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NATO's Split Personality: Why The Rapid Response Force Is Not Fully Operational

NATO's Rapid Response Force (NRF) is not at full operational capability, because member states had pledged only about 75 per cent of what was needed, according to General John Craddock, NATO's top military commander, whose letter to NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is covered in the Financial Times.

The German business daily Handelsblatt (via Finger.Zeig) even claims that the United States have "suddenly" reduced its actual contribution down to 5 per cent of the pledged contingent, therefore the NRF's supposed strength of 25,000 is just "above 50 per cent," i.e. lower than the number mentioned in the Financial Times.

Our regular reader and commentator Don Stadler, an American software engineer in England, wrote the following guest blog post on this matter for Atlantic Review:

It seems most of the contributing countries are overstretched with committments; in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. This should come as no surprise to any semi-careful observer. The US has been overstretched for at least 2 years, the Brits are if anything more thinly spread. Germany has been moaning about it's 10,000+ international commitment of (mostly) non-combatatant forces, and France much the same. Canada is deeply committed. There is not much slack anywhere within NATO.

But I also believe there is a psychological component - an unwillingness to commit to the alliance as a whole - for reasons which vary by country: "With large-scale deployments of troops from Nato member states in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, countries feel ever more reluctant to contribute to a standing force whose use is uncertain."

I suspect the continental European powers are chary of contributing their forces to a force which may be off like the wind to Afghanistan or the like without the by-your-leave of the contributing governments. Germans, French, and other Europeans have made it abundantly clear that they do not wish to fight 'US wars'. One may well add Britain, Canada, and even the US to the list in the near future although not for quite the same reasons as the continental Europeans have, I think.

I think another reason for the wariness of the US and the UK is a feeling that they have been left out to dry by half of the alliance - the continental half. The unwillingness of France and Germany to commit forces to actual combat in southern Afghanistan was enormously symbolic to the fighting members of the alliance. Germany could not have contributed much to the effort, France (I think) somewhat more. But in the end both countries declined to engage in combat. France was very quiet in the spring (wisely I think) but Germany had a loud public debate in the Bundestag about the deployment of a small number of recon aircraft which ended up deployed with 'rules of engagement' which probably have compromised their effectiveness.

Under the circumstances I would not blame the US and UK governments for looking askance at contributing to the NRF. If the political rules were drawn in a way which seems likely, the NRF might not be very rapid at all! The supposition could be that any deployment must wait on the deliberations of the Bundestag - and as we learned this spring that can be two months or more! Deploy to forestall a future Rwanda genocide?! Fuggeddaboutit! After 2 months the victims are all dead and all that is left is digging the graves......

And yet - we need it. Or rather NATO does. If NATO is to have any future at all there has to be a more balanced approach and certainly a more proportional contribution by member countries. I am a pessimist on this question having seen and heard too much from the continental Europeans to believe that we (and they) can go back.

And yet they have a point. NATO has become too US-centric. The views of Germany, France, Spain, Italy et al. need to be heard and considered and concensus reached on the political and military goals of NATO.

On the other side - the continental countries need to contribute far more than they have been to NATO. Not only in raw forces but in capability and willingness to go in and do the rotten, dangerous, and nasty jobs.

If NATO is reformed merely politically (as the continentals sometimes seem to wish) NATO will remain what it is now; an alliance in which Yanks and Brits go off to die at the behest of their political masters in Paris and Berlin. Unpaid mercenaries in all but name. And that has not worked at all.....



Related posts in the Atlantic Review: 

Trans-Atlantic Cooperation: Are Europeans Unwilling to Share the Burden?

• "Maybe It's Time for NATO to Die"

Poor NATO-EU Relationship


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Tuomas on :

The matter is deeply tragic and doesn't serve anyone at all (except, possibly, in the long run Russia). Maybe one ought to start questioning what NATO was from the beginning, but in any case, NATO has seemingly morphed into something resembling an imperial gendarmerie without the electorates of the member-democracies realizing this. The newly added members hardly believed they were entering into that, neither do countries that like Finland consider joining NATO in the years to come. To me the central problem is this dissonance between what NATO-members believe NATO to be, and what the organization really is. Personally, I think I can see why the U.S. may have felt reluctant to give the Atlantic Treaty a decent burial, since that would have the potential to force the European Union to agree on a scheme for unified security and foreign politics that ultimately may be seen as a competitor instead of a partner on the international stage. I do, however, believe this to be myopic. The current situation only worsens a bad condition and bad transatlantic feelings without giving much in return.

Don S on :

"I do, however, believe this to be myopic. The current situation only worsens a bad condition and bad transatlantic feelings without giving much in return." Yes, quite so. The Europeans (justifiably) wish more influence over what the US (aka NATO) does. The Americans (justifiably) don't wish to give it because right now the US provides well over half of NATO's actual capability - particularly outside of Europe. Since Europe is peaceful and secure it's the rest of the world which is the problem today. Granting the Germans/French/et al the increased influence which they wish without them building the capability to operate effectively outside Europe (which is what the Europeans seem to wish) is a sucker bet for the US. Europe would get power without cost or responsiblity, and the US would get cost and responsibility without power.

Tuomas on :

It's not necessarily helpful to view France & Germany as NATO:s European leg. It's not there the dynamic lies but along its eastern border.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

What do you mean by "dynamic"? Are the contributions from Poland, Rumania, Czech Rep., Lithuania etc really that impressive? They might be doing a lot considering their population size and economic power/budget, but that's it, right? Do all these countries come anywhere close to the contributions of the Netherlands, Denmark, Great Britain and Canada? Are the contributions of all of the Eastern European countries combined as big as Britain's? Or as big as Canada's?

Tuomas on :

The dynamism I think of is the potential for either increased or decreased enthusiasm. Whereas the Western European electorates don't care much about NATO, and are unlikely to change on that point, there is much more sensitivity among the new members closer to Russia. But if a European re-armament is to be commenced within the frames of NATO, it seems a lot more likely that such a process would start in the East. Furthermore: the defense needs of ex-WP nations would be much better understood by the peoples in Western Europe than American expectations to participate in imperial expansion or policing.

Bill L on :

I suppose the outlook could change, but I get the feeling that old Europe is interested in a military no more than adequate to keep its own population in line. Throughout the EU. Here the very notion of using the military for that is taboo, which is why there was such a fight about using it just to guard the southern border. Europe isn't powerful enough to feel secure. So a certain amount of trouble in the world is to its advantage against its rivals. Like China, it isn't ready to step up and start solving problems instead creating them. To us, peace is prosperity and good for business, so we want everyone to have both. But that's just because we're the elephant in this jungle. The other animals have other kinds of priorites.

Don S on :

I did some googling about the NRF but couldn't find much info about the composition of the force. Wikipedia has an entry here: But that doesn't have any information about which nations contributes what. I did find this: The personnel strength of the Land Component Force for NRF-4 comprises about 8,500 troops. The entire NATO Response Force-4, including Air Force and Navy, will consist of about 17,000 soldiers. One presumes that the bulk of the air and air transport capability comes from the US and the UK, although these would not be a part of the force itself. According to the link below Germany is contributing a lot to the NRF.,1433,2190425,00.html

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