Former US secretary of defence Robert Gates started this bunfight with a criticism of NATO’s contributions and capabilities on his retirement last year. The US essentially says that Europe isn’t pulling its weight, and that Germany, which didn’t participate in the Libyan campaign, is the problem.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald
The report said: ''Today Germany is an economic powerhouse but a second-rate political and military power. German weakness is NATO's most significant problem.''
The report found that while the operation against Libya demonstrated the alliance's relevance and capacity, it also revealed its weakness.
While Professor Burns applauded the Obama administration for its diplomatic success in having NATO's European members lead the bombing campaign that bought down the Gaddafi regime, he said it was of concern Europe could not mount the operation without American ordnance and surveillance
The report is apparently based on a very US-centric perspective. It doesn’t seem to address any of the issues involved in the relationships within Europe. Nor does it appear to deal with some of the positioning involved in Europe in terms of diplomatic and trade issues.
The criticism of Germany looks more than a bit self-serving:
1. “Second rate military power” is definitely a matter of opinion. Germany happens to export a lot of military ordinance, notably Leopard tanks, throughout the NATO region and Scandinavia. It’s roughly on a par with France for land and air warfare capabilities.
2. The Bundeswehr (German military forces) is definitely not structured for major offensive operations. Germany has the right to decide if, where and when it makes military commitments.
3. The logistics of upgrading and maintaining an advanced military force may be a national hobby in the US, but nowhere else. The US itself is looking at big defence cuts based on costs.
4. Germany obviously does not want to be seen as the go to country for taking up the American role in Europe. Why would it? It’s an unrealistic option.
5. NATO is evolving from a Cold War alliance into a mutual self defence alliance. Russia is no longer considered a threat; in fact it’s a trade partner for many European countries, particularly Germany.
6. Defending Europe outside Europe is to put it mildly an acquired taste. The campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq illustrated NATO’s various reactions to the realities of these types of commitments. Germany made a commitment and backed it up with troops.
7. The current situation in Europe has put Germany in the entirely unwanted position of being the “powerhouse” in the nuthouse. The Germans don’t necessarily want to be carrying Europe, particularly militarily on an open-ended contract.
The current German position looks more sceptical than unsupportive. France, as usual, is going its own way. The United States, like everyone else, has long since given up trying to persuade France to do anything.
The Germans may well be trying to achieve the same position as the French, just doing it differently. One of the issues in the report is that Germany, like France, isn’t contributing 2% of its GDP to NATO, as required by the treaty. This strange, arbitrary figure leaves a lot to be desired. 2% of the GDP of Albania may be a relatively small amount, but 2% of the GDP of Germany or France is a gigantic amount of money.
Some might also question the wisdom throwing that sort of money into the saintly armaments industry “on principle”. The US wastes billions annually, but that doesn’t mean other nations are keen to follow suit.
Is the US actually saying “If you don’t contribute, you’re not part of our club,”? If Germany and/or France decide to leave NATO, there is no NATO.
The other problem- Military realities
The military facts aren’t helping the US position much, either:
1. A blanket demand for capacity to respond to threats doesn’t carry a lot of weight if you don’t identify what the threats are. There are no conventional threats on the immediate horizon.
2. If the Libyan operation is seen as a sort of forward defence option for NATO, perhaps the US might like to consider the supply chain demands on NATO for that kind of operation.
3. The world’s military forces, including the US, are evolving new systems for multilevel warfare. Short term high cost military commitments could be simply buying old tech which may not even have a use in future conflicts.
4. The “video games” military systems are taking a lot more of the load lately. These systems are proven, but purchase and force logistics aren’t ready for a definitive redesign of national, let alone multinational forces.
5. NATO’s interrelated systems are another issue. Gluing add-ons to these systems could be more difficult than it looks, particularly if force restructuring and realignment to complex warfare involves spending a lot of money.
6. European contributions to other areas of operation seem to be ignored. The anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa are military operations which are of high value to the international community.
The US is making a basic mistake in its demands on NATO. Until the definition of “what, where, when and why” becomes clearer, simply asking for “more” doesn’t mean much, particularly if you don’t address “how” commitments are to be supplied. If future commitments are required, the nature of those commitments needs to be clear and flagged so the commitments can be planned properly.
Suggestion for US/NATO talks- Decide what you’re trying to achieve, not just how the wheels go round. It’ll be a lot simpler.