Tag: NATO

NATO - What Is It Good For?

With continuing instability in Ukraine, and Poland’s foreign minister Radek Sikorski allegedly using vulgar and racist language to disparage the US-Poland alliance, now’s as good a time as any to evaluate what NATO does for Americans.

Not much, I argue in Foreign Policy (online). As I conclude:

NATO has produced some benefits, but the costs to the United States – tens of billions per year, validating Russian nationalist narratives about the West, and infantilizing its European partners – are often ignored. Washington should cut the Europeans loose, and encourage them to cooperate with each other on European security matters. With a combined GDP larger than the United States and a benign threat environment, Europeans are capable of defending themselves, but won’t until Washington makes them.

Please give it a read.

NATO’s $1 Billion Monument to Irrelevance

A November 13 article in Reuters discusses the growing controversy over NATO’s new headquarters being built outside of Brussels. The price tag—some $1 billion—has raised more than a few eyebrows. “When defense budgets are being cut and in general when governments are under so much pressure from taxpayers to save money, it looks terribly extravagant,” opines Daniel Keohane, head of a leading think tank in Belgium. Several members of the British parliament also have questioned the cost.

NATO officials, though, defend the project, asserting that the existing headquarters, built in 1967, has outlived its usefulness. Of course, the same point could be made with far greater validity about the NATO alliance itself. After all, it was created during the depths of the Cold War in 1949 to, as Lord Harold Ismay, NATO’s secretary general at the time, pithily observed, “keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Given the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia’s manifold demographic, economic, and military limitations as a successor state, that mission now seems to be more than a little obsolete. The past two decades, the alliance has been conducting a frantic search for relevant new missions, resulting in a dubious decision to add members in Eastern Europe and wage even more dubious wars in places like Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Not only is NATO an alliance in search of purpose, but the willingness of the European members to free-ride on the military commitment of the United States to Europe’s defense is now even worse than it was during the Cold War. The already anemic military budgets of NATO’s European members have sagged further, and in some cases they are in virtual free fall. To build a billion-dollar, palatial headquarters under such circumstances exhibits contempt for taxpayers—especially U.S. taxpayers.

There seems to be a tendency of U.S. officials to endorse the building of expensive monuments to institutional egos at precisely the time that the institution in question has lost relevance. We saw that process take place in Iraq. Just as the nation-building mission was quickly heading south, the Bush administration built an embassy in Baghdad that was nearly as large as Vatican City. Today, it stands as a symbol of how badly Washington exaggerated the extent of America’s interests in Iraq and misconstrued the extent of U.S. influence there. With the construction of NATO’s new headquarters, we have yet another monument to hubris.

Obama Administration Should Close NATO Door to Georgia

Although many members of the defense establishment haven’t seemed to notice, the Evil Empire collapsed. The Soviet Union is gone, along with the Warsaw Pact. Europe is wealthier than America. Why is Washington still pushing to expand NATO?

In May, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that “We are very supportive of Georgia’s aspirations with respect to NATO.” In June NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen visited Tbilisi, where he said that once Tbilisi made needed reforms “the burden will be on us to live up to our pledge that Georgia will be a member of NATO.”

Alas, the biggest burden of adding Tbilisi would fall on the United States. The administration should halt the process before it proceeds any further.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created to contain Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. The U.S.S.R.’s demise left NATO without an enemy. The alliance desperately looked for new duties, finally settling on “out-of-area” responsibilities. 

In essence, the alliance would find wars to fight elsewhere, such as in Afghanistan and Libya, while expanding eastward toward Moscow. That process continues today. For instance, Rasmussen declared: “Georgia’s full Euro-Atlantic integration is a goal we all share” 

That’s a dumb idea. Georgia would be a security liability to the United States and Europe.

For Afghan Reconstruction, Millions of Dollars Up in Smoke

Unconscionable levels of waste, fraud, and abuse continue to plague America’s 11 year nation-building mission in Afghanistan. According to an investigation by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), officers with the NATO training mission shredded the financial records of fuel purchased for the Afghan National Army. As a result, “the U.S. government still cannot account for $201 million in fuel purchased to support the Afghan National Army.”

On the document destruction, SIGAR investigators determined among its many findings that:

  • The two fuel ordering officers cited efficiency, saving physical storage space, and the ability to share document [sic], as factors in the decision to scan and shred the documents. They added that they believed that the scanned documents had been stored electronically on a [Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A)] SharePoint portal or shared drive, but they could not recall the exact locations.
  • […]
  • … CSTC-A was unable to locate any of the missing documents.

A number of other projects underscore the problems U.S. agencies confront in carrying out large-scale development initiatives. For instance, the U.S. military plans to provide electricity via diesel generators to about 2,500 Afghan homes and businesses around Kandahar, according to a report over the summer by the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran. U.S. government planners expect the program, called the “Kandahar Bridging Solution,” to cost American taxpayers about $220 million through 2013, that is, until the United States Agency for International Development and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers build a new hydropower turbine at a dam in neighboring Helmand.

Washington planners, in keeping with their population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine, assume that many Afghans will be pleased to have power, and thus, will throw their support behind the Afghan central government. Instead, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Kandahar last year, found no evidence that the added electricity was yielding greater support for the government, a conclusion far from surprising. Moreover, Dahl also discovered that the turbine at the dam will provide residents with less power than what they currently get from the generators. As SIGAR noted, “the U.S. government may be building an expectations gap.”

Yet another in a laundry list of dashed expectations may soon be the new $23 million road in Helmand, dashed because the Afghan government has yet to compensate landowners for buildings and property demolished during construction.

The United States continues to expend money and lives for stabilization efforts and infrastructure projects that may still fail to leverage Afghan support for the government. At its heart, that failure lies not only with the mission’s overlapping, redundant, and expensive development strategies, but also with the underlying assumption that when armed with “performance-based contracts” and “metrics to measure achievement,” government bureaucracies can successfully plan such projects.

Nobel Peace Prize to the EU Is a Farce

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee has awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union for “keeping peace in Europe.” The committee has now turned the award into a farce. But few people are laughing.

The Committee has ignored the important role that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the United States have played in keeping Europe at peace throughout the Cold War. While it is true that the free trade agreements among the EU countries have led to more prosperity and cooperation, other EU initiatives have exacerbated Europe’s problems and ancient animosities.

Decision making in the EU lacks basic transparency and accountability. As shown by the Danish, French, Dutch, and Irish referenda, the EU has nothing but contempt for disagreement and opposition. The European common currency is in existential crisis. Periodic bailouts, which are needed to keep the eurozone together, have led to riots and loss of life. The EU today is deeply unpopular and distrusted. Corruption, scandals, and cynical abuses of power by EU officials are pervasive.

This is the troubling reality of the EU that should not be ignored. Unfortunately, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has decided to look the other way.

Here is a related podcast.

Did the Surge End the Chance for Peace in Afghanistan?

As Afghan forces continue to turn their guns on their U.S. partners, so-called “green-on-blue” attacks, the coalition’s patience has reached a breaking point. On Sunday, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said insider attacks have become a “very serious threat” to the mission. On Tuesday, NATO issued orders to curb joint training operations on front-line missions temporarily.

With the coalition’s managed transition running into serious problems, it is necessary to question whether Obama’s surge of over 30,000 troops is closer to achieving a core objective: pressuring the Taliban to accept the conditions for reconciliation. I addressed that issue in an article published this week on GlobalPost.com:

The Taliban has always been amorphous and fragmented. But paradoxically, aspects of the surge may have both weakened the movement’s operational leadership and breathed new life into its grassroots fighters.

In their chilling assessment of the conflict, Kandahar-based researchers Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn conclude in An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, that the coalition’s kill and capture campaign against mid-level commanders has weakened the leadership’s grip on the chain of command. Some of these higher-ups, however, were more open to peace talks. Younger insurgents opposed to a political settlement are now moving into leadership positions and are increasingly influenced by Al Qaeda’s worldview.

Given the complex nature of Afghan society and politics, forging a power-sharing deal between the insurgency and the Afghan government composed of its enemies was always going to be difficult. But if, as reports suggest, a generation of neo-Taliban are refusing to reconcile, and Taliban higher-ups who are less opposed to peace are having the rug ripped out from under them, then something about the surge went terribly wrong.

In addition, the surge brought a massive uptick from US forces in misdirected firepower, kicked in doors, and controversial incidents of perceived cultural insensitivity, all of which sowed discontent among the population and affirmed the worst insurgent propaganda. The kill and capture campaign in particular was never popular among Afghans.

In other parts of the article, I further address how the makeup of the insurgency is likely to result in less of a chance for reconciliation. I hope I’m wrong. You can read the rest of my article here.

Another Suspect in the Libya Attack

Almost before the embers had cooled in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that took the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other staffers, suspicion centered on Ansar al Sharia and the Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades, two North African radical Islamist factions loosely affiliated with al Qaeda. One of those groups is most likely the perpetrator, but we need to at least consider other possibilities.

A few facts are clear: The assault was not a spontaneous demonstration in response to the notorious video mocking the Prophet Mohammad—a demonstration that simply spiraled out of control. Even the nasty, but less violent, demonstrations in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, and other Muslim countries do not fully fit that description, and the Libya attack was fundamentally different from all of those other incidents. The assault in Benghazi had all the earmarks of a well-planned, well-coordinated, professional military operation.

It is possible that either Ansar al Sharia or the Abdul Rahman Brigades had the capability to carry out such a sophisticated attack, but another faction was even more capable: former security personnel from Muammar Qaddafi’s regime. And that group had a strong motive for assassinating Ambassador Stevens: He had been the U.S. envoy to rebel groups in Libya, helping to coordinate U.S. and NATO aid to the insurgents who eventually overthrew Qaddafi. “As the conflict in Libya unfolded, Chris was one of the first Americans on the ground in Benghazi,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed on Wednesday. Indeed, one report asserted that he had “wrangled a ride on a Greek cargo ship” early in the conflict to get into Benghazi, the initial rebel stronghold.

Pro-Qaddafi elements were undoubtedly aware of his none-too-subtle role in the revolution. The attack on the consulate could have been payback. Indeed, Libya’s ambassador to the United States, Ali Aujali, insisted that his government had intelligence that “Qaddafi’s associates” were involved in the attack. It is tempting to summarily dismiss that thesis, since the new Libyan government is prone to blame every unpleasant development on remnants of Qaddafi’s regime, much as Iraqi and U.S. officials had the lazy habit of blaming all attacks during the first few years of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq on “Saddam dead-enders.”

But it’s possible that the Libyan ambassador could be right in this case. As I’ve written elsewhere, Libya is a deeply divided tribal society, with the main political fissure running north-south roughly through the middle of the country. Eastern tribes dominated the revolution (and previous unsuccessful rebellions against Qaddafi), while western tribes were the bulk of his supporters. Qaddafi’s death did not erase those divisions, and opponents of the new regime had ample reason to hate Stevens as an architect of their new, inferior status.

Although Islamic extremists were the most likely perpetrators of the attack and assassination, we should not be blind to other possibilities. Libya is a turbulent snake pit into which the United States has wandered. There are a lot of nasty actors—and more than one suspect in the consulate murders.

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