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Preparing for NATO’s Failure

Preparing for NATO’s Failure

Several recent reports1 indicate that efforts by Canada and others, including the NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, himself to convince NATO members to beef up their military contributions to Afghanistan or, at least, to reduce some of the restriction on the use of the troops which are already there, have fallen short.

Some commentators2 suggest that if NATO cannot succeed in its first major ‘out of area’ mission then NATO, itself, might become increasingly irrelevant.
The Ruxted Group made the case, nearly a year ago, that NATO was in danger of moving from a cornerstone of Canada’s foreign and defence policy to being a stumbling block.

Some other recent articles3 have suggested that we need a replacement for NATO – an ‘alliance’ able to act for the United Nations when military operations are beyond the skill set of the UN’s staff – which almost any operations requiring the use of force will be. The Ruxted Group has also suggested such a solution to the perceived problem with NATO. In essence, Ruxted proposes that Canada should push for a new ‘alignment’ of like minded, modern democracies and traditional allies4 which can provide a military C3I (command, control, communications and intelligence) ‘superstructure’ around which multi-national military forces can be assembled to execute complex UN mandated operations.

The time is ripe, we believe, to resurrect this proposal.

NATO heads of government will meet in Romania in April 2008. Defence Minister McKay has already signalled that Canada wants action on Afghanistan. The problem with Minister McKay’s statement is that there is no “or else.” It is time for Prime Minister Harper, in our parliament, to start setting out the “or else.”

He (Harper) has indicated that there will be another debate in parliament between end January 2008 (when John Manley’s group reports) and the April 2008 NATO meeting. During that debate he (and his ministers) should:

1. Issue a clear warning to NATO that it risks failure – with all the consequences attached – unless it steps up and ‘wins’ the Afghanistan counter-insurgency campaign.

2. Invite leaders of those ‘like minded, modern democracies’4 to consider if they might be willing to work more closely together, to replace NATO, the next time the UN calls for a mission lead organization.

At the April 2008 meeting, regardless of the outcome, Canada should:

1. Admit that it is not without sin when it comes to shirking its alliance responsibilities.

2. State that it will not participate in any future NATO military operations if the notorious ‘national caveats’ are still going to be put in place by e.g. France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

3. Announce that it favours having ‘competitive’ military command structures available to the United Nations so that the best command system can be put in place for UN mandated mission. NATO will, surely, be one of the options available to the UN but it should not be the only choice.

NATO remains an important and, for Canada, useful ‘window’ into Europe. It provides Canada with an irreplaceable ‘seat at the table’ in Europe, too. But, Europe is no longer a region of primary importance to Canada – we care, just as much, about East and South Asia, the Middle East and West Asia and, above all, the Americas. NATO is just one tool in our kit – as we have said it is no longer the ‘cornerstone’ of our foreign policy.

Canada should not threaten to withdraw from NATO but it should make it clear that it has reservations about NATO’s ability to organize and conduct ‘out of area’ military operations.

ISAF highlights one of NATO’s weaknesses. NATO is a ‘Eurocentric’ organization and some – probably most – 21st century problems will require broader, more global solutions. Traditional allies, like Australia and New Zealand, and newer friends – like minded nations – like Sweden are all participating in ISAF even though they are not NATO members. We need to make it easier and more comfortable for non-NATO nations to participate in UN sanctioned multi-national endeavours.

But, ‘out of area’ (out of NATO’s area) operations are likely to be the wave of the future. As former Defence Minister Graham said, “the dangers of the Cold War have been replaced by new and evolving threats, threats caused by failed and failing states, by global terrorism, by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and by instability.”

Canada wants to lead, it is in our national interest to lead. NATO appears less and less able to provide a platform from which we can lead. NATO needs to be augmented, indeed, it needs some good old fashioned competition. Canada should take the lead in organizing a competitive, global, 21st century ‘alignment’ of nations which can conduct complex multi-national military operations on behalf of the United Nations.

The Government of Canada should, now, follow its own advice. In the recent throne speech, Governor General Michaëlle Jean enunciated her government’s proper goal when she said: “our Government will continue Canada’s international leadership through concrete actions that bring results.”

1. See, for example: Report: Dutch general advises government to reduce presence in Afghanistan, Secretary Gates this week is expected to press the alliance to supply more trainers for the Afghan police and Army, a key to countering resurgent violence there and NATO allies offer troops, resources for Afghan mission
2. See, for example: NATO in Afghanistan: A Test Case for Future Missions and NATO's future on the line
3. See A new global force and An Anglosphere Future
4. Some or all of Australia, Denmark, India, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States might be candidates for this group.


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David Wozney on :

Re: “... Governor General Michaëlle Jean ...”

The Governor General of Canada is a “corporation sole”, according to Elizabeth II in the so-called “Governor General's Act”. A “corporation sole” is defined and recognized as being a corporation.

“A corporation is a fiction, by definition, ...”, according to Patrick Healy in a statement to Parliament's Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in 2002.

“A corporation is a ‘fiction’ as it has no separate existence, no physical body and no ‘mind’”, according to Joanne Klineberg in a presentation to the Canadian Aviation Safety Seminar in 2004.

Is your faith such that you believe a corporation is real? Who would be a defender of faith like that?

Peter Armstrong-Whitworth on :

Canada championed and played a leading role in the development of a rapid reaction force for UN operations in the mid to late 1990's known as the Multinational Standy High Readiness Brigade for UN Operations (SHIRBRIG). See While much work would need to be done to provide SHIRBRIG with the capabilities required to undertake the roles menitoned in the article, the baseline structure for the force and for Canadian leadership is already present. Furthermore, enhancing SHIRBRIG can occur without necessarily affecting Canada's relationship with NATO.

Edward Campbell on :

That's a good point Mr. Armstrong-Whitworth but I would be concerend that:

1. Except for Argentina and Canada, SHIRBRIG is very Eurocentric. I think we need a new global group with a few members from each of Europe, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region; and

2. While 'militarily capable' (see: Ruxted's "Changing the Guard" at there are not many (any?) strategic 'heavyweights' in SHIRBRIG.

Peter Armstrong-Whitworth on :

Mr. Campbell, both of your concerns are quite valid. Few of the SHIRBRIG members are non-European and there are no real strategic 'heavyweights'. Can SHIRBRIG members such as Canada, the Netherlands and Italy be described as heavyweights?

SHIRBRIG has made efforts to increase the geographic representation within the brigade. As a result, Chile, Egypt, Jordan and Senegal now have observer status. Japan has also shown an interest in SHIRBRIG. At the same time, further efforts may be required to encourage these countries to become full members as well as to solicit the interest of other nations (e.g. Australia).

On your second point, a conscious decision was made when SHIRBRIG was established to focus membership on countries that could not readily deploy a formation on there own and would therefore have an interest in pooling resources. Perhaps this should be revised, but I am not sure how successful such an approach would be.

It is also worth noting that while having strategic 'heavyweights' within the force can greatly enhance military effectiveness, certain countries have 'historical baggage' that can undermine the perceived legitimacy of the force. However, such issues are usually situation and context specific and can potentially be managed through political channels. Examples of succesful deployments in this regard include the UK's contribution to security in Sierra Leone, the French to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and US participation in the Multinational Interim Force for Haiti.

Ultimately, the question of whether SHIRBRIG should be an effective skeleton formation as described in the post "Changing of the Guard" referred to in your comment above or whether an expanded role is appropriate is worth further discussion. Of equal importance is whether Canada should play a leading role in SHIRBRIG given its role in establishing the brigade and the contributions it has made to date. I would be greatly interested in the views of Ruxted on this subject.

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