- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

There is much grumbling and concern these days over the relevance of NATO and the general state of U.S.-European defense relations. Actions that could have been seen as triumphs, such as NATO's first invocation of its Article V self-defense clause in response to September 11, are dismissed as hollow gestures. Yet the most successful institutions are those that are able to respond to challenges by adapting and expanding in light of changing circumstances. With the right leadership on both sides of the Atlantic, NATO can create at its upcoming fall summit in Prague a critical security framework for the 21st century.

Doing so requires some honest assessment. First, there is a real and growing capabilities gap. The point can be demonstrated by comparing the U.S. special forces in Afghanistan with the British SAS. Man for man, the British are every bit the equal of their American counterpart. But the SAS simply cannot operate as a force-multiplier the way American special forces can. They cannot call in Predator unmanned aircraft because the British have none. They cannot add their on-the-ground knowledge to information provided by satellite and tactical signals intelligence because the British lack these. They cannot create targeting solutions with airborne-targeting systems because those too are absent from the British inventory. And the British are the very best of the allies in terms of modern capabilities.

Second, Europe simply is not spending substantially on defense. In current prices, the defense budgets of the European NATO nations have declined from an aggregate of $184 billion in 1995 to approximately $159 billion in 2001. So, at best, NATO is now a two-tier alliance. The United States has the advanced technology and, therefore, the ability to fight 21st-century wars. The Europeans have a fundamentally lesser capability.

Third, this fundamental difference in capabilities and the absolute unwillingness of European countries in recent years to fix it has raised an enormous conundrum for NATO. On the one hand, NATO is a brilliant institution, providing a common defense for the European continent. Military rivalries are submerged; stability is enhanced. If an effective working relationship can be developed with Russia certainly an achievable goal the continent will have a common security system for the first time in history. But, on the other hand, with so much well within reach, NATO's old habits and structures will not allow for an institution significant to the problems of today and tomorrow.

NATO, therefore, has to change to make itself relevant to the challenges faced by its members while preserving its core benefit of European stability.

Three steps will be key:

First, NATO should recognize it needs a military expeditionary capability. Now, only the United States has the long reach to get up and go to the problems that affect NATO's security. For example, even in Kosovo, which is obviously part of Europe, U.S. forces did virtually all the early targeting because we alone had stealth aircraft, mobile jamming capabilities, secure communications and a full array of precision munitions. The early targeting that was not done by us was done by the British because they alone of the allies had cruise missiles. To overcome this disparity, NATO should build on existing institutions, such as the multinational Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, and establish both the command structure and the force capabilities for an Allied Expeditionary Force. Such forces, with a focus on communications and lift, could ably complement U.S. capabilities.

Second, NATO should formally undertake efforts to bring Russia into a military command structure and have a common effective military capability. While there have been some bumps, generally Russia has participated quite well in peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo. NATO should create a joint NATO-Russia brigade that could be part of the NATO Allied Expeditionary Force.

Third, none of this will work unless the European NATO countries have capabilities to work closely with and take advantage of U.S. strengths. To establish such interoperability, the United States should set aside in its defense budget a fund say $4 billion to start that would be equally matched by NATO countries for the development and procurement in the shortest possible time of systems that would enhance communications and precision targeting.

NATO has had an effective, even storied, past. Its continued success, however, will require adapting to meet new challenges. An expeditionary NATO, able to work militarily with Russia and take advantage of cutting-edge 21st century technology, can achieve that success.

Franklin D. Kramer is the executive vice president of Changing World Technologies and was assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs from 1996 to 2001.

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