Sarwar Kashmeri

Sarwar Kashmeri is a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s International Security Program and a fellow with the Foreign Policy Association. He is the author of NATO 2.0: Reboot or Delete?


When was NATO originally founded and what was its original role? How is that different today?

So NATO was founded in 1949 – right after the second World War. It was a group of European countries and the U.S. and Canada that came together to help save Europe from being overrun by the Soviet Union. And sot he important thing to remember is that there was one competitor or potential enemy  and there was an existential threat, because of the nuclear weaponry and all of the European countries. The U.S. agreed that the U.S. would be a leader and that everyone would focus on making sure the Soviet Union wouldn’t come into Europe. So then the Soviet Union, thanks to the deterrent power of NATO, collapsed in the late 80s and early 90s. When that happened, the major threat disappeared. The central and eastern Europeans, which were part of the Soviet Union, then joined NATO.

So, now fast forward to today where you have 28 countries – instead of the 16 – and you don’t have an existential threat. Therefore, the countries in NATO don’t all think in the same direction, because there isn’t one threat. Afghanistan is a good example of this. First of all, it was very difficult to make a decision to go into Afghanistan. After the decision was made, more half of the NATO countries didn’t participate. That’s where we are with NATO now. We have an alliance that has done a huge amount of good, and is very meaningful to people in Europe and U.S. But it’s increasingly losing relevance as a military alliance, because of the internal, disputes within countries, the inability to reach consensus as it was when the Soviet Union was the only competitor, or threat if you will. And then finally, the fiscal crisis, the pressure to pull and share resources and finally, the U.S. also under financial pressure, but moving its gaze, its focus to the east. So with all of these things, we have alliance that has done a wonderful job, is meaningful to people on both sides, but it’s starting to lose relevance, and the fear is that if things keep going this way, it could become irrelevant to transatlantic security, which would not be a good thing, because it has done well and it means well. That’s my recap of the situation.

Do NATO and the European Union share similar forms of appeal?

Well, it does, but largely because of momentum I think. The Europeans think of NATO as being the hard power, if you will. And they think of the EU as a soft power in many ways. What I’ve been focused is trying to understand the security policy of the EU. So if you don’t mind let me get into that for a moment. After the Baltic campaigns, the Europeans realized in the late 1980’s and 1990’s that Europe could not just sit back and not have a defense policy. So they came up with what they called the Common Security and Defense policy – CSDP. They set up a pretty potent organization to handle their military, civilian deployments. In 20 years that’s how long its existed. The CSDP has deployed some 88,000 soldiers, scientists, lawyers, etc. from Indonesia to Africa. The problem has been that the U.S. has always wanted to lead in Europe, since the Soviet Union, since NATO started; the U.S. has been the leader of Europe. And so it saw it as a threat, it did not let the CSDP develop as it should, and today it cannot have permanent headquarters and the Europeans on their part said, “Gee, great, the U.S. wants to have a defense…and always bail us out? Why should we not take a free ride?” So that’s been the situation to this point. Now CSDP, especially after Afghanistan, the Europeans have started to say, “Gee, let’s sit back and think…years we’ve been there and nothing’s really been accomplished. Do we really want the political decision-making always involve the U.S.?”

Over the next year, the European council which is the top policy-making group of the EU, comprised of heads of state of the 27 countries, is going to be focusing on CSDP to see where it’s going next. Two big problems arise there. One is the pulling and sharing, meaning they can’t afford the weapons they have – duplications and so on. So they need to make the political decisions to eliminate some weaponry to get countries to combine their resources. All political decisions and all will need to be made with the EU. The second part of it is the leadership role. NATO is naturally a military alliance that isn’t capable of making political decisions – that lies within the EU. So what I’ve been proposing is that NATO and CSDP be bridged together and I’ve come up with a concept called ‘NATO inside,’ and it relates to those of your viewers who buy PCs, there’s always a sticker on it that says “Intel Inside.” Intel is a chip, which drives, the engine that makes the computer run. If one looks at Libya, the place where NATO was really successful was in letting the armies work together, setting up headquarters in Italy – there is interoperability, they share orders, they share weaponry – and so my thought is, and I call it NATO inside, the future of this combined operation: take NATO’s strengths, put them inside, political strengths of CSDP and the EU, and make this organization relevant for the 21st century. It would be a shame to let it become irrelevant, because it’s so meaningful for people on both sides.

In terms of emerging threats, where do cyber security,piracy, etc. rank in NATOs assessment?

In my opinion, NATO has been daydreaming with the strategic concept of it operating all over the world, that it can join with China and India, explain the part now of a bureaucracy that never really wants to go away. And in my opinion, NATO aught to come back, focus where it used to – which is Europe, and its immediate periphery. And, become again an organization to protect the security of Europe and it immediate periphery, and cut out all this business of strategic partnerships all over the world. If you think about Afghanistan, Europeans, are there, most people say, because they owe a debt of allegiance to the US. They’re there to show the flag for the U.S. 90% of Europeans don’t wish to be there and are horrified this has gone on for 11 years, so my feeling is the Europeans are now saying never again. It’s time for NATO come back to Europe and become an organization that’s really relevant again.

What does the Libya  intervention say about the role of NATO as an interventionist body?

Well, if you look at the strengths again of the Libya campaign, it was that there was ‘NATO the Engine’ that people could call on, on both sides, and it would quickly headquarters, or a joint base, or go into action quickly. Where did it fall apart? It fell apart because more than half of the alliance members did not wish to participate. Within a few days it ran out of weaponry, it had no weaponry to eliminate to Gaddafi’s armaments. They had to fall back on the American defense guard, the U.S. had to come in and start the operation. The U.S. spent over a billion dollars. I think that Mr. Obama did a very effective thing by saying, “You take it from there.” For the first time, the U.S. said it did not wish to lead, even though it did lead; but then falling back and saying, “We don’t wish to lead, you lead” was a clear message going forward saying, “Europe, you need to lead.” And I think it’s time for the U.S. to follow up on that, and for the U.S. to say, “We’re no longer going to be leading European operations, we’ll always be there for you, but we’re not going to be your leaders, you are. So get your house in order, this defense credit card is going away.

As far as being a tool of U.S. foreign policy and U.S. interests in Europe, where does NATO rank?

NATO is a military organization, it has for years been the centerpiece of the U.S. and also Canadian involvement in Europe. It worked for as long as the U.S. was the only country that could lead, and the Europeans did not have the resources or the political structures to make their own decisions from a security and defense point of view. That is no longer the case. So now, the US and Europe don’t see eye to eye in many strategic and defense issues. Libya was one case in point. And so it’s time now to say to Europeans that they’ll be handling their own; the U.S. will always be connected. Strategically, it’s NATO and CSDP that need to work together.

Given the ongoing economic crisis in Eurozone, are Europeans really capable of taking over their own security, whether it’s through NATO or a joint program?

My answer is yes, and it’s in two parts. One: if you look at military capacity, one of the deployments that the EU executed a few years ago was a brigade-level deployment in the Central African Republic. The brigade was about 3,700 people. They flew this brigade out to the center of Africa from Europe, sustained it for 19 months. They fought on the ground, had some very bloody conflicts, people died on both sides. They showed an ability for command and control, sustaining at a fair distance from the center of Europe, so that’s the capacity they’re developing.

As far as resources, I might remind you that the EU’s defense budgets, if added together, are a little under $300 billion. That used to be the U.S. defense budget prior to 9/11. Also, keep in mind the Europeans don’t have the global responsibilities that the U.S. has. They don’t wish to. Why is this not enough? There is duplication, weapon programs, 3 different fighter programs. They have to make the political decisions to eliminate programs, combine countries’ resources, and as you know, in the U.S. when we want to get rid of duplicate weaponry there are huge political battles. Those are the battles that Europe will need to fight and they will not bee able to fight it. And they wont be able to fight them as long as they believe the U.S. will always be coming in with its modern weaponry and bail them out. It’ll continue on in this case. So, what I propose is that the U.S. make it clear that this defense credit card has been revoked; that you folks will need to do the smart thing. And on top of that, we need to say we don’t always need to be the leader. We’ll always be connected with you if there is a global international big bang, a huge threat, of course we come in and if you like, take over. But for all other matters, you folks take care of Europe. We’ll help you, but that’s the direction the world needs to go.

And is the Secretary General’s push for a so-called “smart defense,” have any impact on pushing European leaders on making those decisions?

I think the Secretary General has done a good thing by starting this process. My opinion is, it’s not going to go very far, because the decisions to do what we want to do are political decisions, and they’re not made at NATO. They’re made at the European Council, which runs the EU. Those decisions belong in the EU, not in NATO. So, good idea, but I don’t think it’ll work.