‘Caveats’ neuter NATO allies

The outgoing NATO SACEUR, or supreme allied commander Europe, would gladly forgo more NATO troops to fight Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan if allied countries dropped their caveats against their use in combat operations.

Gen. John Craddock, the outgoing supremo, says these caveats “increase the risk to every service member deployed in Afghanistan and bring increased risk to mission success.” They are also “a detriment to effective command and control, unity of effort and … command.”

NATO’s ISAF, for International Security Assistance Force, has 58,300 troops from 41 countries. But NATO’s 28 member-nations provide the core of the force. Most of them labor under operational restrictions, known as caveats, on combat imposed by their governments or parliaments, U.S. soldiers joke that ISAF stands for “I saw Americans Fight.”

In addition to American troops who have no combat caveats, British, Canadian and Dutch are the only national contingents under NATO command that are not handcuffed. Gen. Craddock was succeeded by Adm. James Stavridis on July 2, the first Navy man in the four-star slot and 15th supreme commander Europe since Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower first assumed the new command April 2, 1951. Eisenhower moved the date forward by 24 hours as he didn’t want any April Fools’ Day jokes associated with the defense of Europe against Soviet expansionism.

Now free to speak his own mind, Gen. Craddock let loose with zingers he said were inspired by David Letterman’s “Top 10 List.” NATO forces in Afghanistan were originally weighed down by 83 caveats against any fighting, he told Washington think tankers. It took 18 months to get member countries to reduce the number to 70. “There are restrictions at every level,” he said. “Some governments say their troops cannot take part in any counter-narcotics operations.” Gen. Craddock said Taliban gets about $400 million a year from opium poppy crops, which supply 95 percent of the illicit heroin market in Europe, and is still Afghanistan’s export mainstay, which represents well over half the country’s gross domestic product. The following is Gen. Craddock’s rundown:

“(10) NATO Council elders refer to an era that included the threat of widespread, world-ending, nuclear exchange as ‘the good old days.’ The Cold War — for NATO those were simple times, exceedingly dangerous but simple. We trained, we exercised, we planned — but we didn’t deploy anywhere, and we did not resource or conduct operations. We did not live in a time when information was literally at the fingertips of citizens around the globe. We didn’t have to convince our populaces of the merit of our action. National survival hung in the balance.

“[Today] with almost 74,000 from 44 countries deployed in six operations within and beyond the Euro-Atlantic area … [we lack] political will, commitment in resources … and commitment to communicate the need … to our citizens. Defense spending is on the decline [while] security demands are on the rise.

“(9) You need to reach consensus on whether to serve red sauce or white sauce on the pasta. Consensus in garnering international support and legitimacy (is one thing). But for routine alliance business? Easier said than done. NATO would need to reach consensus on a decision to no longer need to reach consensus. Time to change the MO. But let’s always remember Churchill — ‘the only thing worse than fighting a war with allies is fighting a war without them.’

“(8) You’re part of an organization that’s been a pillar of strength and provider of peace and security for member and partner nations for more than 60 years … fostered the reunification of Germany — and through enlargement extended democratic values throughout Warsaw Pact countries … resolved conflict in the Balkans [and] its reintegration into the whole of Europe. And today, NATO reaches around the globe to collectively confront 21st century challenges … but we’re still lacking modern crisis management capabilities to respond to challenges in an unpredictable world.

“(7) Your relationship with 27 European Union nations, 21 of whom are also members of NATO, is, at best, cordial. (gobbledygook for sleight-of-hand). A tight working relationship between EU and NATO is the overdue prerequisite for solutions to 21st century challenges. Signed agreements guarantee EU access to NATO assets and capabilities for EU-led missions. … Time to work together by playing to strengths of both to address current/future crises.

“(6) When you tell a 20-something you work for NATO, he says, ‘Isn’t that the dog in the Wizard of Oz?’ No, Billy, it’s not. It’s the most successful security alliance in world history, [to which we owe] freedom, peace, prosperity and our way of life. (Up to us to make sure younger and future generations) understand NATO’s essential role … in the civilized world.

“(5) A ‘teeth sucking’ sound that follows any request to commit resources resonates in the hallways of Brussels. The crux of NATO’s operational problems is that its ambition outstrips its political will to resource that ambition. Afghanistan is the textbook illustration … since mission inception, NATO nations have never completely filled the agreed requirements for forces needed in Afghanistan.

“(4) NATO enlargement, alongside EU’s, is responsible for the advance of democracy across the European Continent in the aftermath of the Cold War. Increase in security for NATO’s members is not a decrease in security for any other. However, candidate nations must be contributors to security, not consumers of it.

“(3) Words like urgent, rapid and swift better describe the demeanor and movement of a Galapagos tortoise than action in NATO. Consensus stands in the way of agile decision-making. It currently takes NATO 62 weeks to process a submitted urgent operational requirement, down from 80 weeks. Next goal 35 weeks. That means operational commanders still wait almost nine months for what they deem an urgent requirement. In our current security requirement, these delays are simply untenable. NATO is not postured for the realities of today’s world.

“(2) NATO is a great forum for strategic debate among allies, but fear of open disagreement inhibits debate. We engage in less now than 15 years ago. Debate is not a way into problems — but a way out, onto a road of consensus and action. Yet we face multiple new and emerging threats — transnational terrorism, the proliferation of WMD [weapons of mass destruction], piracy, climate change, energy security, mass migrations, cyber attacks, to name a few. The spectrum of potential conflict is wide. NATO must be agile and capable.

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