NATO allies battle for spoils of big spending


NATO allies are quietly preparing to go to war — among themselves — over the spoils of an imminent boom in military spending and expansion of forces and infrastructure in Europe.

With U.S. President Donald Trump squeezing allies hard to pay up more on defense, the EU gearing up for intensified security and defense cooperation, and the West generally stepping up vigilance in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, defense spending is expected to soar in coming years.

In the first significant growth after years of cuts following the end of the Cold War, NATO will create at least two new commands, likely to be headquartered in Europe — one focused on logistics to help speed troops and equipment across the Continent, and a second focused on maritime operations to protect sea lanes in the North Atlantic.

“I don’t regret that we, after the end of the Cold War, reduced the size of the NATO command structure, as long as we’re able to adapt when the tensions are increasing again,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said ahead of a two-day meeting where alliance defense ministers on Wednesday formally agreed to create the new commands.

While final decisions on the precise scope and location of the commands will not be made until next year, the jockeying among allies hoping to host the new operational centers — which will bring hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs, and a major boost to local economies — is already underway.

Germany, which is re-emerging as a military leader in Europe, and Poland, the largest of the eastern bloc nations to join NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union, are vying for the logistics command.

Meanwhile, France is expected to make a major play for the North Atlantic command, despite the U.K. being seen as a heavy favorite for the role. Smaller coastal allies like Norway — Stoltenberg’s homeland — and the Netherlands are also said to be interested.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says he does not mind spending cuts in the past “as long as we’re able to adapt when the tensions are increasing again” | Stéphanie Lecocq/EPA

Even more money and influence may be at stake in the looming intensification of military cooperation among EU nations.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has called for a European Defense Fund that would ultimately spend €500 million a year on research, and as much as €5 billion annually on joint purchases of arms and equipment, like helicopters or drones.

In addition, the parameters of the cooperation program developed by the European Council call for all EU countries to spend 2 percent of GDP annually on defense, effectively requiring those who are not NATO members, like Ireland and Austria, to match NATO’s spending goal.

If NATO allies alone meet their 2 percent pledge, agreed at a leaders’ summit in Wales in 2014, military spending among the allies would increase by more than $150 billion a year.

Jockeying for jobs

With so much money, not to mention political prestige, at stake, EU countries have been laying their battle plans for months — as evidenced by the sharply intensified competition for top military posts both at NATO and within the EU.

“I welcome the very close cooperation with the European Union on this” — Jens Stoltenberg

The U.K., anxious about its role after Brexit, made an aggressive push and in September secured the election of Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach, chief of the U.K. armed forces, as the new chairman of NATO’s Military Committee. That’s the senior uniformed post at alliance headquarters, and top military adviser to the civilian leadership. The U.K. has traditionally held the role of deputy supreme allied commander Europe, but that post has specific duties for NATO-EU cooperation, including as commander of EU-led operations, meaning the U.K. will almost certainly lose the job upon exiting the EU.

And on Tuesday, Italy, which had also made a strong bid to head the Military Committee, outflanked France, Ireland and other competitors in clinching the top EU military post for its defense chief, General Claudio Graziano.

France, which has never fit in easily at NATO, seemed to be the big loser in those leadership fights. For the EU position, Paris had nominated General Denis Mercier, currently NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation based in Norfolk, Virginia. Instead, the EU’s defense chiefs opted for Graziano, who has served in their own ranks at the European Military Committee since April 2015.

Some EU diplomats speculated that Graziano’s nationality boosted his candidacy, because Italy, unlike Germany or France, is not seen as major, direct beneficiary of the ballooning military expenditures — a reflection of how the new spending now factors into decision-making.

Italy, however, does have a strong interest in seeing NATO maintain or even step-up operations on the alliance’s southern periphery. Cooperation between the EU and NATO is also expected to increase as officials work to show that the new EU efforts are neither undermining NATO nor creating a wasteful overlap.

Stoltenberg, at a news conference on Wednesday, noted the importance of cooperation with the EU to improve mobility, especially by upgrading infrastructure like bridges, so that they can bear the weight of tanks and other heavy equipment.

“It made complete sense to right-size in the post-Cold War period” — Former U.S. ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute

“I welcome the very close cooperation with the European Union on this, and I know that this is also something which the European Union has been focused on because this is partly about also European Union financing some of these investments,” he said.

Stoltenberg has insisted that previous cuts in NATO’s command structure — to 6,800 personnel at seven commands from 23,000 at 33 commands during the Cold War — were justified and made sense at the time.

He said the new expansion would include the two additional commands as well as a “cyber element.” Some officials speculated that the plans could be broadened to include a full, new cyber command, potentially adding a third prize to the mix.

Stoltenberg, who spent much of the past year working to shift Trump’s view of NATO as “obsolete” has made clear that he will move cautiously in advancing discussions on the new commands. The initial blueprint approved on Wednesday will be followed by more detailed talks and a renewed discussion among defense ministers at their next meeting in February.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speak during the NATO defense ministers council | Stéphanie Lecocq/EPA

The U.S., which holds major sway over NATO decisions, has not yet staked out a position on where the new commands should be located. And it is unclear that Trump realizes the extent of competition among allies. His remarks on NATO spending suggested that the new money would “pour in” to the alliance’s coffers, but in fact, allies are judged on how much they spend on their own militaries.

Officials said Washington seems primarily interested in efficiency and preparedness in the new security environment, and that the revision of command structure was generally viewed as a positive step.

“It made complete sense to right-size in the post-Cold War period — not just the American military presence in Europe but all our European allies took the peace dividend as well,” said former U.S. ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute, who is now a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

But Lute said NATO’s effort to adapt was admirable. “Things change,” he said. “The good news, and I see this as a really positive development, is NATO is looking in the mirror and asking itself if is fit for purpose, to the demands we face today. Here you have one of the pillars of the international order — which as a group these institutions are doubted and criticized today — you have one pillar that is looking at itself and taking reasoned, considered, responsible steps to adapt.”

Source: Politico

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