By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (July 10, 2009) -- Options exist to help members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization better meet their obligations within the alliance, said the former NATO commander, who left the post less than two weeks ago.
Gen. John Craddock, the recent NATO supreme allied commander Europe and former commander of U.S. European Command, spoke July 9 at the Reserve Officers Association in Washington, D.C., as part of a presentation by the Heritage Foundation titled "NATO and Afghanistan: Equitable Burden Sharing."
The general addressed concerns that some NATO nations weren't as active in the alliance as others, in particular, to commitments in Afghanistan. He also suggested ways NATO could help member nations be more active in the alliance, including the development of shared NATO resources and the expansion of the NATO mission to include non-military, nation-building activities.
Craddock said that NATO can do more to enable member nations to provide support -- to meet their commitments to the alliance.
"We as an alliance need to make it easier for individual nations to make those contributions," he said. "We need to help nations financially who are willing to deploy to an operational theater."
Such assistance could come, he said, through the use of common or shared resources -- including a funding system that could reduce the strain on national defense budgets.
"We must bring new modern interoperable capabilities to the nations of the alliance, and also collectively to the alliance itself," he said. "I think we should further explore the acquisition of the commonly owned assets."
Even more, he said, NATO could redefine its mission in such a way as to enable some nations to participate in non-military ways.
"The vast majority of the new and emerging threats that we face collectively: transnational terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, piracy, energy security, mass migration, cyber attack -- these cannot be defeated by military means alone," he said.
Those threats to national security call for international solutions built on international partnerships and cooperation, he said.
"When we plan for the operations of today and tomorrow, perhaps NATO should ask whether it can provide capabilities outside the military domain," he said. "I would suggest that it is perhaps time for NATO to consider a greater role in areas that are traditionally non-military. Future transformation could be more comprehensive in nature, enabling the alliance to participate more actively in new tasks, tasks such as nation-building, and the construction of systems of justice and good government."
The role of the United States, he said, is to continue building partner capacity in NATO -- to assist partner and member nations in building what they have to contribute to increasing demands by the alliance.
"We currently provide essential support to our multi-national operations by building partner capacity," he said. "We must expand our efforts to assist allies in increasing their capabilities. The multinational operations we conduct today, and the one that we will conduct tomorrow, can succeed only if allies work together effectively. Interoperability and increased partner capacity are indeed essential."
Craddock also discussed the perception that some NATO nations did not seem as committed to the alliance's operations as others -- particularly when it involved Afghanistan.
"I believe that our European allies play an important and invaluable role in Afghanistan and other NATO operations," Craddock said. "But I also believe that we have issues to resolve. We as an alliance have remained well short of our agreed-upon statement of requirements in the Afghan theater. And also in Afghanistan, our NATO forces are riddled with caveats which restrict the flexible employment of the military force."
But the general fell short of accusing any particular nation of not doing its part.
"To simply say that our allies don't pull their weight in Afghanistan, I believe, is an oversimplification," he said.
Craddock said NATO asks member nations to commit 2-percent of their gross national product to defense, but that today, only a handful of member nations meet that goal, and that in the future he expects the number of countries meeting that expectation to drop even further.
"I think today that number is four; it was six this time a year ago and it may well be two within six months," he said. "Those are the current trends."
In Afghanistan, Craddock said, some nations participating there have restrictions on troops -- restrictions that limit their ability to contribute to the goals of the alliance.
The general explained that nations not as active in NATO can be divided into two categories: those who cannot participate as fully as expected, and those that will not.
"The United States has spent a lot of time, effort and resources developing our military as a powerful force, with a wide spectrum of cutting-edge capabilities and highly trained units to conduct military operations whenever and wherever we're called for," he said. "But not all of our allies have the resources to develop similar force strength and similar capabilities."
Those nations with limited resources, he said, may instead focus on very specific, specialized capabilities they can bring to the fight. Their commitment, with limited, niche capabilities, must not be interpreted as being less committed, he said.
"Some nations are strong in certain areas and are weak in other areas. Some lack certain capabilities altogether," he said. "We must not look at specialization as a shortcoming. Rather, for many, it is a sensible way to increase alliance capability in total. By encouraging nations to focus their efforts in different capability areas, we can benefit as an alliance from the law of comparative advantage."
The general also said that during the Cold War, many nations focused on building defensive forces to protect their own borders. The end of the cold war, and new requirements from NATO, have meant that nations must transform their militaries to support expeditionary operations. But recent conflict between Russia and Georgia, he said, have been cause for some nations to reconsider their rapid transformation to an expeditionary force.
Providing an expeditionary force is also expensive, Craddock said. And for some nations, the logistical cost of deploying a force commensurate with their military's size is prohibitively expensive.
"Due to NATO's cost-lie-where-they-fall policy, the costs of deployment fall to individual nations committing and deploying to the theater," he said. "For a larger nation, such as the United States, we are able to benefit from economies of scale as we've realized logistics costs. Contrarily, the logistics tail for a smaller force contingent in Afghanistan is proportionately much more significant than for that of a larger force."
Some nations, he said, may also be unwilling to support all NATO operations because of political pressure and because of a government's inability to communicate to its own population the importance of participation in some actions that aren't readily seen as important to its own national security.
"The decision of a nation to deploy military force, putting its sons and daughters in harm's way, and expending national treasure, is not and should not be an easy decision," he said. "We must remember that even the Article V guarantee of NATO provides only that a nation take action it deems necessary in restoring and maintaining security -- it is a national decision."
Currently, NATO is asking member countries to provide resources to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, to K4 in Kosovo, to a headquarters in Bosnia, to Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean, to training missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, to a counter-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, and to the NATO response force.
He said a national government, in making a decision to commit to those requests, must consider national will inside its borders and how to sell providing support to the populace that elected it.
"It must consider public opinion as it endeavors to deploy its military force," he said. "In some nations, public support for the operation in Afghanistan is quite limited."
Still, the general said, he believes each nation in NATO has a responsibility to the alliance and to communicate to its people the importance of the military action it has committed to NATO. Leaders, he said, must not be followers.
"To lead rather than follow polling data on public opinion," he said. "Politically, this can be a real challenge for European nations -- when a coalition government's hold on power rests with a single seat in parliament, that government may be more than a bit tentative in vocalizing unpopular positions."
Finally, Craddock said operations in Afghanistan need more support from NATO countries if the goals of the alliance are to be met.