Coffee House

Is NATO a busted flush?

31 July 2014

9:22 AM

31 July 2014

9:22 AM

Rory Stewart is no soft-touch. When he was elected chairman of the Defence Select Committee, it was thought that he would hold the government and NATO’s feet to the fire. And so it has come to pass. The committee has published an alarming report on NATO’s unpreparedness to meet a threat from Russia. It says, in terms, that the risk of Russia attacking a NATO member, either conventionally or asymmetrically, is ‘small’ but ‘significant’. NATO has inadequate rapid reaction forces, cyber defence and strategic plans to counter this risk. The report also makes a telling political point: the public might no longer support NATO’s defining principle that an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Stewart’s analysis is underpinned by general observations, some of which he described on the Today programme earlier this morning. He said that NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan, and a decade of instability in the Middle East and the Maghreb, have distracted attention from Russia. Financial insecurity has led to reduced defence investment and the diminution of ‘Russian expertise’ (a glorious euphemism for spies?). Figuratively speaking, NATO’s leaders are under-gunned and in the dark.

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Recent events in Ukraine, the Crimea and Georgia, Stewart says, show that NATO’s strength urgently needs to be ‘recalibrated’ to ‘vulnerable’ regions in eastern Europe and the Baltic states. He wants Britain to lead the way by making a commitment to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence (a basic NATO requirement) in the next parliament. He also questioned the international development budget, which has been increased perhaps at the expense of defence. And Stewart restated an often neglected fact: Russia is a smaller economy than Britain (and much smaller next to NATO members combined), but spends considerably more on defence.

Perhaps Stewart’s sentiments will see him condemned as a ‘Cold War warrior’, ignorant of the growing ties between Europe and Russia. If so, it would be unjust because he doesn’t fit the stereotype. His objective, clearly, is to deter Vladimir Putin’s expansionist policy. This is what the so-called ‘Cold War warriors’, be they advocates of tough sanctions or sabre rattling, hope to achieve. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former secretary of state at the FCO and the MoD, told me last week that the ‘objective [of tough sanctions] is to normalise relations with Russia by forcing a change in President Putin’s foreign policy. That is the only objective.’

Michael Fallon, the current Defence Secretary, replied to Rory Stewart – and by extension other critics of the present policy – on Today a little while ago. He said that Britain was committed to spending 2 per cent in this parliament (my italics). The challenge, he said, was to convince other NATO members to follow suit. He also gave a robust defence of international development spending, arguing that it was an arm of foreign policy used, for example, in nation building. He also described Britain’s contribution to NATO’s temporary deployment in eastern Europe and the Baltic states, including the pledge to send a 1,350 strong battle group with 300 armoured vehicles and tanks to an exercise in Poland.

The aim of these very public statements about NATO manoeuvres is to deter Putin, and curb his foreign policy. Fallon and Stewart are, therefore, closer than they might appear. However, Fallon was not (at least to my ears) asked to address Stewart’s most interesting political point: that the public might not support the principle that an attack on one NATO state is an attack on all. What does the government think about that?

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Show comments
  • http://batman-news.com The Commentator

    Another statement of the blindingly obvious. If anyone thinks either the US or Britain would risk world war 3 to defend Lithuania from invasion by the Russians must be singularly naive. Remember the British Army was chased out of Basra by a rag-tag bunch of Shia militiamen. Since then the Army has shrunk: considerably.

  • John Gerard

    NATO is a joke. Russia knows it, the Chinese know it, everyone does – except, it seems, NATO itself. We will be at war with Russia within a year, maybe even by Christmas.

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  • A.Lex

    NATO is the channel for US influence and participation in European security. The US is not in favour of European-only security arrangements which would undermine the NATO “integrated command structure” !

  • lakelander

    Rory Stewart is the type of politician who restores the faith that it is possible for an MP to be worth his or her salt. David Davis and Frank Field are other examples. I wish we had more like them.

  • global city

    Perhaps it is. We should leave the continentals to come to their own arrangements for military alliance and integration. It is way too dangerous for the UK to consider melding ourselves into an EU military.

    Britain should concentrate on making our current arrangements with the Anglosphere countries a bit tighter and leave the continentals to get on with their own thing.

  • Smithersjones2013

    He also gave a robust defence of international development spending, arguing that it was an arm of foreign policy used

    A foreign policy that has proved a complete failure!

  • rtj1211

    Recent events in the Ukraine suggest unequivocally that the CIA pumping in $5bn destablised the country. Recent events suggest that if you don’t pay market price for gas and then tell your supplier that you’re going off to shag someone else then they may get mildly irritated, particularly as the only outcome of that dalliance will be personal bankruptcy.

    Recent events at the Spectator suggest that analysis and insight plays second fiddle to propaganda.

    Recent events suggest that, far from Russia expanding its empire, NATO/the USA has expanded its bases into traditional Soviet Republics like Kyrgistan, Uzbekistan etc etc.

    Perhaps when worrying about the small but finite possibility of a Russian attack on NATO you should counterbalance that against a rather higher possibility of a NATO attack close to the Russian borders??

    • The Bellman

      “Recent events” in ‘traditional Soviet republics’ in Central Asia suggest the US/Nato interest – and influence – there is waning considerably, and not necessarily for the better. Their presence there was always contingent on operations in Afghanistan – which Russia supported. The US has handed Manas airforce base back to the Kyrgyz govt. The latter now want to join Putin’s Eurasian Union, as do the Uzbeks. Hardly Nato domination.
      It is uncertain to say the least that Russia will be able to contain the ‘returned fighters’ from Afghanistan when head back home, establish their trafficking networks and try to marginalise or overthrow the governments there, the way they stand a good chance of doing in Afghanistan. US and Nato expertise could be very useful in that effort, so it’s not an unqualified good that they are disengaging.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Recent events suggest you Lib Dumbs supporting islamofascist murderers in their mindless slaughter fests in Libya and Syria, both countries associated with Russian interests.

      Perhap when worrying about others provoking Russia, you hypocritical Lib Dumbs might give thought to not doing so yourselves (to say nothing of your insane support for islamofascist murderers).

  • you_kid

    Let’s not forget: NATO today keeps the peace by virtue of its position.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …you mean the “position” of the US in North America, you muppet?

      • dalai guevara

        Well well well, who would have thought the tovarishch would lean so far out of the window?

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …now you just need to get the goat in here, lad, for your sockpuppet army trifecta .

          • you_kid

            He’s Russian? Oh sheeeeeeeeeet!

            • the viceroy’s gin

              …nope, you need to bring in your goat sockpuppet to score the sockpuppet trifecta, lad .

  • The Bellman

    I am old enough to remember a time when we sent a brigade group to Poland every year, as the culmination of the collective training cycle for the brigade about to enter the ‘Operational’ year, and prior to going to Canada for live firing. It was turned into a ‘TEWT’ in 2002 because of the need to preserve the brigade’s ‘track milage’ on the off-chance of having to go to Iraq.
    Now we can scrape together an armoured battle group: I can only guess at what other ‘economies’ were necessary across Defence in order to scrape together this almost-comically ineffectual gesture.

  • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

    “Recent events in Ukraine, the Crimea and Georgia, Stewart says, show that NATO’s strength urgently needs to be ‘recalibrated’ to ‘vulnerable’ regions in eastern Europe and the Baltic states. He wants Britain to lead the way by making a commitment to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence (a basic NATO requirement) in the next parliament. “

    I agree and it should be more and we can deduct it from our EU payments (prior to stopping them completely). Far better to maintain and rebuild (if it is a busted flush) than perpetuate EU disaster. I know the two aren’t mutually exclusive but they could be 🙂

  • alabenn

    Yes NATO is a busted flush, its armies are a joke, the Germans who are in most danger from Russia have succumbed to the health and safety brigade, the British army, the so called professionals, the one that bribed its way to safe passage from Basra and had to plead with the Yanks in Helmand for relief, not help, relief from fighting.
    The French who have a semblance of an army who will soon join the Italians who have already surrendered.
    None have the ability to get their armies to the East, the likes of Poland and others will put up a fight if their own lives are threatened, but really why should they throw everything away for the Germans given their history.
    Now it is down to NATO which boils down to promises by the US to defend Europe, that is all NATO is, a group of hollowed out militaries relying on the US, at the moment relying on Obama who is the most inept man ever to hold that office, if after he goes you will in all likelihood have a republican President, Republicans that Europe has spent the last two decades insulting.
    You ask if Europe was in danger, yes very much so, more from itself than anything else, get out and let them sort their own problems with the various rogue countries to the east, we owe them nothing.
    Everything the Europe gets will be self inflicted but I am sure ex communist stooge Merkel will come to some amicable settlement.

    • HookesLaw

      Laughable hysterical claptrap.

      • alabenn

        Laughable hysterical claptrap. maybe, but which part is not true.

        • Gafto

          The part where the US has a republican president next is possibly not true. The republicans will not hold office again in the near future due to the increase of Democrat voting hispanics in the US. The last election in the US illustrated how this demographic have a large say in presidential elections now.

          • anyfool

            Bush was elected with a large chunk of Hispanics, they are a different kettle of fish to the black vote who are resolute Democrats for now.
            The white working class in the US is like in the UK moving away from socialist parties because of their close affinity with ethnics.

      • Count Dooku

        He’s pretty spot on. NATO is proving to be a paper tiger. The power is there, the money is there, but there is zero will.
        I doubt the US would even assist in the defence of the Baltics against Russian agression. No politician does things on principle anymore.

        • First L

          I agree. Putin lulled NATO and Europe into a false sense of security.

      • Barakzai

        No, it isn’t.

      • global city

        It’s not. NATO is being undermined by too many members who take the view that if only they keep their heads down,ow it, so if they hide, what ever trouble is brewing will pass them by.

        The old confrontation was an existential one…. if it had ever kicked off, that kept elites eye on the ball. Now they know that any difficulty will not end civilisation as we know it….so they duck.

    • Wessex Man

      The British Army are as professional as anything the Yanks have, it’s the UK government and previous govenments all the way back to Heath, each and everyone of them has let the our forces with rubbish kit and expecting them to fight in all their adventures while continually cutting their numbers!

      • alabenn

        Sorry, did not mean the actual men, will add proviso.

      • GnosticBrian

        British military kit has been poor since way before Heath, For example read “Rude Mechanicals: An account of Tank Maturity during the Second World War” by A J Smithers. Incompetence in the military and in industry meant that tank design was given very low priority resulting in a string of poor unreliable vehicles. Ironic really given that Britain had one of the very best anti-tank gins in the world, the 17-pounder being superior to the fabled German 88.

        • evad666

          Design has always been treated as the poor cousin of accountancy in Government and industry.

          • GnosticBrian

            Do you not consider that the top brass might not share some responsibility? For example, the Royal Navy has 15 times as many commanding officers as active surface ships – 40 admirals and 260 captains but just 19 ships (2013 figures). How come all of those senior officers allowed the service to get into such a terrible state?

    • global city

      It is called social democracy… playing silly ideals that put your people in danger.

    • dalai guevara

      Some good commentary there, old sport.
      So what’s the solution? Continued reliance on the US?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        …maybe your sockpuppet army should be recruited, lad. They could bore the invaders to death.

      • global city

        Wilson and Vietnam showed that a close relationship with the US does not mean tagging along with every venture.

        America has been a good ally and can/should continue to be so.

        Unlike most of them on the continent!

  • swatnan

    He reminds me a bit of TE Lawrence. But absolutre tosh! There is no real threat from Russia, therefore the existance of NATO is academic. The threat is from islamists, and the UN should be dealing with that.

    • Greenslime

      The risk is from both of them.

    • Airey Belvoir

      I believe his nickname is indeed ‘Florence of Belgravia’.

    • Smithersjones2013

      Th UN is even more of a busted flush than NATO. Name the last conflict the UN either prevented or resolved successfully?

      • swatnan

        The UN is left to pick up the pieces of the ravages of War brought on by the likes of NATO USA and Europe, as we’ve seen in the Middle East, Africa and eslewhere. It deals with the countless refugees crossing borders because of War and Famine and Poverty; it deals with healthcare and education and and human rights abuses. Its a thankless task but somebody’s got o do it until the wealthier countries realise the have to share their wealth and not put up tariffs.
        Lets have Fair Trade and Trade Justice.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …who do you think is paying for all this wonderful work you’re mentioning, lad? The faeries?

    • Chris Morriss

      TE Lawrence looked like a person with a long pedigree. This little twerp, with his low-class dress sense, looks like some down-market charity collector. Is he really suitable for his role?

  • Colonel Mustard

    I’d rather have a Stewart than a Cameron.

    • The Bellman

      Agreed – and I would rather have a Rory than a Bob.

      • swatnan

        I’d rather have a McIntosh than a Camron.

        • global city

          I’d rather have a Tunnocks teacake.

  • RavenRandom

    Poland doesn’t quite spend 2% of GDP on defence. Given their history and proximity to Russia that seems criminally low. The Baltic states should follow suit. In the unlikely event of a Russian incursion into a NATO/EU country the front line countries need to be able to hold their own for long enough. Preferably have a powerful enough defence that the game is not worth the Russian candle.

    • HookesLaw

      A military incursion in the baltic countries would be an economic and political disaster for Russia and as pointed out the risk is minimal.
      Leaving aside % of GDP Poland has 1000 main battle tanks, 2000 APCs, 1200 120mm artillery pieces, 200 army helicopters, 120 jet fighters and 53 airforce helicopters. 100,000 personnel and 350,000 reservists.

      Putin should know that the Polish Armed Forces are the only ones in the world who give a two fingered salute.

      The notion that NATO is a busted flush is a typically pathetic journalists headline.

      • anyfool

        Saddam had more tanks, more guns and more men, Poland has a similar type of armaments, probably of the same production line, the majority of its arms are out of date Soviet rubbish, it has 690 T72 tanks, they are as much use as a sponge leg in a flood, its airforce is mainly Migs in varying degrees of readiness to be shot out of the skies, ask the Ukrainians what use they are.
        Poland is still mainly equipped with Soviet era rubbish that will be swept aside by new updated Russian military hardware, assuming Poland fights.
        Then again Russia might just turn off the gas and oil and turn Europe into a post industrial wasteland for a few years, during which time someone else will have their markets, after all China has just signed up for the lions share of Russian future energy exports.

      • Wessex Man

        Got your uniform out and ironed Hooky babe?

        • Smithersjones2013

          I can just see him standing on guard with his Broom Handle:

          ” Halt! Who goes there? Are you friend or nutjob?”

      • Smithersjones2013

        Leaving aside % of GDP Poland has 1000 main battle tanks, 2000 APCs, 1200 120mm artillery pieces, 200 army helicopters, 120 jet fighters and 53 airforce helicopters. 100,000 personnel and 350,000 reservists.

        Russia has 11,500 tanks, C 7800 APC’s, 19,000 Artillery Pieces (including defensive systems), 1350 Strike and Fighter Aircraft. 900 helicopters (and unknown numbers of UAV’s) and including the Navy well over 500,000 active personnel.

        Frankly given Russia’s air superiority I suspect if Poland passed wind in the wrong way Russia could disable the vast majority of Poland’s military capability where it stands without breaking sweat and thats without even contemplating its nuclear capability.

        There are only four things that stop Russia reclaiming its former satellites at a whim. Finance and the three nuclear powers in NATO.

      • RavenRandom

        Agreed it seems unlikely. But a lot of unlikely things happen given enough time. Prudence would double that strength.
        Russia: Tanks 15,500, Armoured fighting vehicles 27,600, 10,000 assorted artillery pieces, over 2,000 attack aircraft, over 1,000 helicopters. 766,000 personnel and 2,485,000 reservists.
        Prudence says 2% of GDP is too low.

  • anotherjoeblogs

    Rory Stewart is one of the few people who could sway my fairly crystallized ideas.

  • Adrian Drummond

    Why did the EU (and by default, that now includes NATO) extend it’s paper empire further by including the Ukraine?

    • HookesLaw

      How does ‘by default’ the EU include NATO? NATO includes Canada and Norway and the USA.
      The EU does not include Ukraine. It may however be painful for you to realise that the Ukraine wants to join the EU – such that you have to spout your garbage to massage your prejudice.

      • Adrian Drummond

        Try extending your perspective; I know from your comments on Coffeehouse that you find it difficult but please do try; it’s irritating, boring, time-consuming for other readers that expect and deserve more.

        Here’s something to begin with:

        “Relations between Ukraine and the European Union (EU) are currently shaped through the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), a foreign policy instrument of the EU designed for the countries it borders.” (source: Wikipedia)

        • Count Dooku

          NATO and the EU are not the same. It does you a disservice to confuse them.
          Sweden is in the EU but not in NATO. Norway is in NATO but not in the EU.

          • Adrian Drummond

            Ok, just for you….

            I’m not saying that NATO and the EU are the same; I’m suggesting that an attack on an EU member state or one that falls within it’s current sphere of influence will naturally – by default – come under the protection of NATO; such an example would be NATO’s involvement in Bosnia.

            This really should not need to be explained.

            • Count Dooku

              So Yugoslavia was an EU member state?

              • Adrian Drummond

                Please go back and read your history about Nato’s involvement; I can’t explain everything for you here.

                PS It would help a great deal if you tried to expand your thinking rather than just taking everything literally.

                • Count Dooku

                  No, it would help if you did not conflate NATO and the EU. You said:

                  “I’m suggesting that an attack on an EU member state or one that falls within it’s current sphere of influence will naturally – by default – come under the protection of NATO”

                  I know all about NATO’s involvement in Bosnia. But it had nothing to do with the cowardly EU.

                • Adrian Drummond

                  Read about the Western European Union an
                  organisation tasked with implementing the Modified Treaty of Brussels (1954).

                  Note: On 15 June 1992, Operation Sharp Guard, a naval blockade in the Adriatic Sea by NATO and the Western European Union, began after being approved at a joint session of NATO and the WEU on 8 June 1992. (Wikipedia)

                • global city

                  Many EU countries political elites are overtly hostile to both NATO and the US. They want their own army, air force, navy, etc.

          • Smithersjones2013

            Ireland is not in NATO either. Funny that isn’t it. Countries that have declared themselves neutral not belonging to a military institution?

            Anyway 23 of the 28 nations who are signatories to NATO are members of the EU so the idea that NATO would act in a way that did not coincide with the views of the EU is risible. Even the good ole USA, as influential as it can be, could influence NATO to act against the wishes of its EU members en block.

            • Count Dooku

              2 out of the 3 big North American countries are in NATO. All three are in NAFTA. Therefore the idea that NATO would act in a way that did not coincide with the views of NAFTA is risible.
              See how ridiculous that sounds?

      • Smithersjones2013

        No Ukraine does not want to join the EU. A part of the Ukraine does. It was inevitable given past events (i.e. Georgia) that if the EU went sniffing around the Ukraine as it has that Russia would not take kindly to it. So given the EU did either Ashton and her pals were too stupid to realise or too callous to care about the consequences. Either way the EU has to take its share of blame for what looks inevitably like the eventual partitioning of Ukraine allowing Russian Ukraine to decide its own destiny.

        As for your attempt to dissassociate the EU from NATO given that 23 EU nations are amongst the 28 signatories of NATO and the five that aren’t are non-entities in international politics (Austria, Finland, Cyprus, Malta & Sweden) it is the essence of puerile denialism. The EU makes up more than 80% of NATO’s membership so of course the two institution’s outlooks are going to be very similar with the EU strongly influencing NATO

        • Barakzai

          Ashton? My money would be on too stupid.

          (Mind you, she’d probably fit into either of the present Parliamentary front benches.)

          • anyfool

            Front benches, as leader and the dim witted fool would outshine the pair of tosspots on offer.

        • global city

          Not even that. The new Ukrainian political elite want to join the EU.

          The vast bulk of Ukrainians just want more freedom and democracy, things they would lose again upon joining the EU.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Apparently, Crimea and East Ukraine disagree with your blathering that they “want to join the EU”, lad.

        And the rest of the country isn’t getting a referendum on it, but then, you EUSSR socialists don’t bother much with referendums, either holding them or paying attention to them when they disagree with you .

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