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Military Change – Discord or Harmony?

In document DIIS REPORT (Page 137-143)

Thierry Legendre

Transformation – not a new concept

Military change is a constant in defence planning. Irrespective of changes in the security environment that can be more or less unpredictable, there will always be an element of change and hence a need to adapt capabilities. Transformation has been part of NATO’s evolution since its creation: for instance following its increased role after 1953–54, or given its strategic re-orientation from massive retaliation to flexible response in the 1960s. In particular after the end of the Cold War, now two decades ago, transformation has been integral to the Alliance. The Strategic Con-cept of 1991 and the follow-on changes led by former Secretary General Manfred Wörner amounted to a major and impressive shift, which prepared the Alliance for an operational role from 1995 and onwards.

The Strategic Concept of 1999 continued this trend, and major changes in NATO’s command and force structures followed at the summit in Prague in 2002. Simulta-neously, agreement on the Alliance’s substantial enlargement was reached during these years. I think that the first Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, described military change and transformation best. In 2004 he described transformation as a continuous process recognising

“that transformation doesn’t have a beginning or an end” – it’s not a destination in itself, rather a journey.

The road to Lisbon – a three-step approach

Some would claim – and maybe not entirely wrongly – that the Alliance stumbled into the new millennium, with broad transatlantic disagreement on the critical issues of capabilities (e.g. lack of burden sharing), operations (e.g. strife over Iraq) or the international security architecture (e.g. American EU-scepticism). As a transatlantic organisation in a time of European fragmentation and American unilateralism NATO had a hard time keeping its members united. It reminds us that NATO can only reflect the actual state of affairs amongst its members and between Europe and America; its dynamics are provided by its members, not by the institution per se.

In order to keep NATO on the transformation track it was important to construct a new path towards the modernisation of the Alliance. Luckily for the Alliance, many almost simultaneous changes had a positive effect on transatlantic relations. First of all the United States turned towards a more multilateral approach vis-à-vis its Eu-ropean allies – most visibly with Barack Obama in the White House but the trend began during the second Bush administration when a more cooperative approach to world affairs became discernable, although the Europeans were no longer in listening mode! Secondly, political changes in the Palais de l’Élysée had a positive effect on the transatlantic climate. France led by ‘Sarkozy l’Américain’ was now ready to fully re-integrate the military structures of NATO that it had withdrawn from in 1966.

This French rapprochement with NATO was completed at the NATO Summit in Strasbourg and Kehl in 2009. It was a summit loaded with symbolism. It was held on the banks of the Rhine between France and Germany and celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Alliance. The Heads of State and Government issued a Declara-tion on Alliance Security that was basically a ‘letter of intent’ underscoring solidarity amongst Allies and outlining some of the main elements that should be included in a new Strategic Concept, including the need for improved relations with other organisations, the need for improved relations with Russia, emerging security chal-lenges, and a modernisation of the organisation and its capabilities. And even more importantly, this Declaration stipulated that a new Strategic Concept should be ready for the 2010 NATO Summit. Finally, the Allies appointed a new Secretary General, the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. This was the first time in the Alliance history that a prime minister had been appointed to this position, which has normally been occupied by foreign or defence ministers. It was a clear signal that the Allies meant business and were looking for results.

After the 2009 NATO Summit it was decided to create a Group of Experts, chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In co-operation with the Secretary General and the policy planning staff in his private office, the Experts Group ran a series of international conferences. The process helped pave the way for a comprehensive Experts’ Report and also to clarify and, on occasion, clear out of the way, Allied disagreements. I guess the whole process was meant as a global, open and transparent brainstorming process that could be followed by the ‘NATO community and hang arounds’ on the Internet. This public diplomacy approach worked very well, though real decision-making and negotiations in NATO, of course, still took place behind closed doors and in the corridors of Boulevard Leopold III in Brussels.

Lisbon 2010 – a new strategic vision?

I believe that the New Strategic Concept and the decisions taken in connection with the NATO Summit in Lisbon offer a solid basis for the continued transformation of the Alliance in the 21st century.

First of all, I think that the New Strategic Concept offers a far better definition of the threats and challenges facing the Alliance, including new ones such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, failed states, cyber warfare and energy security. Additionally, the decision taken earlier in 2010 to establish a division in the International Staff at NATO Headquarters in charge of emerging security threats, should be seen as a clear sign of the attention given to these issues.

Secondly, it is the first time that a Strategic Concept has such an extensive focus on reform and the transformation of NATO and its capabilities. It is made clear that the Allies now want value for money. The pressure on public funding and defence budgets due to the international financial crisis is not underestimated, and the cri-sis’ consequences are easily traceable in major defence reforms (e.g. Germany) and multinational co-operation (e.g. United Kingdom and France).

Thirdly, with the New Strategic Concept a Comprehensive Approach is now a declared and integrated part of international operations. This is a novelty. Additionally it was decided to create a new ‘modest and appropriate’ civilian capacity at NATO, able to interface with civilian partners. All of this is an achievement although one could have hoped for more – a point to which I shall return.

An additional number of important decisions were taken at the NATO Summit in Lisbon or in conjunction with it. First of all the important decision to have a NATO Missile Defence that ultimately, within about a decade, should give European allies a strategic missile defence. In the framework of the NATO–Russia Council (NRC) major steps have been taken to cooperate on, precisely, missile defence. Furthermore, it was agreed to cooperate on Afghanistan in the NRC framework. NATO’s reform and transformation process was likewise boosted, as decisions reached prior to the summit will reduce the existing fourteen agencies to just three and reduce NATO’s Command Structure by 35 per cent. Finally, NATO reached agreement on a policy on cyber defence.

In sum, the Lisbon Summit and the Strategic Concept reaffirmed an Alliance aware of the multidimensional aspects of the threats and challenges with which it is faced, and realising the need for more efficient, flexible and deployable force and command

structures and a leaner organisation more generally. It is a solid basis for further work. Now remains the difficult task of implementation: the fight over resources, geographical footprints and political influence. Director of Research at the NATO Defence College, Karl-Heinz Kamp, has often said that he had no illusion that a few pages of written paper would change everything but that a Strategic Concept could demonstrate solidarity amongst allies. I tend to agree and I think that the process has been as important as the document itself. In short, the Allies have reaffirmed solidarity with each other. The Allies needed that, notwithstanding that NATO has been through more troubled waters earlier in its history. To illustrate the importance of this procedural element I normally compare the process of drafting the Strategic Concept to Christmas Eve: we all know what to expect, the food is always the same, the Christmas tree hasn’t changed in size, the decorations are the same as ever and we roughly know which presents to expect from each other. In spite of all this, we will all leave the party feeling both better and happier and knowing we’re members of a good and strong family!

Now that we have ‘synchronised our watches’ with a successful summit and a good and adequate Strategic Concept, we should be ready for the demanding implementation.

Within most of the areas I have just mentioned, a series of deadlines and benchmarks have been stipulated. Hence both the informal Defence Ministers’ meeting in March and the formal meetings in June 2011 will be interesting to follow, as further political guidance, action plans and implementation instruments are going to be produced and agreed beforehand. An impressive agenda lies ahead.

Long-term challenges

The biggest challenge for NATO allies emanates from the international financial crisis and notably the squeeze it exerts on public spending and defence budgets. In other words we need to, as Jamie Shea has said, get more ‘bang for the euro’, more value for money. This goes both for capabilities and for operations.

Let me begin with the capabilities. Europe is suffering from defence capability duplica-tion, and governments must break this intolerable situation. To push the argument, it shouldn’t be carved in stone that all European allies should have three independent services – army, air force, and navy – organised with independent command struc-tures and multiple platforms. The duplication of bureaucratic strucstruc-tures and even of real capabilities within armed forces is an area that simply needs to be looked into.

We might very well be facing a paradigm shift because we cannot maintain the level

of quality and activity we know if we do not organise our military capabilities and structures differently. Multinationality is going to be a key element, and pooling and sharing of forces is being actively discussed in the European Union in the framework of the so-called recent Ghent Initiative.

In operations we also need to do better, and the comprehensive approach – ‘winning the peace and not only the war’ – is often presented as the silver bullet, not only by NATO but by the international community in general. What is needed is indeed a concerted approach to operations where civilian actors are included. Many have claimed that it has taken the international community and NATO six or seven years to find out that a comprehensive approach was the answer, and to formulate a policy for it. The claim underestimates the capacity of Western diplomats and forces to ana-lyse and adapt strategies. Already during the Balkan wars in the 1990s (and probably long before that) these lessons were identified and well learnt! As I said earlier, it is positive that a civilian crisis management capability in NATO was decided in Lisbon;

it builds on these previous lessons learned.

However we are far from the kind of strategic, concerted, headquarters to headquar-ters, pre-mission political and military planning that would be needed to conduct international operations successfully with a comprehensive approach. Or as they say in the forces, ‘a goal without a plan is nothing but a dread’! The co-operation or strategic partnership between NATO and the EU in particular is a key problem. The problem here does not concern learning – as if NATO had been wandering mindlessly about for the better part of 15 years (its Balkan IFOR deployment began in December 1995).

Rather, the problem concerns political will, including the well-known Turkish–Greek Cypriot conundrum which arrests all movement in NATO–EU relations.


With the NATO Summit in Lisbon and the New Strategic Concept the Alliance has once again proven its survivability and maintained its relevance as the largest defence organisation in world history. It has once again managed to place itself at the centre of transatlantic relations, where common command and control arrangements and interoperability remain the smartest way for Europe and North America to cooperate militarily. It has managed to relaunch the transformation and modernisation process of its military and organisational capabilities. NATO has also improved relations with Russia and signalled awareness of emerging security challenges and thereby shown its willingness to shape its own security environment well into the 21st century.

NATO’s new and ambitious agenda now needs to be implemented. The underlying and longer-term challenge of maintaining European relevance through improved capabilities, novel approaches, and working relations between NATO and the EU – all of which must ensure better operational outcomes – should not be underestimated.

The substantial defence reforms in Germany and the new French–British defence agreement indicate that lessons are being learned, but they remain tough lessons to digest. To paraphrase Danish philosopher, Villy Sørensen, ‘It’s good that we are doing better but it would be better if we were doing well’.

This presentation reflects the personal views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion or the policies of the author’s previous or present employers.

14. NATO’s New Strategic Concept: Implications for

In document DIIS REPORT (Page 137-143)