I had another great day in Brussels. We went over to NATO HQ (the new building is not yet ready but looks very 21st century/spaceship-ish) for a briefing from a NATO official. Chatham House, so I cannot name the official but can summarize and assess before moving onto the afternoon Fish Bowl and then the beer with the NATO tweeps!
The NATO official (not SACEUR who apparently has a busy schedule) started with the NATO strategic concept which focuses on the threat situation and on NATO core tasks--collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security. Apparently, NATO has decided recently that the pre-Crimea definition of threat is still accurate (I call b.s.), and the intra-NATO fight is over priorities--collective defense (focusing on deterring Russia) vs crisis management (focusing on the instability to NATO's South/Southeast. Geography still matters in the globalized 21st century as Eastern Europe cares about Russia, southern Europe cares about Northern Africa and the Mideast, and France/Britain are, um, disarming quickly? Hmmm.
The official recognized that NATO has always been a two tier alliance--the US and all the rest? Hmmm, maybe three tiers: US, those doing more, those doing less? [see Danish discussion below]. I pushed back in the Q&A on the efforts to develop a Very High Readiness Force, learning that the idea of pre-delegating authority to SACEUR to move troops quickly in case of a crisis is a subject of much conflict within NATO. That many countries do not trust a military officer to make a move in response to a political threat (hybrid war). I hope this changes because a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force is not very quick if a decision has to be made at the North Atlantic Council.
I was surprised that NATO has not been able to get consensus to toss the NATO-Russia founding act into the garbage--which means that NATO cannot permanently base troops in the Baltics. Which once again leads to my advocacy of the US engaging in a series of bilateral moves to deploy troops to the region. The 173rd Airborne Brigade does not have to be based in Italy--move them North and East.
The second panel sought to understand Russia's ambitions. A key point was that Russia is not really threatened--that any argument falls apart when one considers the general pattern of NATO countries disarming. Indeed, one of the ironies of certain realists being apologists for Putin and the threat of NATO enlargement ignores this very basic reality despite the fact that these realists spent much of the 1980s calculating force to space ratios to figure out the Soviet threat. Hmmm, short memories, I guess.
I then participated in a Fish Bowl, which was a dynamic sort of presentation where the only people who could talk were those four or five people in the center of the room, and that people could be tapped out and replaced by others who wanted to speak. The topic was the West.... which led to a surprisingly interesting and fun conversation. The strange process worked.
I then left NATO with the rest of the group (NATO security rules) and returned to have beers with the US and Canadian folks associated with their twitter accounts/public engagement efforts. We were joined by British, Estonian, Lithuanian, and Danish folks working at NATO. The conversation was most interesting and the beer selection at the NATO bowling alley was quite excellent. Oh, and the US Mission at NATO turned out to be the legendary USEmbSAfrica who did quite well at TFC a few years ago. She was delightful as were the rest of the folks. It was fun to talk to a Danish NATO person over beer as he was a big fan of the recent piece that juxtaposed Denmark and Greece re burden-sharing.
I was asked about lessons learned from the book for the new (old) problems. A key lesson, I think, is that countries should educate their politicians and their publics that the Baltics/Poland are not matters of expeditionary efforts but collective defense--which means different laws and expectations apply. Another is that we need to get more flexible forces to be the ones leading the VJTF (France, Denmark, Canada, US) and not those that proved be fairly lame in Afghanistan (Spain, Italy).
I am not surprised that my favorite day of this trip thus far was the one at NATO. Tis as it should be.