A Sight on European Defence

The future NATO concept has raised a lot of interest within the military community. Among those who wrote on the topic, I could find some comments on the reinforcement of the security in Europe thanks the enlargement of the Alliance or its prominent role in world’s stability and security.

This has been true until Warsaw Pact collapsed and afterwards during the instability which succeeded to the fall of Berlin Wall. Since then, as everybody knows, no European country is really threatened at its borders, except in the 90’s in the Balkan area. Of course, many of the European countries still feel threatened by Russia and are eager to feel the US umbrella over their territory.

But this is no more a reality, or at least, with the conventional assets. Most of the US troops hence spread over Germany have now redeployed to the USA, the most symbolic one being may be the 1st infantry division, now based in Fort Riley (Kansas). The US military presence has logically been decreasing for years in order to adapt to the new status of Europe, which does not have anymore an immediate and major threat at its border, for the very first time of its history.

Therefore, beyond the political correctness, by which some people insist on the better security in Europe with the enlargement of NATO, one should really look at the added value of the new NATO members. Due to their aging tanks, communication systems, airplanes, ships inherited from the former times, their contribution cannot be regarded as a military one, excepted some infantry or special forces for Afghanistan. Those countries, closer to the Caucasus and Middle East than German Bases offer interesting platforms to US Air Force and other units that are tasked to operate in this area, including missile defence.

The weak military relevance is illustrated by the percentage of those armies in the overall figures of forces in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of course, at the level of those countries, their commitment represents a huge effort, and furthermore, a cultural revolution: in a 10-year time span, they have redirected their troops for a conventional warfare in Europe towards counterinsurgency. The blood shed in those countries implies that they largely deserve US support to their defence. However, the international situation is such that, with the exception of some episodic Russian provocations, they do not risk that much. In any case their situation is not to be compared with Georgia.

In such a situation where the threat is no more at our borders, the military is looking at other directions. One of them could be represented by the rogue states or the failed states. Including this threat in the NATO concept could be interesting: the military has a role, far beyond the borders and furthermore, those countries are not capable of presenting an effective threat against whole NATO. In the worst case, they could initiate one or some localized terrorists attacks. Of course, such attacks would be a tragedy for the victims. Nevertheless, this would not be a vital threat against this very country.

This enemy, formed by this category of rogue or failed states not being a vital issue, I would bet that NATO members would dare to draw all the consequences of the concept. If they would, then they should build up expeditionary forces, in order to be able to address the issue. They are not ready for it, as their only concern is still security at their borders. Why? Because their population do not feel that much involved by overseas adventures. Let’s us look at the firm and definitive German refusal to participate to Eufor in Chad. The Polish participation was more to look at as a visible sign of support to European Defence than a sudden interest for the stability of the former French colony. A further and may be the major issue is the cost of the transformation of their defence forces. They cannot afford it in less than 20 years.

In such an environment, the military relevance of NATO should go on decreasing, and more than a integrated military structure, it should transform towards a coordination body, providing expertise and support to defence forces willing to adapt to the new challenges. One or the other Headquarters would remain to provide this coordination, standardization, and expertise. One or two HQ would remain to command one or the other operation, the rest being disbanded, like the US forces are already doing in Europe.

Identify what elements of the structure (civilian and military) could be reduced would be of course much more difficult: military efficiency being of secondary interest compared with the supposed visibility given by a flag post or the location of a HQ. I prefer to leave this to our politicians.

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