Wednesday

22nd Feb 2017

Nato to unveil new goals for austerity-hobbled alliance

  • Nato is bracing itself for an uncertain future while national defence budgets are cut across the board (Photo: Downing Street)

Nato leaders meeting in Lisbon on Friday (19 November) and Saturday are to update the alliance's strategy to deal with modern threats and to massage ties with Russia, while trying to put a positive spin on the lack of resources for the military organisation in an era of austerity cuts.

Advertised by its secretary general as "one of the most important summits in Nato history," the two-day meeting aims to modernise a now 10-year-old 'strategic concept' to include new threats such as cyber attacks and ballistic missiles. Agreement on a Nato-wide anti-missile shield is also expected, as well as friendly statements from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who will join Nato leaders on Saturday.

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"Cutting fat, while building muscle," - a catchphrase coined by Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, will see leaders endorse cuts to redundant structures and some command centres. The expected haggling over which country is is to give up one or two of its Nato commands, whose costs they can deduct from the national contribution to the alliance, will be postponed for next year.

Despite all the goodwill and slogans, Nato countries are at bottom divided over what the alliance should stand for, while defence cuts across Europe are being put in place without any apparent consultation of other Nato partners, experts and politicians say.

"The new threats and challenges don't exclude the old ones, unfortunately. And there is not only the fat or muscle as an alternative, but brain and will as well," Lithuanian conservative MEP Vytautas Landsbergis told this website.

A former president of post-Soviet Lithuania, Mr Landsbergis warned that it would be a mistake to "appease" Russia by declaring that it is "not an enemy" even while Nato countries continue to be treated as enemies by Moscow.

"Russia's leadership wants to get into a position where European states consider that any decision about security challenges would be 'impossible without Russia' - which means a veto right on any Nato enlargement and also a refusal to define the threats by Nato alone," he said. "It looks like negotiations of chicken with foxes, where Russia wants be given all it wishes with no 'reset' from its side."

Scepticism at the content of the renewed Nato-Russia relations was echoed from Washington as well.

"There are so many elements in Nato-Russia relations – there are the central European states, western European ones, then there is the US and Canada. I don't see that there was enough discussion to have a commonly agreed and understood relationship with Russia," Daniel Fata, a defence expert with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a Washington-based think-tank, and a former Pentagon official, told EUobserver. "I'm concerned that the alliance at large is not ready to unveil a true Strategic Concept."

In Mr Fata's view, the war in Afghanistan - Nato's current flagship mission - "has not demonstrated on the ground" that the alliance can successfully conduct an operation abroad. Focusing the Strategic Concept on "expeditionary forces" as the way forward for Nato – meaning highly-skilled and quickly deployable troops for missions abroad - may be completely wrong, he argues.

With the austerity measures pressing governments to reduce defence spending even further below the 2 percent of GDP recommended by Nato, it is unlikely that the military organisation will be able to do "more with less," as advertised, Mr Fata predicted: "Instead, it will be less with less." He urged Nato's Allied Command Transformation to be "more involved" in co-rdinatig Nato members' cutbacks.

In what may be seen as a bad omen for the two-day summit, Portugal's chief of defence intelligence announced his resignation on Thursday (18 November), with local media reporting that he was angry at the planned defence spending reductions for next year, as the government tries to halve the budget deficit and avoid a Greek and Irish-style bailout.

According to Diario de Noticias, seven Portuguese spy stations, including ones in Madrid, Brussels and Cairo, would be shut, while the intelligence service's budget will be reduced by €1 million. Overall, Portugal's defence budget is to be slashed by 11 percent.

In Britain, senior military officials are also disgruntled about announced defence spending cuts by 20 percent. According to a classified defence ministry document published by the Daily Telegraph, the cuts were not properly prepared, Nato allies were not notified and they have "badly damaged the confidence and morale" of the armed forces.

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