The Telegraph, 11 July, 2018
The first day of the Nato summit has confirmed the worst fears of Nato’s alliance managers. Despite a seemingly promising Summit Declaration confirming defence for Ukraine and adherence to the Wales 2014 commitments, many problems remain unresolved.
Nato’s latest gathering risks turning into a sham, but Europe can still turn it around
In a similar vein to the letters sent to specific Nato member states thought to be shirking their contributions, President Trump launched into a surprising attack on Germany, asserting that they are “controlled by Russia”. The remark – and the large helping of irony that came with it – provoked German leader Angela Merkel to respond in kind, stating that Germany did quite enough for the alliance, contributing the second largest number of troops to the alliance.
While most Nato leaders will most likely be lining up behind her in this unstatesmanlike confrontation, the fact is – as I have written before – Trump is completely correct: Germany is not doing enough. Given its size and leadership role in Europe, its buck-passing cannot continue indefinitely without pulling the alliance into disarray and eventually decline.
At a recent closed door round table hosted by the Henry Jackson Society in cooperation with Nato in Westminster, Sophia Besche, a research fellow from the Centre for European Reform, admitted as much, citing a recent report on Germany’s military. The report, issued by the German Parliament’s Armed Forces Commissioner, Hans-Peter Bartels in February this year found that overall
- the Bundeswehr lacks basic equipment (like winter clothing and tents) for Nato missions
- Germany has a shortage of operational tanks and helicopters and does not have enough parts to maintain those it does have at full readiness (it went from 5,000 tanks in 1990 to 236 in 2017, with many of these being non-operational)
- Germany lacks enough ships to take part in Nato, EU, and UN missions
However, rather than chiding the Germans endlessly about not meeting the two per cent, what is necessary is a bold start by all sides in order to rescue the situation in short order. We are speaking about the future of the Western alliance, one of the largest and most advanced military alliances in the modern world. And it’s democratic and filled with overarching liberal ethos. We simply cannot let it walk itself into oblivion. What is required on all sides is some steps toward each other’s position.
First of all, get rid of the two per cent benchmark. Despite the ease of this benchmark, it has become so politically toxic as to be useless. It seems only to get backs up and there are lots of good reasons on why it is not useful.
Second, replace the two per cent benchmark with a capabilities agreement, where member states agree to not only implement the four 30s plan (30 battalions, 30 fighter squadrons, and 30 naval vessels to be read in 30 days), but also to have a baseline of capability, based on meaningful force plans.
Third, create a mechanism by which a new mechanism within Nato the organisation monitors the capability commitments of states to Nato own’s force structure, including whether all states are meeting or failing to meet their targets. This agency should be compelled to make an annual public report.
Fourth, stop grandstanding about the US President. Despite Merkel’s lofty rhetoric about Germany defending the liberal order, German spending has barely grown while Trump has doubled US spending for the European Defense Initiative from $3.4bn in 2017 to $6.5bn.
Fifth, stop pointing to development aid as a contributor to security. The fact is that when all states do this, Germany still does not rank particularly high in this regard. Attempting to use aid to sideline one’s commitments to one’s allies is bad alliance politics. Aid won’t stop Putin’s aggressive foreign policy.
Sixth, be willing to engage on the importance Nato with national publics. One gets the sense from German policy analysts and commentators that those who argue for increased military spending are considered to be “far right” or extreme. The only thing extreme in this scenario is Germany’s complete detachment from the concerns of its Eastern neighbours. Germany’s political leadership has completely failed to make these arguments in a meaningful way to their own people.
As one report by CSIS – a Washington think tank reveals – when one looks at the actual force numbers, it is clear that there is a serious problem in Europe. Even when one considers the shrunken Russian military, it is frightening that in 2014, Putin was able to throw a “snap exercise” with 150,000 men right on Europe’s doorstep. Mustering everything they had and planning for nearly a year, Nato threw its own large exercise – with just under 40,000 men.
As one of Europe’s primary defence providers and one of Nato’s founding nations, Britain must act as a bridge between a hardening US position and Germany’s entrenched stubbornness. Pulled between the both, the alliance could fragment, losing any serious capability to provide security for the continent. This would be a disaster for the UK and a windfall for Moscow and Beijing. Despite our own domestic travails – does any good news come from the Continent? – London must continue to help keep Nato together.