Minding the Gap
The biggest obstacle to transforming NATO's military is not technology or money -- it's psychology.
For evidence of the current revolution, or transformation, in military affairs, recall the second U.S. attempt at taking out former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein while he was inside a Baghdad restaurant on April 7, 2003. Within 38 minutes, U.S. forces had sighted and identified an enemy position, flowed targeting information, made a command-level decision to attack, and dropped a bomb on the target, reportedly missing Hussein by minutes -- all amid the fog of war. Overall, in comparison with the first Gulf War, the United States, Britain, and others in the coalition achieved a more ambitious goal, in almost half the time, with one third of the casualties, and at one fourth of the cost. These results exemplify military transformation and all that it delivers, Rumsfeld-style.
For evidence of the current revolution, or transformation, in military affairs, recall the second U.S. attempt at taking out former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein while he was inside a Baghdad restaurant on April 7, 2003. Within 38 minutes, U.S. forces had sighted and identified an enemy position, flowed targeting information, made a command-level decision to attack, and dropped a bomb on the target, reportedly missing Hussein by minutes — all amid the fog of war. Overall, in comparison with the first Gulf War, the United States, Britain, and others in the coalition achieved a more ambitious goal, in almost half the time, with one third of the casualties, and at one fourth of the cost. These results exemplify military transformation and all that it delivers, Rumsfeld-style.
What do these results have to do with the future of NATO? Everything. The brutal truth is that, with NATO’s current military capabilities, the alliance could not fight at a level comparable to the recent U.S. operations in Iraq. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has suggested that with 2000 Democratic candidate Al Gore as president, the United States and NATO would have gone to war in Afghanistan together. From a military perspective, such a proposal is questionable. The divergence in military psychology, or mind-set, between the United States and its European and Canadian allies is in danger of widening too fast.
For the United States, NATO is no longer a tool of first resort, nor will it be until Europe and Canada upgrade their capabilities and change their intellectual course. This U.S. attitude toward NATO should surprise no one. After all, operations in Kosovo in 1999 were met with more criticism than praise in the United States, where many felt that Europe was imposing political constraints on the effective use of military power. From a military viewpoint, that perception is valid. In Kosovo, 11 weeks of NATO bombing left most of the Serbian army intact, whereas in 2003, it took U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks, the former allied commander in Iraq, about one week to disassemble Iraq’s Republican Guard.
Certainly, the current situation is unhealthy. The U.S. defense budget is more than $400 billion this year, plus an additional $87 billion or so for Iraq and Afghanistan operations and reconstruction. This leaves the United States outspending European NATO countries and Canada on defense by between 50 and 350 percent, in terms of gross domestic product per capita. There are more than 2 million people in uniform in European NATO countries, compared to about half that in the United States. Yet of these 2 million soldiers, less than 200,000 are readily deployable. The new security environment — in which warfare requires integrated land, air, and sea forces, simultaneous attack, risk taking, and trust — demands reform within NATO’s European members that has been too slow and incremental to be effective.
Even more worrying than the technological and budgetary divergence between U.S. and European military capability is the growing intellectual imbalance between U.S. military thinkers and their NATO allies. Americans and Europeans are beginning to talk different military languages, and this gap can affect views, vision, strategic thinking, and the policy that flows from it. Carnegie Endowment Senior Associate Robert Kagan, in Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, explained the different approaches to security in the United States and Europe as the growing divergence between the U.S. focus on hard power and Europe and Canada’s soft-power approach.
This trans-Atlantic divergence was starkly evident during the war-fighting phase of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and is even more evident now with regard to winning the peace in both nations. The "fog of peace" is just as complex as that of war. In Iraq, the U.S. approach is geared to the suppression of organized military opposition. But conducting counterinsurgency, stabilization, and general peacekeeping operations demands a different approach in which human interaction rather than decisive force determines success. European military leaders are more inclined to a U.N. peacekeeping model, in which human interaction is the defining strength. A proven track record in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan means Europe and Canada bring a lot to the peacekeeping table.
Overcoming the psychological imbalance threatening NATO’s modernization will require a U.S. approach to fighting wars that goes beyond the war-fighting phase — winning the peace as well as the war. At the same time, European strategic thinking must shift from static to expeditionary operations, which means a change from in-place forces to those that can deploy quickly, at distance, with complete trust and communication between air, land, and maritime commanders in order to apply force in the right place at the right time. Expeditionary capability was vividly evident in U.S. operations in Iraq, but is not yet developed in European militaries. Europe must embrace information-age capabilities to deliver force faster and more accurately, examining concepts such as the United States’ Blue Force Tracker, a digital tracking system that allows commanders to monitor friendly forces and share information. And NATO must apply the philosophies of "effects-based warfare," a doctrine based on close integration of diplomatic, economic, and military means.
Talking recently with Air Marshall Sir Brian Burridge, Britain’s commander in the Iraq war, I was gratified to hear that change is occurring. Britain’s interoperability with the United States in Iraq last year came about as much because of a shift in doctrinal thinking over the last decade as because of judicious British defense investment. Other European nations are getting the message, too. Norwegian Minister of Defense Kristin Krohn Devold is focusing on radical changes to make Norway relevant, concentrating on niche capabilities such as cold-weather warfare, rapid deployability, and high technology. Identify what you are good at, Devold says, and concentrate on it. That way you can make a contribution even if you are small. Similarly, the Netherlands and Germany are initiating radical reforms that aim to deliver forces that are both deployable and usable. This approach is precisely what is needed to realign trans-Atlantic security thinking. NATO nations are moving in the right direction, but there remains much to do.
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