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General William F. Kernan: Military moderniser

General William F. "Buck" Kernan is commander-in-chief of the United States Joint Forces Command and was, until 1 October, the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT), both based in Norfolk, Virginia.

(© US DoD)

The first army general to hold both posts, he has stepped down as SACLANT to focus on maximising the present and future military capabilities of the United States. A Texan who joined the US Army in 1968, General Kernan has been the commander for two airborne companies, two Ranger companies, a rifle company in the British Parachute Regiment while an exchange officer, an airborne infantry battalion, a ranger battalion, the 101st Airborne Division and the XVIII Airborne Corps.

How can NATO better contribute to the war against terrorism?

I think the Alliance has been particularly candid about what it can and can't do militarily. During a speaking engagement in June, Lord Robertson captured the current situation very well when he acknowledged that the threat of global terrorism would require NATO to develop new capabilities. Specifically, he suggested that the Alliance focus on four critical military capabilities: communications; logistics and sustainability; interoperability; and defence against weapons of mass destruction. The Alliance and NATO member states continue to be extremely responsive. The day after 11 September, NATO invoked Article 5 for the first time in its history. What followed was not just powerful political support, but also the rapid deployment of highly trained personnel and state-of-the-art equipment. NATO's resident forces were likewise called into play as the Standing Naval Forces supported operation Active Endeavor in the Eastern Mediterranean. Similarly, NATO AWACs aircraft and crews were deployed from their home base in Geilenkirchen, Germany, to the United States in support of operation Noble Eagle. The performance of all of these units has been superb.

How do you judge NATO's relevance in the current strategic environment?

Firstly, I think that NATO remains extremely relevant to the geo-political issues in and around Europe. I also think that it is as critical now to have a cooperative of democracies as it was during the Cold War. The threat to our collective security may have changed forms but the instability caused by nascent threats arguably places NATO nations at even greater risk than before. Secondly, coalitions of the willing in no way undermine the efficacy of NATO. The Alliance is still the organisation of choice to deal with the spectrum of transatlantic challenges, from contingency and humanitarian operations, to Article 5 missions.

In the light of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, how should the Alliance evolve to deal with the new threats it faces?

This question is at the heart of the Allied transformation initiative. Technology is a part of this process, but only a part. We want to make our forces dramatically more effective by making them more flexible, adaptable, and responsive. To do this, we intend to use technological advances in conjunction with a holistic approach to doctrine, organisation, training, material, leader development, personnel, and facilities. Stove-piped and lethargic procedures of the past must be reengineered to integrate all instruments of international power to bring about the intended result, whether that is peacekeeping, peace enforcement, or decisively defeating an adversary. Here, it is important that our efforts are synergistic and should, possibly, be coordinated with a NAC-directed military plan. The evolution of the Alliance must be driven by thorough strategic and operational analysis.

A key initiative emerging from the Washington Summit was that of the Combined Joint Task Force. As the first Army general to be appointed SACLANT, what changes do the Alliance's navies need to make to become integral parts of this initiative and how well are they being implemented?

For a CJTF to function properly, it must be properly manned, fully interoperable, joint, and highly trained. The requisite situational awareness must be achieved through a network of intelligence sources that are fused and critically analysed, often by leveraging expertise across traditional lines of authority. The result is a common operating picture that can be focused into a common relevant operating picture. This accomplishment provides unprecedented levels of situational awareness and makes possible a comprehensive strategy of engagement providing feedback and command and control adjustments that are near real-time. While not the end product itself, fused intelligence is critical to making our military efforts more effective. In large part, being more effective means achieving military goals and political objectives much more rapidly with less loss of life, less destruction, and less political aftershock than is possible with current capabilities. As part of our ongoing process to develop this capability, we recently conducted a major NATO exercise called Strong Resolve, where the CJTF concept was tested in an incredibly robust scenario. The CJTF commander, Vice Admiral Cutler Dawson, was extremely successful in achieving and maintaining situational awareness while operating aboard the command ship, USS Mount Whitney. In this exercise we were able to validate crucial portions of a concept that we've been developing over several years. Once it is fully operational, the CJTF model will allow us to initiate rapidly moving, integrated, adaptive, and overwhelming action against an adversary. With these acquired insights in mind, it's clear that joint procedures and technical interoperability are the keys to success. The navies of NATO have traditionally done an exceptional job on procedural standardisation and technical integration of operational units.

Under your dual US/NATO appointment, you have been responsible for enhancing interoperability among NATO nations. What key issues do Alliance member states need to address?

Technical interoperability is key to NATO's continued success and the CJTF is a critical piece of our future capabilities strategy. NATO's CJTFs must possess highly trained personnel with compatible equipment, if they are to be effective. Notice I said compatible, not identical, equipment. We are very aware of the importance of a nation's industrial base and are simply proposing that NATO develop overarching technical architectures and protocols that will allow individual nations to manufacture domestic equipment that seamlessly plugs into the overall network. This is an important element in a renewed approach to Allied interoperability. In addition to technology, many areas of tactics, techniques, and procedures also need standardisation and coordination. NATO forces have traditionally been very effective in this area. However, we must realise that technical challenges and even policy considerations, like rules of engagement, continually influence our ability to exercise military operations. We are finding that concept development and experimentation, both in Europe and the United States, is starting to pay big dividends and provide us with the process necessary for effective interoperability, improved capability, and efficient resource management. Not everything we try will work as planned. Our experiments are designed to determine what works, what doesn't work and what we have to do better in the future.

The Defence Capabilities Initiative, which was also unveiled at the Washington Summit, has not achieved as much as had been hoped. What are the likely repercussions on the viability of future military operations?

The DCI has not met all of its intended goals. Funding has been decidedly scarce as many nations wrestled with competing domestic issues and a fluctuating global economy. Furthermore, the resources that were made available were being distributed over too many areas. Despite this set back, I believe the concept is a good one and we are in the midst of a DCI makeover that will reduce our overall scope, prioritise our requirements, and consolidate our efforts for maximum effectiveness. Our focus will be on these areas: logistics, connectivity, and modernisation as well as defence against nuclear, biological, chemical and missile threats. Reinforcing these areas will enhance and ensure a viable future capability.

NATO is likely to issue membership invitations to several countries at the Prague Summit. How can these countries best be integrated into the Alliance?

There may be a technical gap between aspirant nations and existing members but that doesn't mean that future members won't contribute to our overall capabilities. NATO is realistic about what the new nations will militarily bring to the table. We don't expect across-the-board capabilities from most nations. Instead, we see great benefit in specialisation and niche contributions. These concepts, along with resource pooling, will undoubtedly add value to the Alliance.

NATO is reviewing its Command Structure. How do you see this review developing and what will it mean for SACLANT's future role?

This and enlargement are the two biggest issues facing NATO today. The United States made its intentions known with regard to United States Joint Forces Command. As of 1 October 2002, the Commander, US Joint Forces Command will divest his responsibilities as SACLANT. This was done to enable Joint Forces Command to focus primarily on the transformation of the US Armed Forces. This may prove extremely beneficial to the Alliance. The United States is firmly committed to Europe and to resolving the Command Structure issues and ensuring it is relevant to 21st century challenges. The Command Structure review and the dialogue surrounding it is not only necessary, it is also healthy for the Alliance and will strengthen NATO for future challenges. One of the ways in which I think the structure will change is with the new role for ACLANT. I believe that the idea of a strategic, functional command responsible for Allied transformation is gathering a great deal of momentum in Europe. If approved during the Prague Summit, this realignment would allow us to focus on our future requirements and capabilities, and accelerate critically needed transformational development throughout the Alliance.

How has the military profession changed during your career?

The army of today is very different from than the one I joined in 1967, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The professional military of today is just that, professional. It is comprised of well-educated, well-trained volunteers. During the 1960s, the social climate was dramatically different and an unpopular war caused many personnel challenges. Through it all though, patriotism and courage have remained the constant. The world has changed and most of the world's militaries have adapted accordingly and we are all better for it.

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