NEWS

NATO to retain crucial role, according to MC chairman

Neither now nor in the foreseeable future is the Euroforce likely to come into existence, said the chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, in an interview with Kathimerini that he gave on Friday on the shakeup in the West’s military alliance. German General Harald Kujat was in Athens to discuss with Greek staff officers the sweeping changes in NATO’s new administrative structure, in the context of the thorough overhaul of the alliance now in progress. Decisions on the redistribution of central commands are expected in June. Greece will likely lose NATO’s Joint Command South Center at Tirnavos but instead is angling for the Headquarters Allied Naval Forces South – NAVSOUTH – now situated in Naples. Wing Commander Harald Kujat had served in numerous NATO posts before becoming chief of the German Army Staff in 2000 and chairman of the Military Committee in 2002. NATO’s absence from Afghanistan and Iraq has led many to believe that the alliance is now passe. That’s not the case. NATO is doing sterling work in the Balkans, it is now supporting the mission in Afghanistan and will provide backup to Poland when it takes up its post in Iraq. This clearly shows that NATO is extending its activities beyond its field of operations. There are numerous critics who say that we are increasingly seeing action only by the «coalition of the willing,» but what is forgotten is that they can act precisely because NATO provides the necessary underpinning. These nations all work with the same standards, the same procedures, the same training, all of it NATO-based. On the contrary, NATO is absolutely in the thick of things and indeed will be more so after it has been reorganized. After this reorganization, will NATO act without UN authorization? It’s possible. Don’t forget that the Kosovo campaign was not based on a United Nations resolution. It depends greatly on specific circumstances. Some nations prefer to be covered by the UN with a resolution, but this isn’t always the case. If, say, a nation asks for areas to be evacuated of civilians in case of crisis, a resolution is not needed. It is thus not necessary. How easy will it be to maintain the principle of unanimity, now with a membership of 26 states? This was a very important principle for NATO. Now we will have 26 members, but in the past, when we had 19 members, many said we would be unable to function. But experience has shown that this is not so. It showed that the criterion is not the number, but whether member states have the same views on political security, the same interests and the same values. NATO must be in a position to make decisions and react quickly. There are many who believe that instead of unanimity, we can move to another way of thinking, with states abstaining so as not to block decisions. This is also a possibility. This has happened in the past quite a few times. NATO acts as a unit, but this doesn’t mean that all the states take part in a campaign. There are many possible forms of agreement. The most important thing is that NATO as a whole is not blocked… And if a country decides to block it and it cannot act? I don’t believe you can ever exclude [this possibility], but the experience of the last few months has shown that the member states realize what the consequences will be of blocking a NATO decision. It has become very clear to all and it is in the interest of all members to keep the Alliance not only alive, but very active in the future. Could we find ourselves fronting a NATO in which the Americans decide, and the Europeans confine themselves to saying yes? Ah, this has has also been said in the past, especially at the end of the 1970s. It’s not true. My personal experience, after many years of service in NATO, is that in the end, the common basis is understanding of the common interests of the alliance, which, I believe, essentially expresses the interests of every member state separately. You’re always speaking of NATO «capabilities.» These, however, require money. Who will be paying? For example, Germany doesn’t spend much on defense. Greece does… This was always a problem. Cast your mind back to the 1970s, when we aimed at defense spending of 3 percent of the gross domestic product, which was never attained… However, the issue of how much you contribute is much more complicated than seeing it terms of percentage of GDP. That’s not the only yardstick. Nevertheless, Europeans must set aside more for defense spending. There are major issues of security here in Europe – different ones from in the past, but they exist. And we have to realize that for European security, the USA is irreplaceable. We need to cooperate with the USA, it must be possible for our forces to cooperate, for them to be technologically compatible with those of the Americans, who have made great progress in technology. We are working in two directions: on the one hand, in comparatively small fields where we are trying to boost our capabilities, such as NATO’s Response Force. On the other hand, there is a step-by-step process to encourage the member states to contribute to a collective effort, which means that each state can contribute with a specific weapons system that it possesses and cooperate with other member states that have the same system and so on. This is the approach, but I must stress that it is no substitute for the will of nations to spend money. Without money, it won’t be successful. We want to curb expenditure as much as possible, but Europeans need to spend much more on their own security. How much will the new Response Force cost? It’s not easy to tell. However, it is a limited force, comparatively small. It will be trained and equipped to joint standards and it will have a high degree of alertness. Narrowly defined, this force will not be expensive. What will cost a great deal are the logistical support systems, such as air transport. And they are absolutely necessary if we want to develop capabilities in the future. Do you believe that within the new structure, Poland can replace Germany in its NATO role? The importance of a member state lies in many different factors: armed forces, the economy, geostrategic importance and many others. We should not believe that NATO has two tiers of member states. Germany was very important in the past, because it shared a border with the Soviet bloc. A lot of NATO countries had forces in Germany and this gave NATO considerable power. This has changed, but each country always plays a very specific role. Greece, for example, has a very specific role, on the one hand by the side of the new member states, on the other hand in the Mediterranean, which is a very important area. In the new structure, the new important headquarters, the nerve center of the alliance, will be located at Norfolk in the United States. Will that distance NATO from Europe? I wouldn’t call it the nerve center. It is a very important headquarters, but the seat of the alliance is always at Brussels. At least, I hope it’s that way and everyone accepts it. Norfolk is a major change, but the nerve center stays in Brussels. How far do NATO and the nascent Euroforce compete with each other? There is no Euroforce. And, in my opinion, there isn’t the will for such a force, nor will there be one in the foreseeable future. I believe that’s the way things are and that everyone understands that as far as the national security of member states are concerned, NATO is the fundament, the most powerful and successful alliance in history; only it can guarantee [national security]. Some European states may want to act where NATO does not want, everything is open. Greece’s position up in the air Since you referred to Greece, will this country lose the Joint Command South Center in NATO’s reorganization? No country will lose out. What will happen is that command centers like that in Greece will disappear. That’s the reality. And the new structure will be entirely different. We have not decided where the new command centers will go. We have proposals for their number, their characteristics, their size, but not where they will be located. In any case, we will have fewer than before. It will not be possible to satisfy all member states, but there will be no winners and losers because the structure will be more effective; this will benefit everyone. If, however, NATO leaves Greece, apart from creating a sense of remoteness from what the alliance stands for, won’t there be a problem of balance on its southeastern flank? It is, of course, important that the NATO flag flies over a country like Greece. But what kind of flag this will be, I don’t know. The decision will be made by the ministers of defense, as you know. I want, however, to note, both for Greece and Turkey, what a positive role NATO has played in improving the climate, something we often forget… Perhaps this flag should be linked to Greece’s long maritime tradition and its major capabilities on the seas today? Well, you’re right, Greece has been a seafaring nation for thousands of years, the country lies on an important maritime crossroads, but I don’t know what the deciding factor will be for the location of a command center. I can’t answer this question. And Turkey? As I told you. Everything is open at this moment, especially the southern sector… What is your opinion of Greece’s contribution to NATO missions? The Greek armed forces are exceptionally experienced through their participation in a number of both NATO and UN missions. From the NATO point of view, their contribution is more than welcome. Of course, this is something that costs money, and that sometimes creates internal problems. However, Greece has made an excellent contribution, and the Greek armed forces, at the present juncture, are undergoing an important process of change which is extremely welcome. Greece indisputably will participate actively in NATO’s transformation.