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The NATO summit—long on imagery, short on substance

The NATO alliance leaders are currently meeting at a golf resort in Wales, Scotland. They are expected to announce several “initiatives” in response to the Russian offensive in the eastern Ukraine, say nothing about events in Syria and Iraq and probably announce a training mission for Afghanistan in 2015.

The key stone of the initiatives will be a Readiness Action Plan to deal with trouble spots of concern to NATO--Russia, the Middle East and North Africa. Reports are that this will be accomplished by prepositioning military equipment, making elements of the NATO Response Force able to deploy more quickly.

The center of the Readiness Action Plan will be reaction force of between three and five thousand soldiers. This force combines two cold war relics:
1. The Allied Command Europe mobile force—a brigade sized force of multiple nationalities that was supposed to be ready to react quickly to an emergency, and
2. POMCUS –Prepositioned material configured to unit sets. Ammunition, fuel and equipment will be prepositioned in Eastern Europe to allow the reaction force to fall in on it, take it out of storage and move to a designated position to constitute a NATO speed bump.

The argument for NATO is that the size of the force doesn’t matter as much as the political commitment. The emerging consensus is that it is critical to send a message that NATO would be ready to defend the first inches of Estonian or Polish territory—not Ukrainian.

NATO pledged in 1997 to refrain from new “permanent stationing of substantial combat forces” near Russia’s borders so as to calm the Russian fears of having NATO on it borders. Even in the heat of the Ukraine crisis, that non-binding pledge has held. So as not to multiply the Kremlin’s suspicions of NATO intentions, allied leaders have vowed to abide by the original commitment, at least publicly.

In short the name of game is deterrence. In defining the criticality of this effort some commentators have referenced Winston Churchill before the US entered World War II as what he needed was one American—preferably dead as that would bring the might of the US into that conflict. This probably applies today as since the end of the cold the European allies, for the most part, have not maintained the readiness or modernized their armed forces—except for the US, UK , Estonia and Greece the other states have not achieved the NATO goal of 2% of GDP being devoted to military budgets. There is some hope that several states will announce as part of the summit that they will, over time, increase their defense budgets to meet the 2% of GDP goal. Time will tell.

In addition to more exercises in Eastern Europe NATO will reportedly provide about $15 million to aid the Ukrainian armed forces.

When one looks at the lack of substance and the fact that it has taken months to get to this point one can clearly see a lot of imagery and not much substance.

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