February 16, 2017
by Manlio Dinucci
Eagerly awaited in Brussels, the Trump Administration’s new Secretary of Defense has emphasised that henceforth, Washington intends to rely on the Alliance and will desist from collecting from its members their signatures at the bottom of its declarations of war. At the same time, an increase in military expenditure should follow, embedded in which are the risks of war and a rebalancing of the political forces in the Alliance. However, the Pentagon is still looking out to maintain its pre-eminence over its Allies.
At the meeting of the North Atlantic Council that kicked off yesterday in Brussels, Minister Pinotti and the other European Defense Ministers exhaled a long sigh of relief: Nato is not, as President Trump had said, “obsolete”. In his first official declaration at Brussels, the new US Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, pledged that Nato is still “the fundamental base of the United States”.
It is the “most successful military alliance in history”, he told journalists while flying to Brussels. The US commitment to the Alliance is evidenced by the fact that the only Nato command headquartered in the United States is the Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation (Sact), a role that Mattis himself has already taken on. Sact, responsible for the Military Committee (the highest military authority in Nato), “promotes and controls the perpetual transformation of the Alliance’s forces and capabilities”. Over the last 20 years, Mattis emphasized, Nato has been transformed (indeed, it has swallowed up every single country of the former Warsaw Pact, three from the former USSR and three from the former Yugoslavia). Yet “it must continue to keep reinventing itself to accommodate the events of 2014, the year of change, when it became clear that our hopes of some sort of partnership with Russia would yield no fruit”. To do this, we need “to be sure that our transatlantic link remains robust”. To prove the point, the Nato Secretary General, Stoltenberg made a joint declaration with Secretary Mattis yesterday, confirming that “US troops and equipment are arriving in Poland and the Baltic states, a clear indication that the United States is determined to stand side by side Europe in these troubled times”.
And so, under US command (which is responsible for appointing the Supreme Allied Command in Europe), Nato continues to inject further power to the forces lined up on the Eastern border, with anti-Russian intentions in mind. And this is so despite President Trump’s declared intentions to strike some sort of deal with Moscow. At the same time, Nato empowers the southern border by [deploying] new military apparatus there. “Today we will decide to establish a new Hub for the South at our Joint Forces Command at Naples” announced Stoltenberg, emphasizing that “this will allow us to evaluate and confront the threats emanating from this region to complement the work carried out by our new Division of Intelligence established here at the Nato headquarters.”
Much to the satisfaction of Minister Pinotti, Italy’s profile is raised. And it is in Italy where Stoltenberg, opening the North Atlantic Council, defined “projecting stability that reaches beyond our borders”. The new “Hub for the South”, which will be built at Naples will comprise the operational base for launching land, air and naval forces in a “region” whose borders are not clearly drawn up, including North Africa and the Middle East but also reaching areas beyond these. The Nato “Response Force”, is available for such operations and noteworthy is the increase to the “Very High Readiness Spearhead Force” to 40,000 men. This can be launched in 48 hours “anywhere, at any time”. The new “Hub for the South”, built at the Command for Joint Allied Forces headquartered at Lake Patria (Naples), will be headed by the US Admiral Michelle Howard who has nerves of steel and who, in addition to heading the Nato Command, is the commander of the US Naval forces for Europe and the US Naval forces for Africa. Therefore the new “Hub for the South “ will fall within the Pentagon’s chain of command. All this has its price. Mattis has confirmed the non-negotiable “invitation” that “defense” expenditure should be spread among all the European allies and each one should contribute, at the very least, 2% of the GDP. Only five Nato countries have reached or surpassed this level: the United States (3.6%), Greece, Great Britain, Estonia and Poland. Italy lags behind with “barely” 1.1% of the GDP, but it is making progress: according to official Nato statistics, in 2015-2016, the amount Italy spent on “defence” leapt from 17,642 to 19,980 million euro. This translates to about 55 million euro per day. Of course, actual military expenditure is far higher, given that the “defence” balance sheet does not include military missions abroad, funded with a specific fund at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, nor the cost of important weaponry, also funded by the Stability Law. Stoltenberg, delighted, announces that at long last, Nato “had turned the page”, increasing military expenditure in 2015-2016 by 3.8% in real terms, that is, around 10 billion dollars. Minister Pinotti is confident that Italy will reach the 2% minimum target (that is, that Italy will spend 100 million euro every day on “defence”). While unemployment will increase, we will have the satisfaction of having a new “Hub for the South” at Naples.