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Empire Watch

NATO of the Living Dead

US Army soldiers operating under the NATO-sponsored International Security Assistance Force patrol along a dirt road in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.
If transatlantic relations were a Hallowe’en party, NATO could come as a zombie.

Like the living dead, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization refuses to expire despite chronic neglect of its security commitments, the facts of which were most recently detailed in a confidential report by the Danish Defense Force (DDF) on last year’s air assault on Libya. The report, accidentally released last week to the press, faulted NATO’s inability “to provide reliable intelligence on targets or to conduct bombing raids” as well as “accurate assessments of collateral damage” inflicted on civilians. As a consequence of NATO’s dereliction, according to the study, allied forces had to restrict the scope of their operations.

Absent significant US help, the report confirms that NATO’s European constituents would have been incapable of sustaining the bombing raids that helped topple Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi. So under-resourced were European forces, the report states, the Danish Air Force was obliged to purchase ordinance from Israel, a fact that is sure to give pause to those calling for NATO intervention in Syria. The defense spokesman for Denmark’s Socialist People’s Party called the study, “embarrassing and revealing,” not least because of its admission that the Danish government “bought munitions from Israel to bomb an Arab-world country.”

The scandal of NATO deficiency dates almost to the genesis of the alliance, though it was obscured by the expediencies of the Cold War. It was not until 1999, during the US-led bombing campaign against Serb forces in Kosovo, when the magnitude of the problem was finally revealed. NATO so badly lacked the means to transport men and material into battle it had to rent cargo aircraft from Russia, its old Cold War nemesis. NATO armies could not deploy as a single, cohesive force as their weaponry and command-and-control systems operated on different standards. Intelligence networks were wholly inadequate or non-existent.

Reporting in Brussels at the time, I interviewed many NATO bureaucrats who vowed that the Kosovo debacle would jolt the alliance into reforming itself. Exasperated US officials assured me their patience was wearing thin. Within months, a flurry of new initiatives were unveiled that committed both sides of the Atlantic to reform NATO into an well-oiled, interoperable force that could operate in distant theaters independent of a dominant US role.

The Libya campaign exposed such pretensions. In response to the DDF report, a NATO spokesman said the shortcomings it outlined would be addressed as part of the alliance’s “Smart Defense project and redesigned command structure.” Among the issues to be reconciled, he said, was “the stockpiling of sufficient precision munitions by partner nations.”

History suggests this is nonsense. So does a consultant who works closely with NATO and its arms suppliers, who told me recently that US defense contractors are still waiting for their European clients to refresh stocks of ordinance spent during the Libyan war.

Instead of expiring gracefully along with the Soviet empire it was created to deter, NATO has been kept alive unnaturally by Washington, which is willing to subsidize its partners’ indolence in exchange for basing rights and diplomatic cover for its next Middle East war. NATO, the undead alliance, shuffles on.

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Stephen Glain
Stephen Glain is a freelance journalist and author based in Paris. For two decades, as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, he covered Asia, the Middle East and the policy sausage factories of Washington, D.C. He is the author of two books: Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants: The Economic Collapse of the Arab World (St. Martin’s Press, 2004) and State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire (Crown Books, 2011).

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