Two-Tiered Alliance Could 'Rip Heart Out of NATO'

By Evan Moore | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

( - At their meeting in Bucharest, Romania, leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are expected to address the increasingly lopsided nature of the alliance. While some NATO nations participate fully, others pick and choose their missions.

This "very dangerous situation," threatens to "rip the heart out of NATO," one foreign policy expert told Cybercast News Service.

In February, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he worries about NATO "evolving into a two-tiered alliance in which you have some allies willing to fight and die to protect people's security and others who are not."

Several analysts also have noted the emergence of a "two-tiered" structure in NATO, in which the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and some other countries perform the majority of combat operations and contribute the most to the alliance's efforts, while other countries (Germany) do not contribute as much as they could and impose restrictions on what they do provide.

While some member-countries contribute troops to NATO peacekeeping, reconstruction, and counter-insurgency missions, other nations such as France and Germany have placed national restrictions on their forces that effectively prevent NATO's military leadership from placing their troops in harms way.

Defense Secretary Gates recently urged the lifting of national restrictions, so as to bring more coalition forces into the fight in Afghanistan.

(French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France will decide by the end of the year whether to return to NATO's military command. France withdrew from NATO's military structure in 1966 to protest the dominance of US commanders, the BBC reported.)

In an interview with Cybercast News Service, Sally MacNamara, senior policy analyst in European Affairs at the conservative Heritage Foundation, indicated a two-tiered alliance is not workable in the long run.

"But it's absolutely turning out to be the case that certain member-states are saying 'we will do reconstruction, and 'we will do certain development things only if we can have 100 percent security guarantee for our troops,' while other member-states are actually fighting this war. It is a very, very dangerous situation, and can really, generally, rip the heart out of NATO."

Should NATO members be allowed to opt for one mission over another? MacNamara asked. "Absolutely not," she said. "You either are an alliance or you are not...Do we want a two-tiered alliance? No one seems to want it, but it's exactly what's happening in practice."

Derek Chollet, senior fellow at the left-of-center Center for a New American Security, agreed that NATO "is a two-tiered alliance," but he told Cybercast News Service that certain countries have "niche capacities," meaning they are particularly good at a certain skill-set.

Chollet said Norway is a good example of a county with niche capacity. "It's unrealistic to think that a Norway is, all of a sudden, going to spend 20 percent of its GDP on defense and create this huge military," he said. That's why the U.S. has been encouraging Norway to be "the special forces specialists."

Chollet noted that Afghanistan has become a controversial political issue in many NATO countries. "Germany is a good example," he said. Having German troops in Afghanistan is not widely popular among the German people. "There are politicians on the other side who are using the issue to beat up their opponents."

Chollet said there's a wide gap between what Germany could be doing and what it is actually doing. Germany has around 3,200 peacekeeping troops deployed in northern Afghanistan, which is relatively peaceful. Most of the fighting is in the south.

MacNamara was sharply critical of Germany's reluctance to commit its troops to the fighting, saying "This is a military alliance, a defensive alliance, it's not a coalition of the willing. I think that Germany's generally intended to restrict them to very peaceful areas, and do reconstruction, not really do what NATO was designed to do."

Speaking in Romania on Wednesday, President Bush said he expects NATO allies to "shoulder the burden necessary to succeed" in Afghanistan. "We fully understand the politics that prohibit some nations from contributing, but nations need to take this mission seriously because it's in our mutual interests," Bush said -- in an apparent reference to Germany.

Last week, Bush bowed to Germany's refusal to send its troops to southern Afghanistan. I want our partners to make decisions that they can well support,'' Bush told Germany's Die Welt newspaper. "I want Chancellor Merkel to reach a conclusion that she can well live with."

Recently, the U.S. deployed another 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan to bolster its efforts there. Bush said he did it "to send a clear signal that we're willing to do our part."

Bush is trying to encourage similar contributions from other NATO partners, Chollet said. "No one doubts that the United States is strained in terms of our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so the fact that we're able to come up with 3,000 more Marines to go into combat in Afghanistan is evidence that we're digging deep."

Chollet said the troop commitment won't ease the strain on U.S. forces -- "but we're doing it because we think it's the right thing to do. In a way, it's to show the Europeans, 'Look, we're doing it, and we understand it's hard, but we're going to do it, and we'd like you to come along with us,'" Chollet said.

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