The Information Gaps in the Secretary General's Second Annual Report
The NATO Secretary General's second annual report substantiates earlier fears that the initiative is more PR gloss than a useful contribution to greater accountability. The report is reduced to little more than a public relations device through adopting an overly optimistic view on transition in Afghanistan and perpetuating myths about defense spending. NATO should do more in the area of public disclosure reform, using the annual report as a means by which to truly assess and present its performance story.
In providing an overview of NATO's operational priorities and challenges, as well as its capabilities and partnerships, the report takes an overly optimistic view on Afghanistan. It concludes that, "the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) are a credible and capable force, already demonstrating their ability to secure the country and population against the insurgency."
A more realistic evaluation of the current situation in Afghanistan reveals serious challenges to even a fully-resourced transition effort. These include NATO's suspension of prisoner transfers to the Afghan authorities as a result of ongoing and extensive prisoner abuse, the growing number of Afghans seeking asylum abroad, a doubling of casualties among ANSF over the past year, and an annual rate of Afghan troop desertions possibly as high as 25 per cent. These and other problems are rooted in major structural difficulties in Afghan leadership, governance, the economy, and forces.
As expected, the report also warns of the negative impact of austerity measures on defense capabilities within the Alliance. It argues that current defense spending trends may lead to a widening of three perceived capabilities gaps, most astonishing of which is a gap between the Alliance and emerging powers, which it claims could affect NATO's capacity "to act and exert influence on the international stage."
This claim is based on misleading and selective use of statistics. While acknowledging that NATO's "accumulated defense spending continues to be the highest in the world", the Secretary General bemoans the "steadily downward" trend from 69 percent in 2003 to a projected 56 percent in 2014. In fact, the longer linear trend in NATO defense spending is upward (as shown by the chart), and NATO's defense spending has doubled in real terms since the 1950s, although, of course, NATO membership has also risen. Moreover, the recent growth in defense spending in ‘emerging powers' only fractionally begins to close the huge capabilities gap that currently exists in NATO's favor.
The report also makes no allowance for the contributions of NATO partner countries. When combined with fifteen of its partners, NATO and its allies accounted for close to 80 percent of global military spending in 2010. Having developed a network of structured partnerships across the world over the past two decades, what exactly is it that NATO has to fear from ‘emerging powers'?
At least two other defense spending myths are also perpetuated in the report. Pie charts showing that the United States' "share of Alliance defense spending" increased from 68 percent in 2007 to 72 percent in 2012 do not tell the entire story. Within Europe, NATO is seen by most, if not all, of its member states as the cornerstone of their respective defense policies. In the United States it is but one of several regional building blocks for a global military presence. Americans do pick up a disproportionate share of the NATO tab, but this is nowhere near the level that the Secretary General and others regularly suggest. Europeans collectively do need to spend smarter, and some countries may need to increase their defense equipment spending once economic challenges have been overcome, but scaremongering about the rise of ‘emerging powers' and exaggerating the size and significance of the ‘transatlantic gap' do nobody any favors.
The report also suggests that spending on defense is a vital contributor to economic growth, warning "if we cut defense spending too much, for too long, there is the risk that we could actually make the economic situation worse". However, the capital intensive nature of much of contemporary military procurement means that more growth in the economy, more innovation, and more jobs are likely from comparable levels of public investment in civil projects and infrastructure programs.
One final omission is the continuing absence of proposals in the area of public disclosure reform. Linked to this is the need for a broader debate within NATO as to the purpose of the annual report and what goes in it. More needs to be done to link forecast performance and actual performance. NATO needs a set of appropriate measures and robust systems to collect the results, followed by independent (as well as in-house) analysis, interpretation, and evaluation of the information. It also requires greater public access to information. The annual report should be the starting point for reporting NATO's performance story.
Dr. Ian Davis is the founding director of NATO Watch and an independent human security and arms control consultant, writer and activist. To read the original article in full, published on NATO Watch, please click here.