1937, NATO, and the Need for Follow-Through
General Sir Patrick Sanders, GBR A, Chief of the General Staff (GBR), made a statement, in part, this week that at first I thought was a bit of an exaggeration;
"This is our 1937 moment," the army chief said, referring to the crucial period leading up to World War Two.
"We are not at war - but must act rapidly so that we aren't drawn into one through a failure to contain territorial expansion… I will do everything in my power to ensure that the British Army plays its part in averting war."
The challenge means the army must modernise, embracing new technologies such as cyber warfare and long-range missiles, but also retain traditional soldiering skills.
General Sanders said if a battle came "standoff air, maritime or cyber fires are unlikely to dominate on their own - land will still be the decisive to domain", adding that "you can't cyber your way across a river".
Perhaps not. It tickled something that this former NATO staff officer and all around NATO fanboi tried to ignore as the Madrid Summit was going on.
NATO is always frustrating and not all our allies are as “good” as others. Some nations are just institutionally prone to freeriding … but still, there is nothing better than NATO for nations who are trying to keep the experiment of liberal democratic government going. Even the least democratic nation in our club, Turkey, is still a place you can – within reason – not feel like you are living in some dystopian hell hole – though there are limitations there as opposed to living in say Denmark.
It is clear that the Ukrainians’ brave stand in the face of Russian aggression finally opened the eyes of many in NATO that were previously closed that the post-Cold War fever dream has passed, that it is time to act as adults in an adult world. Not perfect, but an improved situation.
Yes, Russia is a poor and corrupt country … but she is also resource rich and has a distinctly expansionist vision of her place in the world. On paper in GDP and population she does not seem like a threat to prosperous Western Europe and North America, but you can be as rich and prosperous as possible, but if you are supine and distracted, the smaller and poorer who is aggressive will defeat you every time.
The events of the last year make the Madrid Summit one that must deliver more than group photographs. NATO must show her cards. This is one of those moments in time where you either turn in to the wind, or drift hopelessly.
So far, with a few quibbles, there is room for optimism. Let’s look at a few bits from the pre-summit press conference with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday,
We will transform the NATO Response Force.
And increase the number of our high readiness forces.
To well over 300,000.
NRF from 40,000 to 300,000. Hey, I know that gig and I feel the need to get to the CJ5 shop in Mons to go over the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements (CJSOR). Which troop contributing nations are filling which serials? Are we going to use the existing JFC’s as higher HQ or a new structure? This is my staff officer happy place. What a great time to be in Brussels, Mons, Brunssum, or Naples. If you love staff work – which I did – this is the kind of thing you just live for. (NB: don’t expect anything soon. NATO pretty much shuts down from 15 JUL to 15 SEP).
Regulars here know my decades long hobby horse about NATO allies spending their fair share? Well …
Nine Allies now reach – or exceed – the 2% target.
Nineteen Allies have clear plans to reach it by 2024.
And an additional five have concrete commitments to meet it thereafter.
Two percent is increasingly considered a floor, not a ceiling.
"... Back in 2014, when we agreed the Defence Investment Pledge, only three Allies met the guideline of spending 2% of GDP on defence. And defence spending was also declining across Europe and Canada."
Say what you want about Trump, but he is the one that dusted this off and made it a priority. He and his natsec team were correct in this regard and should be given the appropriate credit.
There are nations that geographically don’t quite “fit” NATO but otherwise would be right at home. We are smartly pulling them in tighter.
I welcome that Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea will join us for the first time at our Summit.
Absolutely critical to global security…not just North Atlantic.
However … all is not perfect. I would not be doing my loyal readers proper justice if I did not point out one sad fact – there are still unserious people injecting their unserious neo-pagan religion in this very serious secular challenge;
And on climate change, we will agree to cut greenhouse gas emissions for NATO as an organisation.
NATO could disappear tomorrow – and the planet would not notice. What unserious Davosesque BS. Whoever insisted that be included should be publicly shamed.
Having unserious FOD spot-welded on to serious occasions degrades everyone. It does not belong on the same page as this scene setter;
... remember that, for instance, in the current Strategic Concept, agreed at the Lisbon Summit in 2010 - and I attended that Summit as the Prime Minister of Norway - at that time, President Medvedev of Russia participated in the meeting and we agreed in the Strategic Concept, which is still the current Strategic Concept, and we will have a new one later this week, we said that Russia is a strategic partner. That will not be the case in the Strategic Concept we will agree in Madrid. I expect that Allies will state clearly that Russia poses a direct threat to our security, to our values, to the rules-based international order.
That really set the tone for the conference.
Today we got the official “Madrid Summit Declaration,” and it is good to note the significance of its location; 40-years after Spain joined NATO.
What are the bold-faced items?
We reaffirm our commitment to NATO’s Open Door Policy. Today, we have decided to invite Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO, and agreed to sign the Accession Protocols. In any accession to the Alliance, it is of vital importance that the legitimate security concerns of all Allies are properly addressed. We welcome the conclusion of the trilateral memorandum between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden to that effect. The accession of Finland and Sweden will make them safer, NATO stronger, and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure. The security of Finland and Sweden is of direct importance to the Alliance, including during the accession process.
No questions the largest takeaway. Swedish and Finn officers have been a regular sight through Partnership for Peace at NATO HQs for decades and at least their military has been ready to finalize their integration in to NATO. They were just waiting for the people and their elected representatives to realize the utility of this fact. They are turnkey members and will more than carry their weight. Great to officially have them in NATO.
The second takeaway is something not spoken loudly in polite company but generally understood. Russia is the reason for NATO.
We condemn Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine in the strongest possible terms. It gravely undermines international security and stability. It is a blatant violation of international law.
The Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.
The invasion of Ukraine was simply the last straw.
We warmly welcome President Zelenskyy’s participation in this Summit. We stand in full solidarity with the government and the people of Ukraine in the heroic defence of their country. We reiterate our unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders extending to its territorial waters. We fully support Ukraine’s inherent right to self-defence and to choose its own security arrangements. We welcome efforts of all Allies engaged in providing support to Ukraine. We will assist them adequately, recognising their specific situation.
We are a long way from and many plays away from UKR joining NATO, but NATO is clearly as close to being a combatant in this war as one could be without having actual troops on the ground. The nearest parallel I can think of is the USA’s relationship to GBR from 39-41, and perhaps the Soviet Union to Vietnam during our war there.
We will continue and further step up political and practical support to our close partner Ukraine as it continues to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russian aggression. Jointly with Ukraine, we have decided on a strengthened package of support.
Every NATO meeting, like minded non-NATO nations should be invited and smart minds put to work to see how we can better integrate with these friends.
We have met here in Madrid with many of NATO’s partners. We had valuable exchanges with the Heads of State and Government of Australia, Finland, Georgia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Sweden, and Ukraine, as well as the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission. We welcomed the engagements with the Foreign Ministers of Jordan and Mauritania, as well as the Defence Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Sadly, once again – the unserious neo-pagan cohort had to jump in where they are not needed nor wanted, but Davos must have its bit of the spotlight;
Climate change is a defining challenge of our time with a profound impact on Allied security. It is a threat multiplier. We have decided on a goal to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions by the NATO political and military structures and facilities, while maintaining operational, military and cost effectiveness. We will integrate climate change considerations across all of NATO’s core tasks.
So, there you have it. Sweden and Finland are in, and Russia is on report. Hopefully that means that I will have fewer opportunities to tap my sign over on twitter.
If we are lucky, by mid-decade the new floor will be 2.5% of GDP and punitive measures like we’ve recommended through the years will be placed on member states not carrying their fair share of the load.