By Doug Bereuter
While NATO’s critics prophesy its demise, the 19 allies are quietly taking steps to ensure that the alliance will continue to meet the challenge of defending its members. But now that our governments have pledged to develop the forces needed for an effective NATO, our national legislative bodies and our publics must keep up the pressure to ensure they deliver on their promises.
At their recent meeting in Brussels, NATO defense ministers approved the military and political concept for the NATO Response Force, which will give the alliance a high-end expeditionary capability. They also reviewed progress on the Prague Capabilities Commitment (PCC), through which the allies have pledged to develop the military assets needed to perform NATO missions.
Those who claim that the United States plans to abandon its European allies disregard the renewed emphasis President George W. Bush’s administration and Congress have placed on NATO. The Pentagon devoted a good deal of attention before last November’s Prague Summit to developing and refining ideas like the response force and the capabilities commitment.
The NATO Response Force will enable European and Canadian allies to join with the United States in developing forces that can rapidly deploy to apply decisive power wherever needed. Nations will pledge units to train for six months for combined-forces operations, then to serve six-month stints in the NATO Response Force. Smaller nations unable to deploy an entire combat brigade will contribute specialized combat or support capabilities that are in short supply.
In total, the force’s land, sea and air elements will include more than 20,000 personnel, with an initial operating capability by October 2004. Should the North Atlantic Council or the Defense Planning Committee decide to deploy the NATO Response Force, the alliance commander would be able to tailor a force by drawing on its combat aircraft, its brigade combat team, and its carrier battle group and other surface vessels.
I am pleased that many alliance nations are seeking to participate in the Response Force, and I particularly welcome France, which, of course, is not a member of NATO’s integrated military command. Maximizing the number of countries participating in the NATO force will reduce the demands on any one country.
The Response Force also will drive transformation throughout the alliance. Before national units can participate, they must meet the tough standards of this elite NATO force. Their training with other Response Force units will expose them to cutting-edge capabilities and procedures that they will take home and share with their nations’ armed forces.
Unfortunately, I am less sanguine about the PCC. We need to see more successes, like the recent purchases of precision-guided munitions by several allies and the signing of the long-awaited contract for 180 A400M transport aircraft, a major step toward developing a modern European airlift capability. However, the first A400M will not enter service until 2009, so allies now need to consider leasing options that will fulfill the airlift requirement for the rest of this decade.
When the commitment was announced last year, it appeared to be an elegantly precise solution for remedying the most pressing capability shortfalls in NATO by focusing specific lead countries on a few key items. However, it seems that political will is lacking in several areas, such as the Spanish-led consortium to procure aerial refueling aircraft, which won’t sign a letter of intent until the end of next year at the earliest.
Governments cannot merely commit to consider procurement of needed items; they must actually buy what their armed forces need, and quickly. Failure will put the commitment on the trash heap with other NATO capabilities initiatives. And if nations refuse to equip their forces to conduct alliance missions, the Response Force will fail as well.
Ultimately, the requirements for the NATO Response Force and PCC will be incorporated into the NATO force planning process, but the alliance must not let these initiatives fall off the radar screen. An important step: release an unclassified version of each nation’s NATO force goals.
Despite the end of the Cold War, NATO force goals remain classified, and this secrecy means that most national legislators cannot examine what their governments have agreed to provide to the alliance. An unclassified version would help lawmakers and voters pressure governments to fund their defense commitments.