Is NATO an effective deterrent?
While constant reappraisal of the effectiveness of NATO as a deterrent is probably wise, recent events have made accessing alliance capabilities more relevant. The continued cutting of defense budgets across the alliance, though at a slower rate than previous years, also should motivate and factor into assessments of NATO efficacy.
Deterrence relies on making aggression against the deterring actor so devastating as to outweigh any potential gains by the aggressor. Thus, a strong deterrent for NATO will heavily rely on nuclear weapons as has been the case since 1945. However, nuclear weapons are indiscriminate and impose several costs on those who use them, not the least of which is retaliation with nuclear weapons.
As a result, the utilization of nuclear arms in response to a small land grab would be nonsensical, as the cost of utilizing nuclear arms would be greater than that of losing the small piece of territory. One must then conclude that a strong conventional deterrent is just as necessary.
Accessing alliance spending:
NATO has been trending away from defense spending for some time. France, Germany, and the UK have been marginally reducing their military spending, which has resulted in an sizable overall loss in real defense spending. While all allies meeting the 2% of GDP spending goal is unrealistic and likely to detract from alliance efficiency, such as Luxembourg and Iceland, the three largest economies in Europe being outspent by a resurgent Russia is problematic to deterrence.
Whilst American defense spending remains astronomical, and as a result NATO overall, the majority of the American's ability to respond is in the incorrect theater to respond to an Article V activation, and thus discounted if the Kremlin were to consider a hostile action.
Defense spending is only part of the equation, as one must also consider material assets. In this regard NATO as a whole is scattered in both readiness, and value of arms. For instance the Germans in response to perceived Russian aggression in Ukraine have ordered an additional 100 Leopard 2s, giving them a little over 300 MBTs in which to respond.
This is contrasted with Greece, who has constantly had a greater than average defense spending than the rest of the alliance, as well as boasting more troops and AFV's (armored fighting vehicle) than most NATO allies. However, it is unclear whether this Greek contribution to collective defense will continue to be as strong, due to the conflicting interests within Greece of maintaining influence in NATO and resolving financial problems.
Several other capability gaps exist within the alliance as a result of a lack of investment in defense overall and a disproportionate amount of money going to paying personnel and conducting operations. This has resulted in European Allies overall being sluggish and short ranged in comparison to their American counterparts.
This is in addition to a lack of Maritime Patrol Aircraft for the UK, the Canadians having to raid a museum for spare parts for their C-130s, and the overall dreadful state of the Bundeswehr as obvious examples of a lack of defense spending inhibiting deterrence.
That is not to say that NATO lack any kind of deterrent value and that there are not positive trends. Estonia, Poland, Norway, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania are all increasing their defense spending, with several set to reach the 2% of GDP mark by 2020 or sooner. The NATO Security Investment Programme (NSIP) has proliferated alliance wide C&C systems through collective funding, thus improving interoperability. The United States has bolstered defenses in Eastern Europe with prepositioned units, with emphasis on the Baltic states.
Even in spite of their general antipathy towards defense spending, the Germans and French are cooperating on the development of the Leopard 3 through the Krauss-Maffei Wegmann firm merging with Nexter Systems, which will improve interoperability in the long run. All that said, development of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) should be considered one of the strongest indicators of improvement in NATO's deterrent ability.
Previously the NATO Response Force (NRF) has been plagued by its large size of 30,000 men, which is both taxing financially on contributors and a large investment of troops that can only be deployed when 28 nations agree to deploy them. However, the VJTF is a brigade sized force designed to be deployed within 48 hours, and backed up by the NRF in the event of hostilities. This improves the flexibility of the alliance in response to potential Russian Hybrid Attack or conventional attack. C&C centers established due to NSIP investment also improves the efficiency of VJTF in a defense scenario.
Article V's credibility:
There is also a question of credibility to NATO allies honoring Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty. A recent Pew Report polled the citizenry of NATO countries on various issues related to NATO and the Ukraine crisis. In regards to collective defense the results were disappointing. When asked whether the poll taker's country should honor Article V if Russia were to aggress a neighbor who was in NATO, only Americans and Canadians had a majority of respondents claim that their countries should honor their obligations. Germans were particularly unenthusiastic with 38% of respondents claiming that Germany should not honor its obligations (Pew).
While the general population is not responsible for the immediate decision to honor or break agreements, several populist parties who are skeptical of NATO are becoming more popular in Europe, with Syriza and Front National being two of the more openly skeptical of Atlanticism. This allows for a potential problem for NATO's continued deterrence value as internal divisions in the Atlantic alliance threaten the currently precarious advantage NATO holds.
- John Massey
John is a student of political science and history at the University of Alabama. His primary interest is in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but he also finds time to study French and political theory.
As with other guest posts, the author's views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Line of Steel or the owners of this site.