart Defense Initiative,”—that display the reliance of Europe on the United States for advanced military capabilities. Libya in particular showcased Europe’s inability to act without the U.S.

The lessons from Libya are two-fold, and it is important to keep them in mind as policymakers and pundits in Washington call for the next U.S. intervention, possibly in Syria or Iran. First, the results so far have been disappointing for America’s latest stab at coercive democratization.

Libya also was a disappointment as a supposed new model for U.S. intervention. In fact, that conflict reinforces the fact that NATO really stands for North America and The Others. Without the U.S., the Europeans would be essentially helpless.

A new alliance study underscores Europe’s relative ineffectiveness. Reports the New York Times:

Despite widespread praise in Western capitals for NATO’s leadership of the air campaign in Libya, a confidential NATO assessment paints a sobering portrait of the alliance’s ability to carry out such campaigns without significant support from the United States.

The report concluded that the allies struggled to share crucial target information, lacked specialized planners and analysts, and overly relied on the United States for reconnaissance and refueling aircraft.

This should surprise no one. After all, during the war against Serbia—another nation which had not threatened America or any American ally—Europe was estimated to have a combat effectiveness less than 15 percent that of the U.S. The Europeans had large conscript armies, but outside of Britain and France had very little ability to project power. Later European participation in Afghanistan has been marred by the dozens of national “caveats” limiting participation in combat.

Yet alliance expansion is also on the agenda for the May NATO summit in Chicago. The list of alliance-wannabes includes such powerhouses as Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia. Former Soviet republics notable mostly for their tangled and/or troubled relations with Russia—Georgia and Ukraine—are also on the list. All of these nations would be security liabilities, not assets, for America.

As the NATO study demonstrates, should the alliance’s Article 5 commitment get invoked, America would do most of the fighting. It would be one thing to take that risk where vital interests were at stake. But they are not in the Balkans, let alone in the Caucasus, which was part of Imperial Russia even before the Soviet Union.

Alliances should reflect the security environment. The Cold War is over. The Europeans have developed, the Soviet Union is kaput, and the potential European conflicts of the future—distant and unlikely—are linked to no hegemonic threat against America.

Instead of talking about NATO expansion, the U.S. should set down the burden of defending Europe. Let the Europeans take over NATO or create their own European defense organization, as they have discussed for years. The latest reminder of Europe’s relative military ineffectiveness reinforces the case for ending the continent’s cheap ride. It is time to turn North America and The Others into simply The Others.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

Bombing Iran Risks Mission Creep

In an op-ed in today’s New York Daily News, my co-author Jonathan Owen and I argue that damage to Iran’s nuclear facilities from limited strikes would be modest, and likely require further strikes every few years or a long-term occupation on the ground. The better option at present is for the Obama administration to show restraint and continue to explore diplomatic options:

Unless Americans are willing to fight Iranians to the death — possibly every few years — Washington must stop polarizing the situation. Aggressive policies and rhetoric do not benefit our security.

Without demanding that Iran surrender on the issue of uranium enrichment, the U.S. — which accounts for almost half of the world’s military spending, wields one of the planet’s largest nuclear arsenals and can project its power around the globe — should lift sanctions, stop its belligerence and open a direct line of communication with Tehran.

The President has said repeatedly that “all options are on the table.” But contrary to popular belief, diplomacy with Iran is an option that has yet to be fully exhausted.

Left out in the final cut was the important point that if the United States was to go to war with Iran, U.S. soldiers will once again be asked to risk their lives by prosecuting a reckless war of choice against an enemy willing to accept high casualties. Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught policymakers that mission creep often drives seemingly easy and limited interventions toward prolonged wars of occupation and nation-building. Attacking Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would risk a similar, unacceptable mission creep.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

Libya Begets Syria?

A little over a year ago, as members of the Obama administration were pondering military intervention in Libya, skeptics (including The Skeptics) pressed them to explain how that situation differed from other comparable cases elsewhere in the world. If Libya, why not Yemen? Why not Bahrain? Why not Syria? We may soon learn the answer to that last question. And their too-permissive—or merely haphazard—approach a year ago might pave the way for an intervention in Syria that would be ill-advised, if not disastrous.

At the time of the Libya debate (to the extent that there was one), the president and his foreign-policy advisers dismissed concerns that the intervention in Libya would set a precedent. “It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs,” President Obama said in a televised speech to the nation on March 28, 2011. But, he continued:

that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country—Libya—at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale… To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and, more profoundly, our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are.

At other times, the administration alluded to a loose set of guidelines to explain why it might choose to use force, guidelines which the Libya case met but other cases supposedly did not. These included the likelihood that a large-scale loss of life was imminent; the belief that prompt military action would prevent this violence; and the support of the international community, ideally a formal sanction in the UNSC (absent that, the approval of a regional body, such as the Arab League, might suffice).

Notably absent was sufficient consideration of whether our vital strategic interests were at stake. They were not in Libya, and they are not in Syria.

We should strive to avoid foreign intervention in all but very rare cases. Because getting in is always much easier than getting out, the burden of proof must always be on those making the case for war, not those advising against.

Beyond that, we must know what mission the U.S. military has been tasked with performing. We must have a reasonable estimate of the likelihood that it will achieve its mission. And we must have some sense of the likely costs in blood and treasure. Finally, we are a nation of laws, not of men—and decidedly not of one man. The president has very little authority to send troops into harm’s way, and he has none when U.S. security is not at stake (a criteria that Barack Obama endorsed as a senator but abandoned when he assumed a higher office). If the Obama administration is considering military action to remove Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria, it should obtain formal congressional authorization for such action. And it should do that before going to the United Nations.

No other country is afforded such choices. No other country is able to project power over great distances and on very short notice. No other country has a track record of frequent foreign intervention, even when such operations have no direct connection to advancing our own security. This pattern of behavior constitutes our unique power problem. It is precisely because the United States has used force on numerous occasions over the past two decades that we need a particularly stringent set of criteria governing our future interventions. There is an almost endless parade of aggrieved parties calling on Uncle Sam to save them from harm. And when Washington refuses, or merely drags its heels, they will say: You fought to save Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, why do you then refuse to aid Muslims in Northern Africa or the Levant? The United States must have a ready answer.

But the Obama administration, cheered on or goaded by liberal and neoconservative hawks, does not have one. Yet. And its halting signals are likely to embolden those calling for yet another war.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

America’s China Conundrum: Simultaneously Confronting and Engaging

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is off to China for discussions with Chinese military officers. His trip follows a visit in May by China’s army chief of staff. The discussions are valuable since they will help increase transparency, if nothing else. But they won’t do much more if Adm. Mullen doesn’t bring the right message.

While the admiral is in China the U.S. Navy will be holding exercises with Australian and Japanese forces in the South China Sea. Although the number of ships involved is few, the maneuvers are meant to send a message to Beijing about its controversial territorial claims, which would turn much of these waters into a Chinese lake.

Washington has many issues at play with China—the status of Taiwan, trade and currency disagreements, support for North Korea, status of human rights, policy towards Iran. If the U.S. and People’s Republic of China cooperate, the 21st century is likely to be far more peaceful and productive. If the two nations confront each other, the future could turn ugly.

The ultimate question is whether Washington is prepared to accommodate a wealthier and more powerful PRC in coming years. Contrary to the fevered claims of some, the shift in global power likely will be gradual, not abrupt. The U.S. will remain richer, more influential, and possess a better military for years, if not decades. Indeed, China faces significant economic and political challenges and will be poorer than America even as its GDP grows larger.

However, while the speed and process of China’s rise is not guaranteed, its ability to deter U.S. military intervention will expand. Beijing’s outlay of $100 billion to $150 billion a year on the military already raises alarms in Washington, even though the latter devotes about $700 billion to “defense.” The reason? It is much cheaper for the PRC to defend itself than for the U.S. to sustain an offense capable of imposing Washington’s will on China. Beijing doesn’t need to build 11 carrier groups. It just needs the ability to sink American carrier groups.

Even if a new policy of containment seemed affordable, it still would not be in America’s interest to scatter military tripwires throughout East Asia. Americans obviously will remain very involved in Asian affairs. But alliances should be a means to an end, namely defending the U.S. Alliances should not become ends in themselves. It is hard to imagine what likely dispute—such as whose claim to the Paracel Islands is paramount—would justify the U.S. risking war with an increasingly well-armed nuclear PRC over issues the latter considered vital in its own neighborhood. Consider how Washington would react to Chinese military intervention in Central America.

The better approach would be to encourage friendly states to do more on their own behalf. In fact, that is already happening to some degree.

Japan is slowly moving beyond the strict limitations of Article 9 of its constitution, which technically bans a military. South Korea has begun looking at security beyond North Korea. Australia has embarked upon an ambitious security program. Several Southeast Asian nations have begun purchasing submarines and improving their militaries. All see, and generally fear, the specter of a rising, hostile China.

This process would be accelerated if Washington made clear that it planned to step back and would no longer act as the meddler of first resort. Countries must look after their own interests instead of automatically looking eastward for aid.

Adm. Mullen’s message in the PRC should be simple. China has gained much from its peaceful participation in the international system. Beijing will gain even more in the future if it continues the same strategy. If, however, it chooses aggressiveness over assertiveness, the PRC will have much to fear, and perhaps more from its own neighbors than America.

René Magritte’s War

The Belgian painter René Magritte is famous in part for the painting pictured below.

What’s surprising is how much Magritte can tell us about our war in Libya. To recap where we are in Libya, our military objective is to “protect civilians” in that country. Except there’s this paragraph opening the recent New York Times article on the war:

WASHINGTON — NATO planners say the allies are stepping up attacks on palaces, headquarters, communications centers and other prominent institutions supporting the Libyan government, a shift of targets that is intended to weaken Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s grip on power and frustrate his forces in the field.

The Times also runs these quotes from officials in charge of the war:

“Now we are going after his rear echelon,” one NATO official said. “We are going after his ability to command and control his forces — his headquarters, his command posts, his communications — all those things that allow him to coordinate his attacks at the front.”

Military officials privately acknowledge that removing Colonel Qaddafi from power is the desired secondary effect of striking at state television and other symbols of his authoritarian rule. “His people may see the futility of continued resistance,” one Pentagon official said.

Somebody should probably loop in poor White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who made the mistake just yesterday of saying the following:

“The goal of the mission is clear: protect the civilian population, enforce the no-fly zone, enforce the arms embargo. [It is] certainly not the policy of the coalition, of this administration, to decapitate, if you will, or to effect regime change in Libya by force.”

So let’s work this out. The United States currently has as a policy objective in Libya to remove Muammar Qaddafi from power. Washington is simultaneously using the military to attack “institutions supporting the Libyan government” in order to “weaken Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s grip on power,” but our official position is that doing so is unrelated to our policy objective of getting Qaddafi out of power. Does the administration really think we’re that stupid? Perhaps more importantly, is Congress that stupid?

Also, it may be time for a rundown of terms for which we no longer have adequate working definitions. I nominate:

  • “war”
  • “kinetic military action”
  • “protect”
  • “civilians”
  • “protect civilians”
  • “massacre”
  • “regime change”
  • “target”

Any other nominees?