Jorge Benitez

  • NATO’s Official Policy on Killing Gaddafi

    Josh Rogin’s story in Foreign Policy, “Exclusive: Top U.S. admiral admits we are trying to kill Gaddafi,” sparked considerable media attention and strengthened the perception that NATO’s air strikes in Libya are targeting Muammar Gaddafi.
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  • NATO Defense Ministers Send Mixed Signals

    Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ provocative speech in Brussels attracted widespread media attention, but several important decisions were made during the two-day NATO defense ministers meetings which will have a more immediate impact on the future of the alliance. 

    The most prominent of these issues is NATO reform. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared that agreements were reached to streamline NATO agencies and re-shape NATO’s military command structure. According to Rasmussen, “[t]ogether, these reforms will make NATO more affordable – offering even better value for our Allies’ money. They will make NATO more effective – focusing on the capabilities and command systems we need.” 

    But NATO is not being forthcoming with the details of these agreements so they may just be agreements to agree at some future date. For example, the NATO Heads of State agreed in Lisbon to reduce the number of agencies to three. After the Defense Minister’s meeting last week, NATO released a document which at first glance seems on track with this objective. “By this reform, agencies will be organized along 3 major programmatic themes: Procurement, Support and Communications and Information.” Yet, this same document also states that a “new NATO Science and Technology (S&T) Organization will be created before July 2012.” Furthermore, the document also reveals that “current NATO Standardization Agency will continue and be subject to review by Spring 2014.” Therefore, it seems NATO has postponed the decision on its standardization agency until 2014. For some reason, the document providing even these limited details is no longer available on the NATO website. 

    NATO officials have also declined to provide details of how the alliance military command structure is being re-organized. But Reuters reports that Rasmussen has proposed trimming the number of command bases from 11 to 7. In spite of the language used to describe the agreement by NATO defense ministers, the alliance is still keeping it secret whether the four bases to be closed have been chosen. NATO sources have disclosed off the record that Rasmussen is proposing “closing one of each of the land, air and naval bases and one joint-force command.”  

    In contrast, NATO Defense Minister’s did reach a clear agreement on a new alliance Cyber Defense Policy. Under this revised policy, new cyber defense standards are being introduced and centralized protection will now be provided for all NATO systems. “The policy clarifies political and operational mechanisms of NATO’s response to cyber attacks, and integrates cyber defence into NATO’s Defence Planning Process.”  

    Such changes were necessary because NATO has been under growing attack from cyber threats. According to an internal NATO memo obtained by Spiegel, the “scale and sophistication of cyber attacks against NATO's own networks and against Allies' critical infrastructure are steadily increasing” while the nature of the cyber threats has risen from "mainly espionage and exploitation … to wide-scale disruption." Rasmussen himself has acknowledged the incessant cyber attacks against NATO. “Nowhere is the need to act today rather than tomorrow more evident than in the area of cyber security . . . It is no exaggeration to state that cyber attacks have become a new form of permanent, low-level warfare.” 

    In spite of this agreement, NATO also received bad news during the defense ministers meeting. In one of the closed sessions, Canada’s Defense Minister Peter MacKay disclosed his country’s intention to end its participation in one of NATO’s key programs. Citing budgetary constraints, Canada is concluding its participation in NATO’s Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). This was not publicly announced, but reported by CBC News. This program is one of NATO’s most successful efforts for pooling contributions from its members into shared assets. These prized aircraft have played a significant role in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector in Libya. 

    In addition, just a few hours after Gates’ speech, the Norwegian government, which has “carried out about 10 percent of the NATO airstrikes in Libya since March 31,” declared that its fighter jets will be withdrawn from the Libya operation by August 1. This decision emphasizes the difficulties NATO is facing sustaining its military forces over Libya and political unity between its members.  

    It was a busy week for NATO. While most of the world’s attention focused on the gloomy warning and sharp words in Gates’ speech, the actual work that took place during NATO’s defense ministers meeting offers both hope and disappointment to the supporters of the transatlantic alliance. Hope that progress is being made in cyber security and that incremental steps forward are being taken in NATO reform. Disappointment that NATO leaders have yet to take decisive action on important, but relatively small issues such as trimming agencies and cutting military bases.

    Why are the members of NATO still mired in these issues and not addressing the critical problems raised by Gates in his speech? The recent decisions by Canada and Norway demonstrate that even allies that have been strong in the fight are finding it difficult to overcome the current fiscal crisis. But the lack of proper funding is simply a symptom of a deeper problem: a lack of political will. 

    Gates ended his speech with words of hope: “Over the life of the transatlantic alliance there has been no shortage of squabbles and setbacks. But through it all, we managed to get the big things right over time. We came together to make the tough decisions in the face of dissension at home and threats abroad.   And I take heart in the knowledge that we can do so again.”  

    While I agree with his statements, I also note the nuance of his words. Gates and I both have hope that the leaders of NATO “can do so again.” But there are too many national leaders within the alliance that are choosing not to. Too many members of NATO are getting “the big things” wrong and avoiding “the tough decisions.”  

    Now is the critical time for supporters of the transatlantic alliance to make their voices heard within each NATO capital and hold their leaders accountable for protecting the military shield which has provided peace and secured prosperity since 1949. The economic interdependence of Europe at the start of the 20th century did not prevent World War I and the war weariness of Europe in the 20s and 30s did not stop World War II. Neither of these will keep the peace in the 21st century.  

    NATO is our common defense and it has kept the peace for more than six decades. So let us argue and complain as brothers in arms. But let us also heed the warning from Gates and start making the tough decisions together. 

    Dr. Benitez is the Director of NATOSource and a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. Photo credit: Reuters.


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  • Defining Success in Afghanistan

    Stephen Biddle recently returned from Afghanistan and provides a uniquely qualified assessment of defining success in that conflict.  Dr. Biddle was a member of ISAF’s Initial Strategic Assessment Team and his expertise on Afghanistan has been consulted by senior military leaders and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.  He is the Roger Hertog Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and the award-winning author of Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle.  In a media conference this week, Dr. Biddle shared the following insights on the current situation in Afghanistan.

    Are we winning or losing in Afghanistan?

    BIDDLE:  Well, I think it takes at least a year, especially in Afghanistan, to know whether a given village or a given district has been stabilized and whether the model is working or not. The fighting there is very seasonal. So until you've had a whole fighting season and a winter, it is very hard to know.

    Now, what that means is that there are places in Afghanistan where you can know something. And we spent some time in central Helmand on this last trip and there are parts where we've been for a year or more -- for example Nad Ali and Garmsir -- where the Taliban have been kicked out. They've tried to counterattack and reestablish themselves but that effort has largely failed and the places are reasonably stable at this point.

    The war ain't over there by any stretch of the imagination, but the areas are reasonably stable because, to an important degree, we've been there for 18 months or more.

    Will President Obama and Gen. Petraeus be able to know by the December reassssment if we are winning or losing in Afghanistan?

    BIDDLE: Well, I think to a large extent that depends on events on the ground and on the way the administration and the command presents them. So for example, I think public support for the war is powerfully shaped by whether people think we're winning or losing. And this comes back to this question of how you assess the way things are going. I think the command and administration need to start establishing the case that we're going about this in a step-by-step way and should judge on the places where we've had enough time. And you know, assess accordingly.

    Now, I think that is, in fact, what they are doing. The December 2010 reassessment window that was so much discussed at the time of the president's West Point speech is, as far as I can tell, being down pedaled. I think that is largely a statement that in the places where command (I think erroneously or ill-advisedly) put so much emphasis -- the new offensive actions in Marjah and Kandahar -- they're just not going to know by December, because you won't have seen a full fighting season by that time.

    So I think they're trying to say, essentially, that they won't know enough by then to be able to get a good gauge on how the war is going and they're trying to suggest that they are going to make this decision later. If the offenses that we conduct in Marjah and Kandahar bear the fruit that one would hope and expect, then the public will allow a continued extending of the clock. If they don't, if by July 2011 Kandahar is a disaster area and Marjah has not turned, I think it's going to be very hard to sustain public support.

    What is the unlikely, but dangerously possible, worst case scenario?

    BIDDLE:  Now, the threat if the worst-case scenario unfolds is pretty serious. I mean, you may or may not have worried about nuclear weapons in Soviet hands during the Cold War. But bin Laden would probably use the things if he got them. And if an American administration that could reasonably have waged this war with some prospect of success instead decided to withdraw -- if that scenario played out, Pakistan collapsed, and bin Laden got a nuclear weapon and used it on the United States, it would be regarded by generations of historians as the single biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of the nation.

    Now, a variety of bad things have to happen in sequence for that worst case to play itself out. That is why I think this is a close call, rather than an obvious one. But, especially with respect to the guy in the Oval Office who has to bear the responsibility for this, I suspect that worst case looms fairly large. But all indications are that the president is pretty ambivalent about this, in part because I suspect he sees the costs and benefits as being closer on the margin than one would, in some ways, like.

    Jorge Benitez, nonresident senior fellow andNATOSource director at the Atlantic Council, edited this from a much longerinterview conducted by Foreign Affairs managing editor Gideon Rose with the permission of Dr. Biddle. For full text and audio of the original interview, click here. Photo credit: Reuters.


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  • Does Rasmussen's Speech Reveal New NATO Priorities?

    In his first speech as Secretary General (August 3) Anders Fogh Rasmussen identified Afghanistan and relations with Russia as the top two priorities for NATO. Unfortunately, that speech ignored the security concerns of the Central European members of NATO and contributed to the perception that rapprochement with Moscow was more important to the alliance than the issues of NATO's eastern members.


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  • Russia Upgrades Spying on NATO Countries

    The Russian news service Interfax announced today that Moscow has expelled two Czech diplomats in an apparent tit-for-tat for yesterday's reported expulsion of two Russian diplomats by the Czech Republic.


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