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NATO’s New Strategic Concept: Implications for Military Transformation and Capabilities

In document DIIS REPORT (Page 143-155)

14. NATO’s New Strategic Concept: Implications for

expected reductions in NATO common funding as well as cuts within the national defence budgets of the individual members, it was frequently suggested that the Alliance would be forced to look inward and focus almost exclusively upon Article 5 collective defence inside the Euro-Atlantic region. Such analyses implied that a NATO that intended to accomplish less would, in turn, require fewer additional capabilities: the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan would be the last ‘out-of-area’ mission for NATO; the appetite for expeditionary operations capabilities would quickly dissipate and transformation initiatives would be pared down to measures that would primarily result in cost reductions.

Perhaps these predictions may yet come to pass, or perhaps the New Strategic Concept is like a Rorschach blot in that it reveals more about the reader than it does about the future direction of the Alliance. Nevertheless, it seems pretty clear that rather than limiting the scope of NATO, both the Strategic Concept of ‘Active Engagement, Modern Defence’5and the Lisbon Summit Declaration of 20 November 20106 are intended to continue and reinforce the previous trend of taking a broader view of security for the members of NATO, as well as the recognition that future security threats are most likely to come from areas that are not contiguous with the territory of Alliance states.

As summarised in the Summit Declaration, the New Strategic Concept envisions an entity that is: “able to defend its members against the full range of threats; ca-pable of managing even the most challenging crises; and better able to work with other organisations and nations to promote international stability. NATO will be more agile, more capable, and more cost-effective, and it will continue to serve as an essential instrument for peace.” Article 5 and the promise that members will assist each other in case of an armed attack remains as the key foundation of the New Strategic Concept. Yet rather than revert to a narrow focus upon the collec-tive defence of member territory against ‘traditional’ threats, it takes note that the most potent challenges may be posed by actors that are not nation states at all.

Indeed, it specifically states that:

• Terrorism poses a direct threat to the security of NATO countries, and to interna-tional stability and prosperity more broadly. Extremist groups continue to spread to, and in, areas of strategic importance to the Alliance….

• Instability or conflict beyond NATO borders can directly threaten Alliance security, including by fostering extremism, terrorism, and trans-national illegal activities such as trafficking in arms, narcotics, and people.

These types of threats are the most challenging for an Alliance that is still, to a great degree, organised and equipped to fight large-scale conventional land battles of the kind anticipated during the Cold War. This, of course, is the reason that NATO’s current enemies, such as the Taliban and other extremists in Afghanistan, are pres-ently engaging in asymmetric warfare and any future adversaries are likely to follow suit. Only the most foolish will have failed to note the following critical lesson from the Iraq War: while America and its allies are unmatched in their ability to engage in combined arms manoeuvre warfare supported by artillery, attack aviation, and deep strike and close air support against conventional armies and air forces they are, however, not nearly as dominant when it comes to fighting irregular combatants who indiscriminately use mortar and rocket fire in cities, or insurgents who hide amidst civilian populations and employ improvised explosive devices.

Among the responses to these and other threats (including conventional attacks, bal-listic missiles, and cyber warfare), ‘Active Engagement, Modern Defence’ promises that NATO will:

• Maintain the ability to sustain concurrent major joint operations and several smaller operations for collective defence and crisis response, including at strategic distance;

• Develop and maintain robust, mobile and deployable conventional forces to carry out both our Article 5 responsibilities and the Alliance’s expeditionary operations, including with the NATO Response Force;

• Further develop doctrine and military capabilities for expeditionary operations, including counterinsurgency, stabilisation and reconstruction operations;

These are just a small sample of the “full range of capabilities necessary to deter and defend against any threat to the safety and security of our populations” identified in paragraph 19 of the New Strategic Concept. Nevertheless, with the exception of committing to a NATO ballistic missile defence – along with the hope that it will be developed in cooperation with Russia – and taking the threat of cyber attacks much more seriously, virtually nothing was listed that NATO had not been pursuing well before the Secretary General was tasked to produce a new strategic concept in 2009 at Strasbourg/Kehl.7

A complete history of NATO’s evolution after the Cold War is beyond the scope of this chapter. However, a few brief examples may be useful to illustrate the continuity reflected by the New Strategic Concept and show why it is not likely to produce a

major shift in the military transformation efforts of the Alliance or significant changes in previously recognised capability requirements.

Interoperability and logistics challenges identified during operations in the Balkans led to the Defence Capabilities Initiative (DCI) announced at the Washington Summit in 1999. The DCI listed 59 items for action with the intent to “not only improve NATO’s ability to fulfil NATO’s traditional Article 5 (collective defence) commitments, but also to prepare the Alliance to meet emerging security challenges that may require a variety of types of mission, both within and beyond NATO ter-ritory”.8 NATO’s foreign ministers agreed at their May 2002 meeting in Reykjavik that in order to execute “the full range of its missions, NATO must be able to field forces that can move quickly to wherever they are needed, sustain operations over distance and time, and achieve their objectives”.9 This was closely followed by the Prague Capabilities Commitment at the November 2002 summit, which agreed to 400 specific improvements that built upon the DCI.10

The Comprehensive Political Guidance agreed in 2006 found that terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction were the threats NATO would be likely to face in the following ten to fifteen years, emphasising the need to be able to “respond effectively to the full spectrum of threats, risks and challenges of the 21st century from wherever they may come.” Among the most important continu-ing requirements this assessment generated was “the ability to conduct and sustain operations far from home territory with little or no host nation support”.11

Possibly most important in terms of military transformation, the New Strategic Concept is largely consistent with NATO’s Multiple Futures Project 2030 (MFP) published in April 2009.12 The MFP’s views of future security conditions and their implications for the Alliance generated useful planning scenarios that remain valid.

In particular, it found that asymmetric/hybrid threats would be among the Alliance’s top security challenges and that “it is more likely the Alliance will be threatened by instability and the weakness of others, than by invading conventional forces. Inter-state conflicts in different regions of the world will remain likely: while they may not threaten NATO directly, the consequences of such conflicts may have a significant impact on the security of the Alliance”.13

In his foreword, General J.N. Mattis wrote that his aim for the MFP was “to buttress the continuing strategic dialogue, serve as a catalyst to drive policy change, inform defence planning, and assist in prioritising capability development”.14 It is still too

early to judge whether these outcomes will be realised as desired. Nonetheless, the Multiple Futures Project should continue to be useful in helping to steer NATO’s military transformation efforts.

As illustrated by the chart below,15 NATO’s post Cold War experience has been a trend towards lighter, smaller unit configurations rather than large, heavy combat formations. This shift in requirements needs to be matched with improved flexibility, better ability to project forces, and the capability to operate in diverse climates and harsh environments.

Historical Reflection: Ability to Adapt is Critical

Nevertheless, the scenarios developed by the Multiple Futures Project also indicate that the trend towards missions requiring small unit operations is not necessarily irreversible. It notes that ‘rogue states,’ which “act without respect for other states or global norms and rules” and ‘confrontational powers,’ which are those “quick to resort to force or threaten the use of force disproportionately to what is at stake and how it affects their vital interest” may require the capability to deploy forces of significant

























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size to deter acts that would threaten the security of NATO and to respond to such acts should deterrence fail.

This assertion connotes that, in contrast to greater relative certainty regarding the capabilities needed during the Cold War, NATO today cannot plan for a single or specific type of conflict. Contemporary requirements include the ability to engage in corps size Major Joint Operations (MJO), as well as Smaller Joint Operations (SJO) up to division size, while continuing to maintain a nuclear deterrent. Additionally, it is likely that missions will be blended rather than discrete events of a specific nature.

The following chart16 depicts the overlap of missions and forces that NATO should be able to field in order to meet likely security challenges:

Main MFP Implication: No Preclusive View of War

The New Strategic Concept did not change this analysis nor alleviate the need for this range and level of capabilities. Perhaps most critically, the Alliance still needs forces that are highly deployable and able to conduct expeditionary operations. Indeed, the dichotomy that some analysts seem to see between Article 5 missions versus






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peditionary operations is illogical, even under the most restrictive interpretations of Article 5. In most of the conceivable scenarios involving a direct, conventional attack on the territory of a NATO member, other members will need to possess most of the same capabilities needed for expeditionary operations in order to assist the ally or allies under attack. As Daniel S. Hamilton of the Center for Transatlantic Relations has argued, “Forces that cannot deploy are almost of no use for Alliance missions”.17 Nonetheless, in many cases Alliance members do not meet the NATO goal that 50 per cent of their land forces be deployable.

At Lisbon only very broad guidance on reform and transformation was provided:

“NATO must have sufficient resources – financial, military and human – to carry out its mission…. Those resources must, however be used in the most efficient and effective way possible”.18 There is much more that needs to be done. While this chapter is largely sceptical regarding the military implications of the New Strategic Concept, the Summit Declaration contains more than a dozen specific tasks for the North Atlantic Council. These may merely be an example of ‘kicking the can down the road’ to defer dealing with very difficult issues instead of resolving them. How-ever, some may represent the kernel of a long-term solution to problems of matching resources to goals.

It seems unlikely that consolidation, reorganisation and reform of NATO command structures and agencies will produce substantial cost savings that can be re-directed towards efforts to attain the various needed capabilities. While theoretically possi-ble, such an outcome would be contrary to the typical history of large organisations in the absence of a catastrophic event such as losing a war. Nonetheless, budgetary constraints might result in changes that significantly reduce overhead costs and lead to faster, more agile decision making as well as encouraging the more recalcitrant members to make the investments necessary to close capability gaps.

While not a ‘task’ per se, the statement in paragraph 44 that the Alliance “welcome[s]

the outcome of the France–United Kingdom Summit on 2 November 2010 which will reinforce their security and defence cooperation by introducing innovative methods of pooling and sharing” alludes to the category of initiatives that probably have the most potential for both increasing net capabilities and improving cost-ef-fectiveness.19 Successful pooling, sharing, and commonly funded efforts, to include NATO owned capabilities such as the E-3A Airborne Early Warning and Control Force, help the Alliance by improving interoperability and either reducing costs or spreading them more efficiently.

Besides the aforementioned French and British agreement, which among other things will result in sharing an aircraft carrier and infrastructure to support A400M transport aircraft, NATO success stories in this realm include the Stra-tegic Airlift Interim Solution (a sixteen nation consortium that leases AN-124 transport aircraft), the Strategic Airlift Capability (twelve nations that commonly purchased three C-17 aircraft), a ten nation consortium that provides ‘roll-on/

roll-off ’ sealift capability, and the HIP Helicopter Task Force in Afghanistan.

Despite the several success stories, however, pooling and sharing programs face the same collective action problems and potential sovereignty concerns as other NATO efforts. Deciding on the specific military capabilities needed is the easiest part. The political questions of how to divide up the costs and whether a nation is willing to completely rely on others for a critical resource are by far the most difficult. For this reason most nations are likely to maintain a full spectrum of their own forces and jointly participate only when they absolutely cannot afford a capability on their own, or in order to have enhanced access to a reserve or surplus capability.

Among the many specific tasks contained in the Summit Declaration, the one with the most potential to have a large impact on military capabilities is probably paragraph 43, which assigns the Council “to develop Political Guidance for the continuing transformation of our defence capabilities and forces and the military implementation of our New Strategic Concept….” The potential for revolutionary change is limited because it will be circumscribed by the Strategic Concept and the Lisbon Summit Declaration, which, as argued above, are actually rather conservative documents.

Nonetheless, the forthcoming Political Guidance may be the most likely place for addressing the apparent mismatch between fixed, if not increasing, ambitions in the face of declining resources.

Due by the Defence Ministerial Meeting scheduled for March 2011, the new Politi-cal Guidance will be the initial effort in the NATO Defence Planning Process that was agreed in April and June 2009 and will build upon the 2006 Comprehensive Political Guidance and other agreements as well as the new Strategic Guidance. Still within the drafting and approval process at the time this chapter is being written, the new Political Guidance is likely to define marginal capability improvements while containing no surprises. It may urge allies who fall short of devoting 2%

of GDP to increase their defence spending, and ask those that currently meet or exceed this goal to continue doing so, but provide no teeth to enforce this long-standing objective.

Arguably, the most valuable aspect of the new Political Guidance will be to specify Guiding Principles and Planning Assumptions for defence planning. These will set the stage for the next step in the process: the Capabilities Requirements Review 2010.

They ought to contain unambiguous descriptions of the types of missions NATO should consider as being both viable and reasonably likely, and define the relationship between Article 5 collective defence operations and other missions such as Crisis Response Operations. In this author’s opinion, the guidance should clearly state that Article 5 has the highest priority but also that Article 5 and non-Article 5 operation capability requirements are equivalent to a very great extent. Thus, there should be a single force structure for the entire range of missions that NATO anticipates.

It would also be desirable to reiterate the agreed upon 50% deployable ground force

‘Usability Target’ and specify a mechanism that will do more to highlight the progress, or lack thereof, of individual members in this respect.20 However, as is the case with the proportion of GDP spending devoted to defence, the willingness of some members to restructure and modernise their armed forces and, more to the point, willingness to devote the resources necessary to reach this target, is problematic.

The classified ‘Lisbon Package’ of capability mentioned in the Summit Declaration is likely to contain a few new requirements that build upon existing efforts. Yet, the language used in the declaration implies that the package consists mostly of previously identified and agreed upon requirements: “We have endorsed the Lisbon package of the Alliance’s most pressing capability needs and thereby provided a renewed focus and mandate to ensure these critical capabilities are delivered….”21

Developing specific military capabilities within their forces is the responsibility of NATO’s member nations. However, one of the functions of Allied Command Trans-formation (ACT) is to help coordinate development, de-conflict where necessary, and identify and address shortfalls or gaps in military capabilities. To facilitate this process the two strategic commanders (Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Supreme Allied Commander Transformation) have established a ‘top 50’ list of Prior-ity Shortfall Areas (PSA). This document identifies the capabilities that the strategic commanders recommend as offering the greatest potential to improve Alliance mission effectiveness and interoperability in the near, mid and long terms.

Informed by Multiple Futures Project findings and recommendations, the PSA list has been developed from several sources that include the 2007 Comprehensive Po-litical Guidance, the Defence Requirements Review, input from individual member

states, and Urgent Requirements from Crisis Response Operations. Areas identified as needing improvement include:

• Counterinsurgency Training and Doctrine

• Organisations, Training, and Doctrine to Counter Improvised Explosive Devices

• Information Sharing with NATO Partner Nations

• Small Unit Development

• Strategic Communications and Information Operations

• Language and Culture

• Enabler Support

• Civilian–Military Teaming/Civil Affairs

• Professional Military Education

• Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination

• Security Force Assistance

• Ability to Defeat Precision Guided Munitions and High Technology Sensors As can be seen at a glance many, if not most, of these shortfalls were derived from the experience of the ongoing ISAF mission. Given the 2014 target date for transitioning security responsibility to Afghanistan’s government, one may argue that regardless of what was agreed at Lisbon (and many earlier summits) these requirements will fade if not disappear before many nations can close the gaps. One might thus conclude it would make sense for some members to slow roll the rest of the Alliance and continue to lag in adequately developing the capabilities of their armed forces. However, such logic cannot be supported from a purely military perspective.

Aside from the overlap with requirements for meeting Article 5 responsibilities, these capabilities are necessary for most of the likely scenarios wherein NATO must react to threats that emanate from outside the Alliance’s immediate neighbourhood, whether called stability operations, peace enforcement, or crisis management. Moreover, as argued previously based upon the Multiple Futures Project and other analyses, these threats are much more probable than conventional cross-border attacks on a member’s territory.

The real challenge to NATO in being able to deliver what is desired in the New Strategic Concept is not a difference in military assessments, not disagreement on future threats and the capabilities needed to meet them and not the lack of a common

view regarding what the Alliance as a whole should be able to accomplish. Rather, it is another item of continuity, a political problem as old as NATO itself22 – that of attaining a fair distribution of the burdens that must be carried to achieve NATO’s security goals. Force transformation and building the capabilities needed to meet the vision laid out in the New Strategic Concept and prior agreements are expensive. In the wake of Lisbon the big questions remain: how many members will succumb to the temptation to free ride, and what will be the reaction of the states who perceive they are continuing to bear a disproportionate share of the load?


1 The author holds the Transformation Chair at the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy. The opinions expressed here are his own and not the official position of NATO or the US Government.

2 NATO and Lloyd’s Joint Conference on Emerging Security Risks, London, 1 October 2009; http://www.


3 See Ian Brzezinski and Damon Wilson, ‘Trans-Atlantic Austerity: Can NATO Remain Relevant Amid Defense Cuts?’ New Atlanticist 19 October 2010 at: http://www.acus.org/new_atlanticist/trans-atlantic-austerity-can-nato-remain-relevant-amid-defense-cuts.

4 For example, Benjamin Schreer has written that “After the operation in Afghanistan… many European allies will argue for a return to a less ambitious orientation towards Euro–Atlantic stability.” (‘Challenges and prospects for NATO Complex Operations’ in Complex Operations: NATO at War and on the Margins of War, NATO Defense College, Rome, Italy, July 2010.)

5 Available at: http://www.nato.int/lisbon2010/strategic-concept-2010-eng.pdf.

6 See: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_68828 htm?mode=pressrelease.

7 Interestingly, the penultimate item was one of the longest running refrains (and most frequent shortfalls) in Alliance pronouncements: NATO would “sustain the necessary levels of defence spending, so that our armed forces are sufficiently resourced.”

8 See Carl Ek, ‘NATO’s Prague Capabilities Commitment’, CRS Report for Congress (RS21659), January 24, 2007.

9 Diego A. Ruiz Palmer, ‘The enduring influence of operations on NATO’s transformation’ NATO Review Winter 2006, http://www.nato.int/docu/review/2006/issue4/english/analysis1.html.

10 ‘Prague Capabilities Commitment (PCC) (Archived)’ at http://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-12857281-07335390/natolive/topics_50087.htm.

11 See Paul Savereux, ‘The Comprehensive Political Guidance: A primer’, NATO Review Spring 2007, http://www.


12 https://transnet.act.nato.int/WISE/NATOACTRes/Training/MultipleFu (accessed 26 January 2011).

13 Page 53.

14 Ibid, p.ii.

15 Briefing by Allied Command Transformation Deputy Chief of Staff for Transformation, Lt. Gen Jim Soligan, to Conference of Defense Associations, 4 March 2010; http://cda-cdai.ca/cda/uploads/cda/2009/06/soligan-.

16 Ibid.

17 ‘Wanted: A New Balance for NATO.’ Testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations European Subcommittee, 6 May 2009, p.13. Available at: http://transatlantic.sais-jhu.edu/transatlantic-topics/Articles/nato/5.6.09NATO_


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In document DIIS REPORT (Page 143-155)