The NATO Fail

In preparation for the NATO summit that starts today, Bohuslav Sobotka, the Czech Prime Minister, wrote a stirring piece for Foreign Policy magazine on why NATO members need to step up to the plate in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. While evidently sincere, it is unfortunately flawed both in terms of how it sees the Czech Republic’s position within NATO today, and in considering NATO’s future.
First of all, the situation here is not as rosy as the PM would have us believe. He makes a great point, for example, of lauding the “Czech Republic’s constructive role in world affairs and security challenges around the globe”, before claiming that the Czech Republic’s defence spending will rise from just 1% of GDP last year to 1.4% by 2020. At the same time he ignores the fact that NATO members are expected to have a military budget of around 2% of GDP, and stresses the loss of Czech lives in Afgahnistan – which remain in single figures.
This hardly suggests a genuine commitment of the kind that the Prime Minister is calling for from others. On the other hand, he is at least not following the lead of the son of a former Czech defence minister, who is convinced that the West is actively setting up a war with Russia.
On a broader level, Sobotka also declines to discuss the need for a fundamental rethink of what NATO acually does. He is hardly alone in this – Admiral (retd.) James Stavridis, also writing recently, likewise sees NATO revitalisation in traditional terms. Established as a military alliance, the organisation still thinks primarily in the classical military manner – for example, in response to a Russian resurgence, there are plans for a ‘spearhead’ rapid reaction force to be established, with equipment caches around Central/Eastern Europe.
This is a wonderful example of the well-known strategy problem of ‘generals fighting the last war’ – it takes no account of the style of hybrid warfare now being practiced by the Russians, whereby the use of ground troops, special operations forces, cyber warfare, agents provocateurs and political maneuvering under cover of plausible deniability seek to shape facts on the ground without ever reaching the level of full-scale war. Ironically, the tactics of what the Russians call ‘maskirovna‘ (a masking of one’s true intentions), can be traced back to one of the oldest military treatises of all: Sun Tsu’s Art of War:
“when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near… If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them… Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.”
NATO has in the past recognised its inability to adapt successfully to these new scenarios, but it is the political establishment that seems unwilling to make the changes necessary to do so.
Until and unless both the military and the politicians accept that military power by itself is insufficient to face down these ‘new’ threats, no progress will be made towards establishing a new balance of power in the region – which will lead to more instability, and greater threats to (for example) energy security and electronic infrastucture. It’s time to start taking these issues seriously.

Addendum: September 5th, 2014. 

The Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Gen. Phil Breedlove, has also now publicly stated that

“steps should be taken to help build the capacity of other arms of government, such as interior ministries and police forces, to counter unconventional attacks, including propaganda campaigns, cyberassaults or homegrown separatist militias.”

It’s clear that the military get this; the politicians now have to step up to the plate as well.

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