The disorder in the military management of security crises

One of the most recurring questions in relation to the management of crises and conflicts with military dimensions is why there is not a single organization in charge of their management instead of the proliferation of organizations that deal with them.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
15 March 2023 Wednesday 23:26
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The disorder in the military management of security crises

One of the most recurring questions in relation to the management of crises and conflicts with military dimensions is why there is not a single organization in charge of their management instead of the proliferation of organizations that deal with them. In order to have an answer to this question, it is convenient to become familiar with the logic and the process through which this military management has been decentralizing from regulated international organizations to a conglomerate of coalitions, regimes, conferences, forums and global, regional and subregional groups of security.

The creation of the United Nations in 1945 generated enormous expectations around its main function: the maintenance of international peace and security. The presence of the great nuclear powers in the Security Council as permanent members seemed sufficient guarantee to avoid a repetition of the failure of the interwar League of Nations and to contain the existing rivalry between states within the norms and institutions of the created liberal order. after World War II. The United Nations Charter established the procedures by which the states were subordinated to the Council and the Assembly to resolve disputes peacefully and respond to threats and attacks on peace collectively or individually under the framework of the United Nations. Article 51 of Chapter VII of the Charter allowed member states to adopt self-defense measures or establish alliances to do so, but always under the authority and responsibility of the Security Council.

These expectations were frustrated after the arrival of the cold war, when the confrontation between the two blocks paralyzed the different mechanisms created, including the Security Council. The stoppage affected the development of regional security organizations provided for in Chapter VII of the Charter, which facilitated their creation in exchange for ensuring their subordination. Most of the multilateral organizations in charge of settling disputes or managing peacekeeping operations today correspond to that qualification, but not NATO or the Warsaw Pact, which always avoided subservience to the United Nations Security Council.

The feared third world war did not come to pass, but it was not thanks to the institutions and mechanisms created by the United Nations, but rather thanks to another of the institutions that were created ad hoc, such as the Conference, and then the Organization, for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE-OSCE) to face problems not provided for in the Charter, such as the need to reduce the East-West confrontation. Its member states reached agreements on security and disarmament issues between both blocs that put an end to the armed confrontation in European territory and, above all, to the paralysis of the Security Council as the managing body for peace and international security. Thanks to greater cooperation between blocs, the Security Council assumed a leading role with its management of peace operations that were the flagship product of international security from the 1990s on. The Council resolutions facilitated the management of United Nations military interventions on all continents (59 carried out by 2022).

The rise of these operations was revealing new blocking factors in management that explain the proliferation of new managers. In the first place, the intervention of each Member State ceased to be a matter of necessity, that of being affected by a military aggression, and became a decision of choice, that of intervening or not to protect the security of third parties, instead of to do so to protect their vital interests. When considering its intervention, each State could assess its participation or exclusion freely and in accordance with its national interests at all times, without prior binding political or legal commitments.

Divergences of interests complicated decision-making in organizations, and formal procedures found it necessary to resort to informal mechanisms to avoid blocking organizations. In this way, the large sponsors of the operations were able to choose the organization and way of carrying out their interventions, circumventing the formal voting rules: decisions were made outside or on the margins of the security organizations and, otherwise, they were bypassed. one to the other until carrying out the mandates for collective action that they needed. NATO's Berlin Plus agreements on interventions with or without the participation of the United States correspond to this logic, as well as the coordination of all security organizations in the Balkans through prior consultation of the members of the Contact Group for Yugoslavia. (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy) or the G-7 and G-8 in Kosovo.

Another unwanted effect of the option wars was divergences over military and economic contributions. The protection of third parties in international security made it necessary to have professional armies with large means of projection. Since not all the armed forces had an expeditionary structure, a division was created between those who wanted to participate in the management and those who could. While some countries –a few– provided critical management, command and control or logistics capabilities for the operation to run, others –most of them– were only capable of providing military personnel without specialized equipment or enlistment. Added to the difference in capacities was the unequal distribution of the burden between those who contributed to the operations and what the organizations could assume with their own funds, since none of the security organizations have had their own forces, so they have depended on the contributions from its members.

In addition to the above, the societies increased their scrutiny over the decisions of their governments to send troops outside the borders, forcing in many cases prior authorization from political representatives, as occurred in Spain after the intervention in Iraq and in the conditions set in the National Defense Law of 2005. The uncertainty of the contributions added volatility to the formal decision processes to generate forces or distribute the expenses, unless the operations had influential sponsors in the multilateral processes.

After the organizations, similar coalitions (coalitions of the willing) flourished, which were articulated between countries that shared interests, risks and resources in the face of the same security problem. Instead of wasting time trying to mobilize the rest of the members of any organization and uselessly delaying the decision-making processes, the promoters of the coalition organized on their own outside of these. Thus, and at the request of the United States, the international coalition to liberate Kuwait in 1990 and the international coalition against the Islamic State were created, taking advantage of the NATO summit in Wales in 2014. Other coalitions had to be organized due to disagreements about whether or not to support of the United Nations to military interventions, in the case of the intervention of some NATO countries against Serbia in 1999 (operation Allied Force), or the use of force in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan (operation Enduring Freedom).

The proliferation of crises in which the management did not correspond exclusively to the multilateral organizations but to a combination of these together with non-governmental organizations and third parties not included among the above exacerbated the dilemma of centralization. In the absence of collective frameworks for action, each coalition had to improvise its operation on a case-by-case basis to integrate each of the participants from the beginning in collective decisions (comprehensive approach), regardless of their legal personality, and to establish a distribution of Tasks based on specialization. As a result, the most committed countries tried to articulate ad hoc management mechanisms (Multinational Experiments Series, MNE) starting in 2001 and, in this way, the Strategic Framework for Afghanistan tried to rationalize the contributions of all development aid organizations. or humanitarian organizations of the United Nations system, together with those of the donors of the Support Group, those of neighboring countries together with Russia and the United States (Forum 6 2), those of reconstruction of NATO, together with the corresponding national agencies and Afghan cooperation, among others. A collaboration devoid of tradition and plenty of corporate and ideological prejudices that led to a failure for which NATO has been held exclusively responsible, which is why this organization –and many others– have reduced their institutional profile and their participation in this type of option interventions (United Nations missions have been reduced to twelve in 2022).

The decline of alliances and coalitions has been followed by the rise of partnerships. This new type of organization tries to alleviate the failures of multilateralism by grouping the actors who share the same interests, risks and responses with a vocation of permanence over time. They are partnerships of a strategic nature, such as the one created between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (AUKUS in its English acronym) to strengthen their economies of military scale in Asia-Pacific by taking advantage of their strategic harmony, requirements that France did not meet despite its geographical presence and which Germany tries to shore up through commitments with the United States, Japan and Australia. NATO and the EU are also hunting and capturing new partnerships that enhance their defense and crisis management capabilities.

The decline of multilateralism has strengthened the role of subregional groups and organizations to which the parent organizations delegate or support. For example, the European Union and the African Union collaborate with organizations such as the West African Economic Community (ECOWAS) or the G-5 Sahel, and the EU could delegate its interventions to a group of states (art. 42.5 EU Treaty ). Also that of regimes such as the Visegrad Group or that of the Cooperation between Central European Nations (CENCOOP), as well as that of some multinational units such as the Baltic Battalion (BALTBAT), the Multinational Land Force (Italo-Slovene-Hungarian) or the one led by Germany as a framework nation of NATO. To the above we must add the European Intervention Initiative (EI2), a planning group that could deploy forces from European countries, whether or not they are from the EU.

Finally, the current centrifugation of defense and security architectures could increase if the geopolitical competition announced by recent strategic documents such as the NATO Strategic Concept and the EU Strategic Compass is consolidated. The competition with China and Russia increases the possible dimensions of confrontation beyond the military and the levels of involvement, beyond the affected states. If the war in Ukraine can serve as a mirror on how future conflicts will be managed, we see how the United Nations Security Council remains blocked, although the EU and the United States intensify their defense diplomacy in the General Assembly to mobilize in their votes to the countries of the so-called global south that remain, at least, equidistant. The countries that support economic, energy or technological sanctions, among others, are coordinated within the framework of multilateral organizations such as NATO, the EU, the G-7 or the Trade and Technology Council (TTC) of the United States and the EU, just as Russia uses the OPEC framework to counter them. International military aid is channeled through the EUCOM-Ukraine Control Center/International Donor Coordination Center (ECCU/IDCC) in Germany. In the private sphere, competition has brought new actors, companies, institutions, or individuals, who provide capabilities for cyberattacks, disinformation, images, intelligence, or surveillance of sanctions to the parties.

If the geopolitical competition ends up progressing more due to dimensions of a non-military nature such as trade, technology, foreign exchange, energy, immigration or the Internet, among many other dimensions that can be used as a weapon (weaponization) in future conflicts, It will be difficult to centralize its management again, especially in military hands, as occurred with the management of conflicts during and after the Cold War, and the question that was formulated at the beginning of the article will continue to be valid.

Félix Arteaga is a principal investigator at the Elcano Royal Institute and a professor at the General Gutiérrez Mellado University Institute of the National Distance Education University (UNED).