Bear with me on this one for a moment. I have to go over some backstory.
Although they had been talking about it for a decade, the Europeans formally proposed the formation of a Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) back in 1999. It was supposed to be 60,000 soldiers with the gear and the means to move to any spot on the planet and make it their own for a year. Airlift and sealift, artillery and air support. Everything that a modern army needed to project force was to be included in the inventory. The idea was to put the lid on potential flash points and save lives.
Didn’t happen. So Rumsfeld went to the annual NATO summit in 2002 and suggested that maybe the 60K figure was too ambitious. 20K was probably more like it. Everyone involved agreed on this, and the plan to make this a reality was known as The Prague Capabilities Commitment of 2002, named after the city where the summit was held. The name of this command was going to be the NATO Response Force (NRF).
The Congressional Research Service recently submitted a report that examines the progress of this plan. As you might expect when dealing with European military capabilities, things aren’t nearly as advanced as one might reasonably expect.
I was very surprised to see that the NRF is on line and ready to go, with a total force of 18,00 ready to be deployed. How NATO performed this miracle is explained by a single line on page 8 of the CSR report linked to above.
“While most of the NRF’s contingents are European, the United States has been contributing some troops.”
Oh, okay. I’m betting that the US contribution is for the really expensive stuff, like airlift and support. It’s interesting that this isn’t getting more press.
It’s good news that NATO can now quickly project force, but it seems that this is the only bright spot. The CSR report lists several problems that have recently plagued European efforts to provide peacekeeping forces, which is nothing new to those of us who find this stuff interesting. But some mildly troubling news is mentioned on page 9.
“The EU is developing its own rapid reaction forces for crisis management. Some of these units are ‘double hatted’ for use either by the EU or NATO.” (snip) “The issue of which organization, NATO or the EU, could use national forces if there were simultaneous crises has not been resolved.”
So the plans to form an RRF loyal to the EU haven’t been laid to rest, and they’re plundering American largess in order to make it happen. The reason why I think that this is only mildly troubling is that the biggest stumbling block to the formation of an EU reaction force has been the profound lack of moving everyone and their equipment. Airlift isn’t cheap, sealift is more managable but still costs money, and the European powers have been noticeably reluctant to pony up the Euros needed to actually buy what they need. If there’s a conflict of interest then the NRF might lose some bodies, but the allies who stand with the US will be the only ones who will be able to get out there and do some good.
So the real news is that NATO has managed to put together a force 18K strong that can actually get to the trouble and save some lives, although not all of the units can be relied upon if there’s a political reason (like anti-American sentiment back home) for the European nations to do nothing.
After reading the CSR report, I found this item on Strategypage.com to be particularly revealing. (Post from May 25, 2005.) The author reports on how the Czech Republic has reorganized its Soviet-style armed forces into a NATO compatible military. The core mission is to provide “a peacekeeping and peacemaking force, in addition to a force that can take care of conventional combat operations.”
Listed are the active duty units. If they are all at full strength (which is unlikely), and if they truly conform to NATO standard, then I’m counting 18,000 soldiers ready to be deployed. And don’t lose sight of the fact that this is just from the Czech Republic.
Military historians and economists alike adhere to the theory that any great power must be able to protect their interests if they are to retain their status in the world. With today’s environment of globalization and the exploitation of foreign markets, this means that they will have to project force. Any other policy is a course towards decline and inevitable insignificance.
I don’t think that the present NRF would exist without the foresight and drive of one man, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He is, after all, the one who not only recognized that the European powers were overly ambitious in seeking a force of 60K, but he also correctly calculated that a 20K command would be within their grasp. Considering the Strategypage.com post linked to above, it would appear that his much reviled and ridiculed remarks concerning “old Europe” are just as prescient.
One last though before I end this already lengthy essay. I’ve always been opposed to the formation of a European Union because I thought the waste and stifling bureaucracy that necessarily follows such a move would destroy any chance Europe has for a renaissance. Considering this shabby state of affairs even before the EU is a fully functionaing political entity, I’m now convinced that it simply doesn’t matter. Yesterday I was intensely interested in how the French would vote concerning the EU Constitution, today I couldn’t care less.
But I think I’m going to take a keener interest in the politics of former Warsaw Pact countries. That seems to be where the action is.