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NATO’s Comprehensive Approach after Lisbon:

In document DIIS REPORT (Page 83-91)

Principal Problem Acknowledged, Solution Elusive Peter Viggo Jakobsen

“[A] comprehensive political, civilian and military approach is necessary for effective crisis management. The Alliance will engage actively with other international actors before, during and after crises to encourage collaborative analysis, planning and con-duct of activities on the ground, in order to maximise coherence and effectiveness of the overall international effort.”

The Strategic Concept, Lisbon, November 2010

Since 2006 when the Comprehensive Approach (CA) was officially adopted at the Riga Summit, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has time and again hailed CA as the key to successful crisis management and the Alliance’s operation in Afghanistan. The Alliance’s New Strategic Concept quoted above is no exception to this rule. In the meantime the gap between the collective CA vision espoused in NATO rhetoric and the practical realities on the ground in Afghanistan has widened.

Here the Alliance and its partners have failed to play the roles that NATO’s CA vision assigns to them, a failure that throws the viability of the entire concept into doubt.

Many, including the group of experts appointed by NATO’s Secretary General,1 urged the Alliance to address this problem in its New Strategic Concept, and the purpose of this article is to assess to what extent the Alliance has succeeded in doing so.

The good news is that the New Strategic Concept acknowledges the fundamental problem that the operation in Afghanistan has exposed; the bad news is that it does little to solve it. My argument has four parts. The first part provides a brief introduc-tion to CA and its evoluintroduc-tion to date. Part two identifies the gap between theory and practice that has opened up in Afghanistan. Part three explains why the New Strategic Concept does very little to address it before part four discusses how NATO could improve matters. A conclusion sums up the major points at the end.

CA and its evolution prior to Lisbon

CA is NATO-speak for the widely accepted idea that crisis management operations must combine civilian and military instruments in a coordinated and concerted manner in order to succeed in building the foundations for lasting peace. Denmark

put the need for an integrated civil–military approach to crisis management on the NATO agenda in 2004–2005; the Alliance embraced the CA concept at the Riga Summit in 2006 and two years later it agreed to a CA Action Plan pragmatically outlining a series of steps that the Alliance must take in order to implement its CA in practice.2

NATO learnt in Bosnia and Kosovo that it could not win the peace on its own, and that success in peace and stabilisation operations ultimately depends on civilian instruments that the Alliance does not possess. NATO therefore conceptualised its CA as a collective endeavour involving all the actors engaged in such operations. Un-like the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN), both of whom have developed CA policies of their own, NATO does not envision itself in the driver’s seat when executing its CA. The CA is not conceived as NATO owned and should not be NATO driven. NATO’s CA is intended to foster cooperation and coordination between all the relevant actors involved in such operations – international organisa-tions, individual states, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the private sector and host governments. In order to facilitate such cooperation, NATO has invited other actors to assume responsibility for overall coordination, it has pledged not to compromise any organisation’s independence, to respect the humanitarian space deemed essential by the humanitarian community and, finally, the Alliance has pledged to refrain from developing civilian capacities. The Alliance has, in other words, gone out of its way to reassure the civilian actors it considers essential to the success of its CA that it does not intend to trespass on their turf.

To implement this NATO has pursued a two-pronged approach. Internally, it has striven to enhance its own ability to conduct its military operations in accordance with CA requirements. Externally it has actively sought to establish better relations with the other actors it is likely to cooperate with on such operations, notably the EU, the UN and NGOs. The Effects Based Approach to Operations (EBAO), the Comprehensive Operational Planning Directive (2010), NATO’s Counterinsurgency (COIN) Doctrine (2010) and the Civilian Advisor (CIVAD) concept (2010) are all intended to enhance NATO’s ability to incorporate non-military aspects into its planning process and to facilitate practical cooperation with other actors. In addition, NATO has been very proactive in its attempts to establish closer relations with the EU, the UN and NGOs, both at the strategic level and in the field.

The principal driver of NATO’s implementation efforts has of course been its desire to succeed in Afghanistan with its International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Most CA innovations have resulted from attempts to address problems in the field.

The variety of civilian advisers employed by ISAF at all levels in theatre, the NATO Senior Civilian Representative (SCR) introduced in 2003 and recently boosted from the two-star to the four-star level and provided with a much larger staff (up from 6 to 24), and the 27 joint civil–military Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) operating across Afghanistan all illustrate this process. These successful operational practices have then trickled upwards towards the strategic level, influencing concepts, train-ing and doctrine. EBAO and COIN were thus employed in ISAF before they were formally adopted by the Alliance, and the development of the CIVAD concept was influenced by the widespread use of civilian advisers in ISAF headquarters and PRTs as well as by the need to improve cooperation with the civilian actors in theatre.

The fundamental CA flaw highlighted by Afghanistan

However, Afghanistan has not just helped CA implementation, it has also been a colossal hindrance in other ways. NATO’s initial thinking on the CA was to a large extent shaped by its experience in Kosovo. Kosovo indicated a need for temporary NATO involvement in civilian tasks such as law and order, governance and hu-manitarian assistance that would be scaled back as the security situation improved, allowing civilian actors to move into theatre and take over. Kosovo pointed to an international division of labour whereby NATO took care of security, logistics and intelligence, the UN provided overall coordination and state building, and the NGO community took the lead in providing humanitarian assistance and in facilitating development and reconstruction. This template informed NATO’s initial involve-ment in Afghanistan but the Alliance’s inability to provide security pulled the rug from under the Kosovo model. NATO’s inability to provide security made its own members reluctant to provide troops and equipment and also meant that the civilian organisations were less willing to engage and less capable of performing their tasks.

The result was a vicious circle of resentment and disengagement by the civilian actors and ever-deeper NATO involvement in governance issues, humanitarian assistance and reconstruction and development. This dynamics made it impossible for the Al-liance to establish the deep cooperative relationships with other actors that its CA is premised on. Needless to say, the absence of a capable and legitimate government or transitional authority (which there was in the form of the UN in Kosovo) has compounded NATO’s problems.

The fundamental problem that Afghanistan poses for NATO’s CA is, in short, that none of its requirements for success have been realised. NATO has not been able to

provide military security, the UN and the local government have failed to provide legitimacy, good governance and overall coordination, and the civilian actors have failed to provide humanitarian assistance, rule of law and development and recon-struction. NATO’s aspiration to act in support of the international community and the local government has thus proved impossible to realise.3

This failure not only raises uncomfortable questions on the prospects of success for the ISAF mission, it also calls into question the viability of NATO’s CA concept as a whole, and it is this broader conceptual issue that is of interest here. The problems encountered in Afghanistan of realising the international division of labour that NATO’s CA concept is premised upon force the Alliance to consider the following questions:

1. Is it viable and wise to employ a CA concept that depends on others for success?

2. Should the Alliance take on a leadership role in CA?

3. Should the Alliance develop civilian capabilities that will enable it to lay the foundations for success on its own?

CA in the New Strategic Concept

The answer that the New Strategic Concept provides to these questions can be summarised as: ‘In support when we can and in the lead temporarily if we must’.

NATO’s preference for staying in the background and acting in support of others is reaffirmed. The Strategic Concept pledges to continue the existing NATO policy of pushing for closer cooperation with the EU and the UN. At the same time the Concept also signals a determination to take on civilian tasks temporarily if need be.

The Alliance is to establish a ‘modest civilian crisis management capability’ that can be used “to plan, employ and coordinate civilian activities until conditions allow for the transfer of those responsibilities and tasks to other actors”. The promise in the Riga Summit Declaration to not develop civilian capabilities has been broken and the door is now opened for the establishment of a capability that will allow NATO to implement CA on its own in war zones or insurgencies where civilian organisa-tions find it difficult to operate.

It is good news that the Alliance members have at long last been able to agree on the need to establish civilian capabilities – a move vehemently resisted by France for a long time. The Riga decision not to develop civilian capabilities has now been

proven wrong by what has taken place in Afghanistan, which has demonstrated a clear need for a civilian capability that can enhance the Alliance’s ability to cooperate with external civilian actors and help to fill the gap temporarily in operations where the civilian support provided by others proves insufficient. It is crucial that NATO acquires such a capacity because the civilian capacities provided by others in future wars/insurgencies will remain limited. While the UN can be expected to provide a token presence, as is currently the case in Afghanistan, most NGOs will stay away as long as the security situation does not permit them to operate without military protection. If NATO wants to conduct counterinsurgency operations or engage in stabilisation in war zones in accordance with its own doctrinal and best practice requirements, it will have to bring its own civilian capacities.

Defining what ‘modest’ means in practice will not be easy, however. It will be deter-mined by mission requirements and the ability and willingness of other actors to cooperate with NATO. Just as the problems in Afghanistan have paved the way for the establishment of civilian capabilities, so may future ones induce the Alliance to beef them up. It is not difficult to imagine future operations which would require a robust civilian capability to create the conditions necessary to allow NATO to transfer civilian responsibilities to other actors. This said, a decision to create a full-blown civilian capacity enabling the Alliance to go it alone would have been a bad mistake, as it would have alienated the civilian actors, fuelled organisational suspicions and rivalries and led to unnecessary duplication and waste.

Establishing even a modest civilian capability is easier said than done, however, and it is bad news that the approach to civilian capacity building proposed in the Strategic Concept essentially copies the ineffective approach employed by the EU.

The Concept merely asks Alliance members to identify and train civilian specialists and make them available to the Alliance for rapid deployment. The problem with this approach is that the member states do not have civilian experts in the required numbers with the required skill sets. While several NATO member states have estab-lished their own civilian rapid reaction rosters or made individuals available to rosters established by other international organisations, such as the EU, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the UN, the vast majority of these experts are not trained to work in war zones in close cooperation with the military and are unlikely to volunteer to do so. The failure of the EU to find 400 police officers to go to Afghanistan illustrates the problem, as do the difficulties the United States is facing with respect to meeting its target of deploying 1,500 civilians to Afghanistan by 2012.4 If NATO wants a pool of capable civilian experts willing to deploy into

war zones to work together with its military forces, the Alliance will have to play a proactive role in creating and training it. How this could be done is the topic of the next section.

The road ahead: supporting CA capacity building

To succeed NATO must do a lot more than merely appeal to its members to create civilian rapid reaction capacities. This is the approach that the EU and the UN has employed with little success for the past decade,5 and there is no reason why NATO appeals to the same countries are likely to prove more successful. To speed up the process of capacity building NATO will have to establish a dedicated organisational entity tasked to promote CA within NATO both at the Alliance and at member state levels. Such an entity would have to act as a catalyst for implementing CA just as the Stabilisation Unit is doing in the UK.6 The entities set up, to date, in various places in NATO are not capable of performing this role effectively. The new CA entity should promote and develop CA doctrine, concepts and training at the Alliance level and also act as a one-stop shop for member states (and others) wanting advice on how to set up CA structures and civilian rapid reaction capacities, CA training, best practice and lesson learning in the field.

The work of such an entity would have to be supported by a decision taken by the Alliance making it mandatory for member states to provide their military contingents with the civilian personnel and support necessary to make CA work. To give an ex-ample, nations should not be allowed to lead PRT type units if they are incapable of providing the civil–military nucleus that is necessary for it to work effectively.

Needless to say, it is the national level that will decide the fate of NATO’s future efforts to implement the CA. While a CA entity at the Alliance level would greatly facilitate the creation of reliable civilian rapid reaction capabilities and other equally important CA components, it will not make much difference if member states do not make CA a real priority. Creating CA structures, capacities and mindsets takes time, and each member state will have to devise its own way of doing so, taking into account its own bureaucratic structures, culture and capacities.

Regardless of the model chosen, experience shows that it will require fundamental cultural change within the national bureaucracies involved, and that success is unlikely unless governments make CA implementation a priority and make it attractive for the relevant individuals and organisations to support the process. Individuals can be

attracted with money and fast track promotion schemes, organisations by additional resources permitting them to build up the extra capacity that is required to enable them to release talented individuals at short notice without compromising their primary day-to-day functions.

Experience also shows that it is crucial that civilian and military CA capacities are not developed separately but jointly. Civilian CA personnel should be trained jointly with military personnel from day one in order to break down cultural barriers and facilitate the creation of the joint CA mindset that is necessary for success. NATO would therefore do itself a favour by changing its terminology. Instead of distin-guishing between civilian and military personnel, it should employ the phrase ‘CA personnel’ in order to put civilian and military personnel on an equal footing and emphasise the joint nature of the enterprise. The importance of joint civil–military training cannot be over-emphasised.


Since NATO adopted its CA at the Riga Summit in 2006, the gap between rhetoric and practice in Afghanistan has continued to grow. It has proved impossible for NATO to realise its vision of a collective CA where the Alliance acts in support of the international community, i.e. the variety of civilian actors typically involved in crisis management operations. Many therefore urged NATO to close this gap in its New Strategic Concept. While the decision in the Concept to establish a civilian crisis management capability is an important step in the right direction, its approach to civilian capacity building is too timid and unambitious. It is not enough merely to call on member states to make civilian specialists available to Alliance operations.

Such specialists do not exist in the numbers required and the Alliance must make a proactive and sustained effort to convince member states to create them. A new dedicated NATO entity tasked to promote CA will be required to this end, but while such an entity can facilitate CA capacity building it cannot make it happen on its own. Effective CA capacity building ultimately depends on the political willingness of member states to build effective CA capacities at the national level. It will take time and money and no easy fixes exist – and there is far more to this than simply increasing the number of civilian specialists.


1 NATO 2020, ‘Assured Security; Dynamic Engagement. Analysis and Recommendations of the Group of Experts on a New Strategic Concept for NATO’, NATO, 17 May 2010, pp.41-42.

2 For a detailed account of this process see my, ‘NATO’s Comprehensive Approach to Crisis Response Operations: A Work in Slow Progress’, DIIS Report, No 15 (2008), http://www.diis.dk/graphics/Publications/


3 For an elaboration of these points see my, ‘Right Strategy, Wrong Place: Why Nato´s Comprehensive Approach Will Fail In Afghanistan’, UNISCI Discussion Papers, No. 22 (January 2010), pp.78–90, http://www.ucm.


4 U.S. Civilian Uplift in Afghanistan Is Progressing but Some Key Issues Merit Further Examination as Implementation Continues, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Audit-11-2 October 2010.

5 See my, ‘The ESDP and Civilian Rapid Reaction: Adding Value is Harder than Expected’, European Security, Vol. 15, No. 3, 2006, pp.299–321; Cedric de Coning, ‘Addressing the Civilian Peacekeeping Capacity Gap’, Conflict Trends, No 2 (ACCORD, 2010), pp.11–20; Daniel Korski and Richard Gowan, ‘Can the EU Rebuild Failing States? A Review of Europe’s Civilian Capacities’, European Council on Foreign Relations, 2009.

6 http://www.stabilisationunit.gov.uk/

8. Cooperative Security: Waning Influence in the

In document DIIS REPORT (Page 83-91)