Germany gets far more grief than it should for under-performing in Afghanistan. Italy, Hungary, Turkey and others had as or more restrictive caveats. Greece sent the most token of forces. The US was entirely distracted by Iraq for many years, and then kept rotating commanders of ISAF as if they were tires (sorry, time to change to winter tires up in Canada). The British troops kept getting in way over their heads. The Canadians and the Dutch pulled out of combat before everyone else — so much for “in together, out together.”
However, it takes a lot of chutzpah for Germany to propose reforms to NATO. Given that Germany opted entirely out of the last NATO operation in the waters near and the skies over Libya, perhaps German officials should keep their hands down for now. Their idea? That NATO will divide into clusters centered around one of the larger powers. Who would that be? Given past patterns, such as the Balkans where the five biggest contributors — the QUINT — shaped policy for the rest, the clusters would be centered around the US, UK, France, Italy and Germany.
Who would want to be in the German cluster? How about those countries that do not plan on showing up or show up with restrictive rules on what they can do? Of course, it could be worse — one could be in the Italian cluster, where indecision and unpredictability is the piatto del giorno.
There is something to this. Friends and I are in the middle of writing a piece about NATO’s Smart Defense effort, whereby countries try to coordinate their procurement so that there is less overlap/duplication and more interdependence and specialization. We are skeptics about the success of Smart Defense, but if there is going to be such specialization, it probably should be by those sharing
language political systems. According to the forthcoming Dave and Steve book, countries that share similar domestic political institutions should plan together since they are likely to be similarly restricted or unrestricted down the road: US and France; UK and Canada; Germans, Italians, Hungarians, and Dutch.
Still, after a decade of Germans largely disappointing the rest of the alliance (we had higher expectations about the Germany military than the Italian or the Spanish or the Hungarian), perhaps the German foreign minister should keep his seat and let those who bore more of the burdens dominate the conversation. Even if the Germans were right, their political capital in NATO is pretty close to zero. If this were the EU, then, sure, yak away.
This post first appeared on the author’s blog.