The path of agile decision-making

General John Craddock (source US Department of Defense)

How should international organisations take decisions? The case for Qualified Majority Voting has just signed up its newest recruit, John Craddock. General Craddock is Supreme Allied Commander Europe, which makes him the leading American military figure in Nato’s operations, so is hardly to be found at the forefront of European federalism. But the issues are similar and the point is a good one.

In a speech yesterday, General Craddock observed that Nato military cooperation is hamstrung by national interests:

“A brief look at the will of our alliance in the mission in Afghanistan demonstrates some real shortcomings. In view of the more than 70 national operational restrictions, or ‘caveats’, and our continual inability to fill our agreed-upon statement of requirements in theatre, we are demonstrating a political will that is somewhat wavering.”

The decision-making power over military matters remains national rather than supranational, which means that joint operations are continually going to be less efficient. Furthermore, even once the different national governments have reached agreement, hard as that is to do, those governments are free to break their agreements at any time. This is what decisions based on political will turn into. The federalist principle of giving international decisions the force of law rather than leaving them always at the whim of politicians has substantial benefits.

Next, General Craddock wants to see shared resources:

“Our alliance continues to operate with a ‘costs lie where they fall’ policy. The costs of deployment fall to the individual nations committing and deploying troops to theatre. That means that the nations choosing to bear the burden militarily are the same nations bearing the burden monetarily. An expeditionary alliance must find a better way. The alliance needs to further explore the use of common funding. With a system of common funding, deployment costs can be shared, thereby reducing the strain on national defence budgets.”

This again would be a move away from the idea of national defence policies towards a supranational policy. Federal Union has argued since at least 1940 that no country can really defend itself, and the experience of Afghanistan in 2008 merely repeats the lessons that should have been learned in 1940. General Craddock’s proposal implies some kind of Nato level agreement on defence expenditure, with countries able to demand from each other in order to meet military bills. What a break-down in national sovereignty that would amount to.

Warming to his theme, he wants to apply this principle into the decision-making itself:

“Our alliance has long operated under the system of consensus, and at the political level, this system has proven powerful in garnering international support and legitimacy. But do we really need to achieve consensus at every level of committee within the NATO structure? In my judgement this policy stands squarely in the path of agile decision-making.”

Unanimity is too cumbersome: another method should be found instead.

These are all lessons that the EU has learned during its 50 years of existence – lessons in fact that the federalists have been keen to teach. The European Union has been a good student: could Nato follow down the same path?

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