Peter’s Atlantic Round-Up


Categorie: Atlantic Round-Up, Europe, NATO, Peter Vine |
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Robert Gates at NATO. ABC News photo.

Robert Gates at NATO. ABC News photo.


A collection of small to medium nations forever cutting back on defense budgets and simply unable rather than unwilling to take part in major operations, due to a lack of kit and major munitions shortages. That’s how U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates described NATO this week in a major valedictory speech.

Gates bemoaned the fact that America’s major NATO allies are simply not equipped for scenarios beyond a Warsaw Pact invasion of West Germany or submarine-hunting in the North Sea off of Norway.

Take the ongoing NATO operation over Libya. Both Britain and France have dedicated substantial resources in the form of Super Etendard, Rafale, Tornado and Typhoon fighters, as well as destroyers and carriers. Not only are the two countries’ refueling capacity limited — in the case of the RAF, it is very much bordering on the farcical — but their intelligence-gathering and electronic-warfare capabilities are non-existent. In NATO, only America possesses the capability to jam radar transmissions in the air.

When the NATO effort finally got underway — after heavy American support — it was hampered by munitions shortages, as many NATO nations have not budgeted for prolonged air campaigns. This necessitated further American assistance.

Finally, NATO’s operations center in southern Italy, which coordinates the campaign, has been “struggling to launch about 150” sorties per day, due to a lack of qualified staff.

Not only is Europe’s troubled military heavylifter on course for an early 2013 roll-out, but it could have excellent export prospects, reckons Antonio Rodriguez Barbera of Airbus Military. To be fair, the possibility does count on Lockheed Martin closing its C-130 Hercules line down and not bothering to design a replacement. All the same, Airbus is much more confident about selling the A400M than it was a year ago.

Barberan has identified markets in Asia, the Middle East and the Americas, where ageing American and Russian transport fleets are almost ready for replacement.

Writing another chapter in Polish-American military co-operation, USAF personnel will be stationed on Polish soil for training and co-operative purposes. The agreement is a crucial symbolic victory for Poland, which is traditionally Atlanticist in its foreign policy. The deal could be also very productive for the Americans, both in terms of helping NATO become a more effective force — and Poland, a willing customer for American kit.

The agreement will include U.S. training deployments in Poland for the F-16 fighter and C-130 transporter up to four times a year. It will also cement a small American garrison in Poland, geared towards training — and also preparing Poland to house SM-3 interceptors as part of America and NATO’s missile-defense shield beginning in 2018.

Poland has been lobbying America for deeper defense ties mainly to act as a bulwark against potential Russian aggression.


6 Responses to “Peter’s Atlantic Round-Up”

  1. Totally agree on the assessment made by Robert Gates. By cutting back on defense many small European countries have destroyed any capability they had of operating outside their own borders.As the world is moving towards an integrated multi-power environment where flashpoints can erupt any time, any where, with consequences reaching far inside those countries borders (economically and politically), global presence becomes a must and small countries should in cooperation with others expand on this capability and not cut back at this time.

  2. Prestwick says:

    It is quite astounding. Pointing to David’s post earlier this week showing just how much European defence spending has slowed it does worry me how badly prepared Europe is for a crisis.

    We’ve always had the old cry of “we’d never be able to do another Falklands” but now with France and Germany scaling back and not fully re-tooling for more low intensity expeditionary warfare the situation is now dire.

    On the other hand lets face it Europe now has a defence capability that fully matches its EU foreign policy: largely symbolic and mostly irrelevant.

  3. SM says:

    Yet its not a fact of nature that every NATO country should prepare for a series of expeditionary wars. That is a value: an assumption about what their armed forces are for that not everyone shares. Note that the Egyptians and Tunisians have chosen to keep out of Libya, even though the Egyptian army could have overthrown Ghadaffi in a few weeks.

    The problem is voting for an operation like Libya without the willingness or capability to participate.

  4. Brian Black says:

    Since the 1990 London Declaration, there’s been a drive to keep NATO relevant to the changing strategic landscape, and a recognition of the need for a political aspect to the organisation in order to keep everyone whistling the same tune.
    However, regardless of what Gates and the US might think, many European ministers don’t see NATO as relevant and/or don’t have the same global aspirations for their policies as the US and a few other member countries.
    NATO means different things to different people. The US needs to accept that and realise that there is no common EU defence policy. The soviet threat was the one and only theme agreed on by members, but a lot has happened in the last 20 years.

  5. Brian Black says:

    Isn’t the Italian based air operations center a very new NATO command structure, that has only come into being as a consequence of a need having being identified since the beginning of the Libyan campaign? Might a few early teething problems be expected?

    Overall, the military command and control of the operation would seem to be the least problematic of all the issues surrounding the whole reckless adventure.

  6. Prestwick says:

    The issue wasn’t with the idea of the air operations centre itself nor its working practices. It was the issue of thinking “lets have a nice centre where we can all co-ordinate targets, collate intelligence, etc” and then nobody bothering to stump up the personnel to actually DO any of that stuff. Manpower (or lack of) is what got Gate’s goat.

    At the end of the day this goes back to that old question: what does Europe want foreign policy wise? Does it want to take a back seat and use soft power to acheive its aims like Brazil, Japan or Turkey? Or does it want to get stuck in directly and be at the forefront which inevitably means getting into lots of conflicts.

    The problem is that you have at least three or four competing foreign policy visions coupled with a farcical E.U. “High Representative” who wishes to represent one of them. France wants to promote the E.U. as a so called “third power” next to America and China, Germany would rather we just do nothing and cosy up with Russia, the Baltics and Eastern Europe are obsessed about Russia and getting America involved as much as possible and Britain frankly wants to do its own thing but on a budget.

    Europe’s foreign policy is dysfunctional and it goes way beyond simple defence spending.

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