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Saving NATO II | The Ruxted Group Skip to content

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Saving NATO II

Saving NATO II

A deeply divided NATO held ministerial level meetings recently with a Canadian threat to withdraw from Afghanistan hanging over its head. Prime Minister Harper has, correctly in The Ruxted Group’s estimation, suggested that "NATO's own reputation and future will be in jeopardy"1 if it cannot get its act together and figure out a way to win in Afghanistan.

In an effort to forestall a NATO failure a panel of distinguished retired military commanders2 have reviewed the current situation and have proposed a new grand strategy for a much-reformed NATO and, indeed, the West in a recent paper prepared for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) (hereafter “the paper” or “Paper”).

The Ruxted Group accepts the paper’s broad analyses of the challenges ahead and of the grand strategy proposed, but we dispute the paper’s main finding that an enlarged and reformed NATO can or should be the key actor when complex military operations need to be planned, coordinated, mounted and managed on behalf of the United Nations (UN).

The paper’s distinguished authors begin by enumerating six challenges the whole world will face:

1.   Demography - population growth and change across the globe will swiftly change the world we knew;

2.   Climate change - is leading to a new type of politics;

3.   Energy security – the supply and demand of individual nations and the weakening of the international market infrastructure for energy distribution make the situation more precarious than ever;

4.   The rise of the irrational and/or the discounting of the rational - though seemingly abstract, this problem is demonstrated in deeply practical ways. There are soft examples, such as the cult of celebrity, and there are the harder examples, such as the decline of respect for logical argument and evidence, and a drift away from science. The ultimate example is the rise of religious fundamentalism;

5.   The weakening of the nation state - that coincides with the weakening of world institutions, including the UN and regional organisations such as NATO; and

6.   The dark side of globalisation - interconnectedness has its drawbacks. These include internationalised terrorism, organised crime, the rapid spread of disease, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and asymmetric threats from proxy actors or the abuse of financial and energy leverage. Migration continues to provide challenges across the world; globalised threats are wide in scale and unprecedented in complexity.

Source: Paper, pps. 14/15

Taken together, the paper’s authors conclude, and we agree, these challenges mean decades, even generations of conflict which we, the US-led, law-abiding, secular Western democracies, cannot escape. They conclude that there is: a new form of warfare that abuses leverage in finance, energy and information technology. War could be waged without a single bullet being fired, and the implications of this need to become part of strategic and operational thinking. The threats today are a combination of violent terrorism against civilians and institutions, wars fought by proxy by states that sponsor terrorism, the behaviour of rogue states, the actions of organised international crime, and the coordination of hostile action through abuse of non-military means. These dangerous and complex challenges cannot be dealt with by military means alone. The West needs to agree on a new concerted strategy that would include the use of all available instruments, and to prepare for those global and regional challenges that we can predict, as well as those we cannot. Source: Paper, pps. 44/45

The Ruxted Group agrees with most of the analysis but we part company on the “threat” posed by the rise of Asia. We do not believe that it is a zero sum game of Asia vs. the traditional West (which includes e.g. Australia and Japan); rather, we prefer to take a free market perspective and assume that the rising economic, social and political tides in Asia will lift our boats, too. Further, since the challenges we face are global it stands to reason that we need a global response – one that must include friends and traditional allies from the Asia Pacific region.

The Paper moves on to address existing international security capabilities, from a wholly Eurocentric or, at best, North Atlantic perspective, concluding that:

1.   The United Nations remains a vital tool and should play a decisive role, but it is not capable of doing so;

2.   The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is useful in many respects, especially because both Russia and the USA are members. It has a mechanism for the peaceful settlement of disputes among its members, but it lacks a broad vision and a common strategy;

3.   The European Union (EU) is a unique international organisation, partly supranational and partly a confederation. It has brought prosperity to its citizens and has succeeded in maintaining peace and eliminating war among its members. The EU also has political weaknesses, and it lacks unity. In areas of security and geopolitics, there are many internal differences concerning the status of the transatlantic alliance including the relationship with Russia and issues surrounding the Mediterranean and the Middle East; and

4.   The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been the most successful political organisation and military alliance in recent history, having managed to settle the Cold War peacefully and on its own terms. Despite its success, NATO faces serious challenges in Afghanistan and has lost the momentum required for transformation of its forces. NATO is, therefore, in danger of losing its credibility. In addition, the organisation seems to need an adequate vision for the future, including an effective strategy. It lacks capabilities, and its constituent nations are showing a marked lack of will for it to prevail. Unreformed, NATO will not be able to meet the challenges it faces now or in the future. NATO’s effectiveness is further constrained by the differences of opinion between the US and Europe, as well as by differences within Europe about the role and use of war, about hard and soft power, and about the legality of armed intervention. European NATO members are also divided among themselves about the size, role and scope of NATO. One important difference among Europeans concerns the range of NATO’s involvement: one view holds that NATO should be focused on Western security and should not extend its competence or its membership worldwide. In this vein, certain members are also opposed to extending NATO membership to non-North Atlantic nations, such as some of the democracies of the Pacific.

Source: Paper, pps. 71/75

The currently vexing problems of national caveats and sharing of intelligence are well-presented in the paper; it is hard to form a team-approach when each player, for national political reasons, applies different caveats to its forces and relies upon different intelligence estimates. Part of this problem is created by the very size of NATO which, later, the authors propose to enlarge. NATO, like the EU, is, simply, too big, too divided and too political to bring forward a tight, cohesive plan for the sorts of complex military operations that will confront us in the future.
The paper concludes that there is a serious shortfall between the threats facing the world, not just the West, and the existing capabilities of e.g. the UN and NATO.

The authors posit (p. 85) that all is not lost because, and here we agree: “What we do have, however, are common aims, values and interests, and these alone provide a sufficient basis on which to design a new global strategy – one that appreciates the complexity and unpredictability, and that links all the instruments and capabilities together. Looking at the scale of trends, challenges and threats, we cannot see a solution in America, Europe, or any individual nation acting alone. What we need is a transatlantic alliance capable of implementing a comprehensive grand strategy that is integrated, both nationally and among allies.”

Ruxted takes great issue with one word of this assessment. The authors should have said and the leaders of the secular, law abiding democracies must insist that “what we need to is a global alliance capable of implementing a comprehensive grand strategy,” etc.

The central issue, the one the paper’s authors got right, is that the problems and challenges are global – they are not, in the main, in and around Europe and the North Atlantic. The ‘cockpit’ is, now, as it has been so often in history, in West and Central Asia and it is likely to shift towards Africa sooner rather than later. It is highly unlikely that Eurocentric or, at best, North Atlantic solutions are going to work all that well.

The Ruxted Group agrees with the paper’s broad thrust. The proposed new grand-strategy aims to preserve peace, values, free trade and stability. It seeks as much certainty as possible for the member nations, the resolution of crises by peaceful means and the prevention of armed conflict. In doing so, it aims to reduce the reasons for conflict and – should all attempts to find peaceful solutions fail – to defend the member states’ territorial integrity and protect their citizens’ way of life, including their values and convictions. Source: p. 92

The authors propose (Paper, p. 106) a clear, simple and, in our view, workable grand-strategy. But, despite the paper’s many, many excellent analyses and deductions the authors end up making the wrong conclusion because about implementing that strategy because, we think, of their highly Eurocentric views. NATO, even an expanded alliance,3 cannot meet the objectives the UN will set because NATO will still be centred on the divided and divisive Europe.

The paper correctly points out that the problems facing us are global in nature but the paper then proposes only a ‘North Atlantic’ solution. Ruxted repeats: that is not going to be good enough. NATO should be maintained, enlarged and reformed but it needs to be steered, in the purely military sphere, by a small, nimble, global alignment (rather than a formal alliance) of internationally respected (hopefully trusted), secular, law abiding democracies that have similar (even shared) intelligence systems and military standards. The Ruxted Group has proposed in the past and continues to suggest that this alignment must include the USA (for credibility) and should also include trusted members from the Americas (Canada), Europe (the United Kingdom) and the Asia-Pacific region (Australia, New Zealand and Singapore). Other qualified nations will be associated with the group; countries like Chile, Denmark, India, Japan, the Netherlands and Norway might be amongst them.

The world, connected or not, is dangerous and is growing more so. Existing international institutions (the UN, NATO, etc) are ill-suited to protect the world from itself. All can and should be reformed but a new global alignment of traditionally law biding, secular democracies is required to lead reformed regional groups, like NATO, in creating and managing the five-point strategy outlined above to serve our own and the UN’s interests – such leadership is especially necessary when ‘enforcement’ is the order of the day.

Canada needs to have its voice heard in the world. Canadians want to contribute, actively, to the quest for world peace and security and they want their ‘values’ to animate any grand strategy which might involve Canada. Therefore, Canada should whine less and work assiduously, albeit quietly, to save NATO from itself and, more importantly, to create a new ‘alignment’ of like-minded, respected democracies which we can join with confidence and pride.

1. See:
2. General (ret.) Dr. Klaus Naumann, KBE Former Chief of the Defence Staff, Germany and Former Chairman of NATO’s  Military Committee; General (ret.) John Shalikashvili Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States of America and Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe; Field Marshal The Lord Inge, KG, GCB, PC Former Chief of the Defence Staff of the United Kingdom; Admiral (ret.) Jacques Lanxade Former Chief of the Defence Staff of France and Former Ambassador; and General (ret.) Henk van den Breemen Former Chief of the Defence Staff of the Netherlands
3. See ‘Enlargement and the three circles’ pps. 132/136 of the paper


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