Maj Gen Karlis Neretnieks | The Riga Conference 2012
The NATO Chicago summit in May 2012 in many ways looked like a success. The principle of collective defence was confirmed as the core task of the alliance. It was also declared that the development and deployment of the European part of the BMD system would continue. There will also be a more flexible approach on how to involve NATO partners in various activities, not just peace operations in remote countries. An important statement when it comes to the Baltic Sea region.
It was also declared that future enlargement of the alliance was in the cards, and that Smart Defence and the European concept of Pooling and Sharing to a large extent were two sides of the same coin. The Libya campaign was put forward as a good example of close cooperation and burden-sharing between the US and some European countries in the NATO framework. The general impression was that the Euro-Atlantic link seems to be in a reasonably good shape.
This rosy picture is misleading. Considering the US redeployment of military assets to in the Asia- Pacific region, drastic reductions of defence budgets in some of Europe’s largest states and the very ambitious Russia’s armament program, much of which was said in Chicago, and earlier in Lisbon, looks like cosmetics to patch over increasingly diverging views.
The US pivoting towards the Asia-Pacific is fully understandable from the US point of view. Here on-going developments in the Middle East should also be kept in mind. Europe is a quiet corner compared with other challenges that the US is facing. And why should a region with a GDP comparable, or even larger, than that of the US, not be able to take care of its own basic security needs? One can wonder how strong a link really is if one of the partners is supposed to carry an unproportionally large part of the burden? There is a need for rethinking in Europe.
At the same time, it is important that the US seriously considers the psychological impact of withdrawing assets from Europe. Especially among those European countries that feel most concerned about recent developments. It is not so much a question of US ability to support its allies; it will still be there for the time being. Rather it is the same feeling as not seeing the police patrolling streets, although they can arrive at a crime scene on short notice.
The US being the most influential member of the alliance should therefore do its best to remind other members of the alliance’s core tasks and their liabilities. But it (US) should also increase its own efforts when it comes to clearly demonstrating its resolve to help, if need be, the countries feeling that present developments are moving in the wrong direction. It is not primarily a question of keeping large forces in Europe, rather it should be different, highly visible, actions and preparations showing that the US is prepared and capable of using its power projection capabilities in case of a crisis.
If you are not convinced that the police will arrive in time, what is the use of installing a burglar alarm – spending money on defence in the case of smaller countries?
The ways of handling the challenges mentioned above from the Baltic point of view are discussed in Dr. Toms Rostoks’s paper. Mr. Damon Wilson looks deeper into the possible effects the US pivoting towards Asia might have on European security. Europe´s reluctance to bear its part of the burden when it comes to its own security is discussed by Mr Jamie Shea. Lastly, the on-going developments in the Middle East, which should concern Europe as much as they concern the US, are analysed by Mr. Giuseppe Balardetti. All these papers give a clear indication that the alliance is facing several challenges that still need to be addressed.
Major General (ret) Karlis Neretnieks is a Fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences and Former President of the Swedish National Defence College