In today’s Daily Telegraph, former party leader Lord (Paddy) Ashdown writes on the challenges facing Nato and the future of European cooperation on matters of defence.
Here’s a sample from Paddy’s piece:
These are confusing times for supporters of Nato. On the one hand, the alliance has completed its mission in Libya without a single casualty. On the other, its future looks less certain than ever in the face of fiscal austerity, increasingly uneven burden-sharing between members, and America’s dwindling faith in its utility.
The fact that the US feels this way is understandable. In 2000, America’s share of Nato defence spending was around 50 per cent. Today, it has risen to 75 per cent. With peace at home, many European nations have redirected spending towards other priorities, free-riding off the US when it comes to threats overseas. And this problem is set to get worse, since every European Nato member is set for severe defence cuts – including France, whose own equivalent of Britain’s defence review begins next year.
This decline in capability has come about not just because we are spending less, but because we continue to spend badly. Military funding is channelled through dozens of separate national programmes and structures, creating enormous duplication and failing to achieve economies of scale. While Europe has half a million more military personnel than America, it can deploy just a fraction of them overseas.
Nato is also being weakened by changes in US foreign policy: as the then defence secretary, Robert Gates, said earlier this year, his country is starting to look west as much as east. What America sees in Nato is yesterday’s vision of the future: allies with declining capabilities, reluctant to put troops in harm’s way, and an institution ill-suited to addressing US interests – especially with defence cuts looming in Washington as well.
To see where this is leading, consider what happened in Libya. After the initial air strikes, the US played a substantial but supporting role, encouraging Britain and France to lead the operation. As a result, the mission suffered from significantly reduced firepower, with less than a quarter of the planes used in Kosovo, flying less than a fifth of the sorties, and ammunition running dangerously low. As in Bosnia in the 1990s, it exposed how poorly equipped, organised and prepared Europe is for serious and sustained missions, even in its own backyard.
You can read the whole piece over on the Telegraph website here.