Thursday, November 11, 2004

Sometimes, it doesn't make sense

This Blog is by no means alone is worrying about what appears to be the growing rift between Nato and the EU.

That the rift exists seems to be undisputed, and various speakers in the Federal Union seems now seem to believe that Nato has run its course. Stephen Haseler, for instance, in a speech to the Union’s AGM in March 2003, spoke of the need to "rethink" Nato, arguing for "a European declaration of independence".

The collapse of the Soviet Union, removing the threat to Western Europe, he maintained, removed the cement that underpinned American-West European relations that had created and sustained NATO.

In the new post 9/11 strategic environment, however, "Europe does not need America", he claims, "any more than America needs Europe - for its fundamental defence and security." It now seems likely that with or without Britain, a new European security system, either as a refinement of Nato or a replacement for it, would eventually come into being.

Rather like the euro, Hasler concluded, it will face Britain with a simple choice: to enter, and to help mould and determine its development, or to stand off from it, and make its way in an uncertain world.

More recently, George Irvin, in an essay on the Federal Union web site, called in aid the recent Bush election victory to claim that the trans-Atlantic love affair was over. He writes:

The EU's political voice in world affairs may still be weak, but its commitment to a socially inclusive state at home and to multilateralism in foreign affairs remains crucial. Economically, the EU is now larger in population and marginally richer in combined GDP than the USA... The EU can no longer rely on the protective tutelage of the US. That option finally ended in the early hours of that fateful Wednesday morning as the result of the US election became clear.
On a more practical level, this growing split seems to be confirmed by a piece in today’s International Herald Tribune, where Judy Dempsey reports that, while Nato and the EU appeared to absorb former Communist nations and other new members with ease last spring, "diplomats from both groups say that doubts about the reliability of some countries and lingering disputes have brought the important function of sharing secrets to a virtual standstill."

"Co-operation is simply not developing," moans a senior Nato diplomat, mainly because Malta and Cyprus have not been cleared to receive intelligence information and thus Nato, which processes the information, is reluctant to share it with the other EU members, fearing that its intelligence would be compromised by being shared with Cyprus and Malta, who have no right to see it.

With recent pieces in The Guardian and the Financial Times, reported in this Blog, briefing against Nato, and the Nato secretary general making what appears to be a despairing plea for unity, the case seems pretty well locked-in that the Atlantic Alliance is in serious trouble.

Then, as everything looks so solid, the case knocked back by an article in DefenseNews, headed "NATO, France Have 'Relationship That Works Well'".

It seems that US Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, NATO's military commander and America's top soldier in Europe, recently paid handsome tribute to France’s contributions to the Atlantic alliance and said French-US military relations have never been better, despite political differences between the two countries.

They are so strong, it seems, that French special forces are operating under US command on the Afghan-Pakistan border, in the search for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. "I don't know if we could have better relations than we have with the French military," Jones says. "France has a healthy and robust presence in NATO."

Then the penny drops. This is on a military-to-military level. At that same level, it is understood that French generals were both ready and willing to join US forces in the second Gulf War, not least because they felt that their forces would need the tactical experience, in order to stay in the top league of military forces. They were reportedly appalled when Chirac blocked their deployment.

What the piece looks like, therefore, is a carefully contrived piece of "spin", with Jones stating that the EU"s defence ambitions did not conflict with Nato’s goals. Perhaps there is an element in the US forces that really cares about continued European commitment to Nato but, if Jones’s comments are taken at face value, they do not check out with other strands of information coming in.

In many ways, this is why I prefer to watch the technical issues as much as the posturing and commentary of politicians – political and military. Something on the purely technical front that seems to point to growing problems is an apparently unrelated piece, also in DefenseNews, reporting on the US Army’s efforts to standardise their electronic tracking equipment.

This enables their forces to provide real-time displays in combat vehicles of the presence of friendly and hostile forces but what emerges from the piece is that, even within the Army, there is very real difficulty in ensuring interoperablity between equipment supplied by different firms. And, as the system becomes more sophisticated, and complex, employing the latest US GPS satellite navigation signals, and communications satellite relays, the fear is that the Army is heading for an electronic Tower of Babel.

Furthermore, it seems, the US Marines have a completely different system, currently incompatible with Army systems, and considerable expenditure will be needed on software modifications to allow the systems to talk to each other.

Here, the real problem for Nato begins to emerge. If it is difficult to ensure that the systems within the same country, the US, are able to talk to each other, and there is considerable expense required to ensure interoperability, what are the chances of systems produced independently by European manufacturers being able to talk to the systems used by the US.

Hard facts, therefore, cut through the rhetoric. The ability of different forces to operate together on a purely technical level will determine whether they can operate on a political level. And, without the political will to make that happen – and the commitment of funds that stems from it – Nato members will drift apart. In other words, Nato will not survive unless all its members are determined that it should survive. Clearly, that determination is not there.

Perhaps it does make sense after all. Whatever the military might think - or want - politically, the Alliance looks doomed.

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