#NATO

Presidential behaviours

While the glass jawed POTUS has many shortcomings, surely the unelected EC President Jean-Claude Juncker does the EU absolutely no favours by being sozzled to the gills at a NATO summit. One has to ask PM Theresa May how she thinks the EU is a credible opponent to negotiate Brexit? No deal seems a no brainer.

NATO – 19 nations may hit 2% promise 18 years after committing to do so

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It is a farce. In 2006, NATO Defence Ministers agreed to commit a minimum of 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to defence spending. This guideline, according to NATO,  “principally serves as an indicator of a country’s political will to contribute to the Alliance’s common defence efforts.” In 2017, only 5 of the 28 members outside the US have met the 2% threshold – Greece, Estonia, UK, Romania & Poland in that order. Despite Greece’s economic problems elsewhere, it manages to honour the deal. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said “the majority [not all] of allies now have plans to do so by 2024.” 3 more are expected to hit the target in 2018. So for all the good will in the world, is POTUS wrong to call the other 19 members slackers that ride off the US taxpayer when so many of them are only likely to hit the target 18 years after ‘committing’ to it?

NATO commitment in 2017 can be seen as follows.

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Although all credit to the Europeans and Canadians for getting away with it for so long. Previous US presidents have obviously not concerned themselves with getting a fair deal on mutually agreed commitments. Although in what world would American taxpayers be upset to see the rest of the team pick up the slack?

Naturally the media are getting mileage out of the insensitive bully attacking his supposed allies. In fact Stoltenberg said last month on record that, “burden sharing will be a key theme of our summit next month, and I expect all allies to continue their efforts.” He reiterated that to Trump yesterday.

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To be brutally honest, how effective can a NATO force truly be if words aren’t put into action? What good is a promise if it is to be honored 18 years later. Imagine if that is the mindset should NATO be forced to act militarily. Would those meeting their obligations feel within their rights to have a bigger say in how NATO should work?

The problem with such a lack of commitment is that over the 12 years where 23 nations have not come close to meeting their obligations, the sum total of the actual defence capabilities suffers for the duration. The US is 67% of total NATO spend and the UK, France  & Germany make up half of the remainder. Yet building a sustainable capability in defence does not come through half measures or poorly thought out procurement. What is missed on many is that over 70% of defence budgets are allocated to soldier pay, housing, healthcare, training and so forth. Procurement and RDT&E get funded out of the balance. Have a skirmish somewhere and yet more money is chewed out of buying new equipment for the sake of logistics (feeding 10,000 troops and servicing hardware in a foreign land). Then there is the subject of terribly managed procurement programs.

Take the French disaster that is the aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle. Despite delays because of problems with a retrofit for radiation shields, the naval brass had to add 14 feet of deck because it realized that the E2-C Hawkeye surveillance planes it purchased couldn’t take off and land in its original build spec. Even now the flight deck is not long enough to conduct simultaneous launch and recovery operations. Even worse the blueprints for the CdG‘s propellers had been lost in a fire, which meant that the ship had to be refitted with hand-me down screws from carriers Foch and Clemenceau which meant her speed was cut from 27 knots to about 24 knots—which was unfortunate since her predecessors steamed at 32 knots. Speed to war zones is kind of important to gain a decisive edge. All of the spend to fix poorly thought out designs cuts from being able to procure other equipment and materiel. Scary to think Australia is buying 12 subs from the French! The problems are already revealing themselves despite not one boat having hit the dry dock.

History tells us many things of how NATO type organisations have failed in the past.The Peloponnesian Wars (431BC – 404BC) highlighted how things can change when allies do not keep up commitments and capabilities aren’t maintained.

Athens required her Delian League member states (consisting of city states mainly along the Ionian Sea) to pay tributes (phoros) to the treasury which was used to build and maintain the naval fleet led by Athens. Yet over time the member states relied too much on the wealth of Athens and over the course of the draining war and the costly campaign to Sicily, failed to honour the ever increasing demands to fund the league with the appropriate level of tributes which drove Athens into massive debt. Defence spending by the Athenians had been cut to around 30-60% of the average over the previous decade. The Delian League’s capabilities dwindled as a result and the Spartans, funded by Persia, took advantage of this and crushed it for good, in the very art of war that Athens was renowned for – the navy.

It is not hard to think of Trump feeling like a modern day Pericles. NATO is the Delian League and its projected enemies chip away all the while members dither over commitments, forcing the US to sustain the limited capability. Like the Athenians, the US has the most powerful navy in the world with a fleet bigger than the next 11 countries combined but even it has pared back the number of ships to less than 10% of what it had in WW2. Enhanced capability is one factor in cutting the surface fleet but even the US DoD realised that the conventionally powered US Kitty Hawk consumed 2% of the entire US military fuel bill annually so it was taken out of service to save money.

One can argue the $750 billion annual defence budget is plentiful but the US realises that power projection is an expensive business. Even Japan understands it can’t stay nestled in the bosom of US stationed forces forever without taking a proactive stance to defend itself. That is the same message to the 19 members NATO failing to pull their weight.

NATO Facts and why Macron’s arrogance is no better than Trump’s

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While social media splashes around a US contribution to total NATO spend of 73% it in reality is a third of that. Only the USA and UK spend over and above NATO commitments as outlined in the chart above. Even the Greeks meet half the requirement! Germany is below not only NATO guidelines but the media would never tell you that. Trump has a point. In fact the reason much of the military spending numbers below the requirement stems more from inefficiency than anything else.

What many fail to understand is that salaries and benefits (housing, education and healthcare) for military staff tend to consume 3/4s of the budget. Procurement is a dog’s breakfast and influenced by age of fleets, battalions, interoperability and so forth. While NATO isn’t exactly group buy the us wins by default of having access to the best cost/performance equipment allowing better bang for the buck. Little Estonia can’t get the same economies of scale.

The “contribution” (click here) question is clouded by two things. Under Obama, the US has cut its NATO contribution from 5.29% of GDP when he took office to 3.6%. NATO Europe had met the minimum expected contribution of 2% but this has slumped from the tech bubble collapse of 2000 to 1.47% today which has meant the only thing keeping NATO’s overall budget above target has been Uncle Sam!

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So once again social media muddles a message. It takes 10 seconds to go on NATO’s website and fact check.

Instead the media is more focused on pointless clickbait on whether Trump can hold Melania’s hand without being swatted away or who won the vigorous handshake contest – he or Macron. In fact Macron’s deliberate snub Of Trump when he met all the leaders spoke volumes. He made no conscious effort to shake his hand first. He made a point of sucking up to his EU cronies first and spent needless time making worthless chitchat before even acknowledging the leader of the strongest nation on earth. We shouldn’t be surprised. Best have Trump inside the tent p1ssing out than outside p1ssing in.

Even if they want to delegitimize Trump they play a silly game. Much like business leaders being bullied on social media to leave Trump’s business council (Uber chickened out), the EU plays a dangerous game of isolating Trump. If they want to prevent him from being the “unhinged” orange buffoon they think he is they’d do much better to be welcoming, accommodating and flattering his eminence. That way they can bring balance and find common ground. They show no signs of even beginning to try. By snubbing him they shouldn’t be surprised if he acts independently. Yet Macron acts no better than Trump and the media lavishes praise on the exact same antics they crucify The Donald over. Typical double standards.

Be careful what you wish for! The world needs a healthy US and stunts like this only fray the lines of trust and partnership further. Sure, the America First policy stance is affronting but if the EU want to expedite the process then keep up the Trump bashing. It doesn’t mean Trump bumping (hey Trudeau did it in Canada to a female member of parliament) other dignitaries shows good character but he knows he’s being ridiculed and the media sees it as their only form of attack. The problem is they forget 75% of Republicans STILL approve of his job performance.  He may only be doing a C+ on performance in office but he isn’t anywhere near the F- portrayed by the media.

Sweden brings back conscription

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It seems the Swedes are reintroducing conscription after ending it in 2010. After the Cold War ended Swedish defence spending fell from 2.5% of GDP in 1991 to a little over 1% today. At the same time the number of active soldiers has declined. The Defence Minister has called for 4,000 conscripts per annum for 2018 and 2019.

The Swedes see that Russia’s annexation of Crimea l, involvement in Ukraine and one would imagine other Baltic states in time, means they need to insure against potential threats. NATO’s future form is indeed looking uncertain with a Trump administration (whether one believes collusion with Russia or not) so such a scenario means that countries like Sweden may indeed look at individual insurance too. I won’t be surprised to see other European countries follow suit.

Afterall if the US indeed pulls back on a global policeman role, expect the likes of Russia and China to fill the vacuum. I don’t see it as a likelihood anytime soon but the geopolitical landscape in 2017 throws many curve balls. Starting with the French, Dutch, German and possibly Italian elections.