October 31, 2019

Thoughts on the October NATO Defence Ministers Meeting

EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET/Scanpix
Estonian Defense Minister Jüri Luik, Belgium Defense minister Didier Reynders, French Defense minister Florence Parly, German Defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer attend the NATO defense ministers meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 24 October 2019. NATO defense ministers gathered for a two-day meeting to discuss the invasion of northern Syria by alliance member Turkey, amid deep concern over Ankara's actions.
Estonian Defense Minister Jüri Luik, Belgium Defense minister Didier Reynders, French Defense minister Florence Parly, German Defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer attend the NATO defense ministers meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 24 October 2019. NATO defense ministers gathered for a two-day meeting to discuss the invasion of northern Syria by alliance member Turkey, amid deep concern over Ankara's actions.

The October NATO Defence Ministers Meeting was the last meeting ahead of the upcoming London Summit in early December. It is therefore unsurprising that no new, important decisions were announced there. While Turkey’s military campaign in Northern Syria has attracted much public attention, it has had only a limited impact on the ongoing work strands related to NATO’s adaptation, some of which will receive greater visibility at the Summit.

From a Baltic perspective, two topics in particular stand out as the most important as they impact how the Alliance will adapt to the security situation in Europe, especially when countering a resurgent Russia.

First and foremost are fair burden sharing and the implementation of the Defence Investment Pledge agreed at the Wales Summit. Burden sharing has the potential to highlight division among allies. This was the hot topic of the 2018 Brussels Summit when President Trump, in his straightforward way, made it clear that European Allies need to deliver more. The US has stressed the importance of fair burden sharing for many decades, and it is evident that European Allies and Canada need to spend more. In this case the problem is not rooted in President Trump but rather in the hesitance among politicians in other nations to increase national investments in security. But if Europe wants to adapt to the deteriorating security environment, then more funding will be a prerequisite.

Second is increasing the readiness of Allied forces and delivering against the NATO Readiness Initiative (NRI). In June 2018 Allies committed to the so-called ‘Four Thirties’ initiative by having 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat vessels, ready to use within 30 days or less by 2020. The London Summit provides an excellent opportunity to take stock of the initiative’s implementation. Once again, increasing the readiness of existing forces will require additional funding, and it is up to the individual nations to implement the initiative by committing forces to the NRI that are sustained over time without diluting the existing NATO Response Force. Caveats and limitations are initially expected as this is an ambitious stretch goal that will take many nations out of their post-9/11 comfort zone that sometimes involved lengthy political decision-making and force generation conferences. Today’s security environment requires ready forces and rapid decision-making.

The October Defence Ministers Meeting also included a couple of positive developments, such as the efforts to increase the resilience of telecommunications systems in peacetime, crisis and conflict. In addition, the NATO-Eurocontrol Rapid Air Mobility initiative was officially unveiled in the margins of the Defence Ministerial. This initiative will benefit rapid reinforcement and mobility, but it is just one of the many steps still needed to put words into action and increase the credibility of NATO to rapidly reinforce any Ally, if need be.

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