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The Comprehensive Political Guidance: A primer

Paul Savereux examines a keystone document recently made public.

Giving the go-ahead: NATO’s Heads of State and Government give the CPG the green light in Riga (© NATO)

Amid the Riga Summit fanfare came the news that NATO Heads of State and Government had endorsed a document entitled “Comprehensive Political Guidance” and had agreed to make it public.

But what is the Comprehensive Political Guidance (or CPG for short)? How did it come into existence and, more importantly, what are its key points and its relevance to the Alliance now and in the future?

Overview of CPG

The CPG is a high-level guidance document which provides a framework and political direction for NATO's continuing transformation, setting out, for the next 10 to 15 years, the priorities for all Alliance capability issues, planning disciplines and intelligence. In other words, the document provides the agreed vision and priorities for NATO's ongoing transformation. Its underlying intent is that the implementation of the CPG should lead to the development of more usable capabilities for future operations and missions, thereby ensuring that the Alliance remains effective, credible and relevant in the 21st century.

In essence, the CPG analyses the probable future security environment, but acknowledges the possibility of unpredictable events. Against that analysis, it sets out the kinds of operations the Alliance must be able to perform in the future in light of the 1999 Strategic Concept and, as a logical consequence of that vision, the kinds of capabilities the Alliance will need. This is expressed broadly; specifically how these capabilities will be filled is left open, since that is for nations to determine both individually and collectively through NATO's planning processes.

How the CPG came to exist

To fully appreciate the importance and relevance of the CPG, one needs to understand the context which prompted its development, namely the efforts to revise NATO's defence planning procedures in late 2003/early 2004.

The aim of defence planning is to provide a framework within which national and NATO planning can be harmonised so as to meet the Alliance’s agreed requirements in the most effective way. In simple terms, defence planning seeks to ensure that NATO will have all the forces, assets and capabilities it will require to undertake the full spectrum of its missions in the future.

While its aim is straightforward, implementing defence planning has proven to be a complex undertaking over the years and is conducted primarily by seven “traditional” planning disciplines: armaments; civil emergency; consultation, command and control; force; logistics; nuclear; and resource planning. Each of these disciplines, however, has heretofore been managed by a different NATO committee or body, been guided by different directives, has contributed to the overall aim differently, and has followed different procedures. Moreover, other disciplines/activities — like intelligence, standardisation, air defence and operational planning — also support defence planning, further complicating the issue. Ensuring that the combined efforts of all these actors are coherent and harmonised is a considerable challenge, especially given that there is no single senior body responsible for all of them. The North Atlantic Council is responsible for many of them, but force and nuclear planning as well as some aspects of logistics and resource planning are conducted on behalf of the Defence Planning Committee or the Nuclear Planning Group, both of which meet at 25 (all NATO members except France, which is not part of the integrated military structure).

Previous attempts to improve and harmonise NATO’s defence planning procedures had met with limited success as they tended to focus on individual planning disciplines. Thus, in the run up to the June 2004 Istanbul Summit and in an effort to take a more holistic approach in the context of a review of defence planning procedures, there was the desire to have NATO's existing level of ambition endorsed by Allied Heads of State and Government and made public. The belief was that high-level agreement would be beneficial by giving a common approach for all Allies, drawing together various planning disciplines working towards the same goal, and obtaining financial support.

While there was no consensus with regard to the handling of the existing level of ambition, the advantages of developing a common approach for all Allies in the future were clearly appreciated. Recognising the opportunity to take a major step forward at Istanbul, NATO Heads of State and Government directed the Council in Permanent Session to produce for their consideration a comprehensive political guidance in support of the Strategic Concept for all Alliance capability issues and planning disciplines.

The CPG itself was agreed in December 2005 and has served as the basis for much of NATO’s internal work since then. However, it was only made public in November 2006 at the Riga Summit, after the Heads of State and Government who initially commissioned the document had also endorsed it.

Main points of the CPG

Although concise, the CPG contains much useful substance. This includes the following measures, among others.

  • First, the CPG identifies in particular terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction as the likely threats to the Alliance over the next 10-15 years. In all events, the Alliance must retain the ability to respond effectively to the full spectrum of threats, risks and challenges of the 21st century from wherever they may come.
  • It also underlines the requirement for NATO’s forces to remain balanced, flexible and agile, while able to conduct the full range of its missions from high to low intensity. It also places a special focus on the most likely operations while noting the need to be able to respond to the most demanding ones.
  • The CPG emphasises the likelihood that NATO will need to carry out a greater number of smaller demanding and different operations. In this context, it recognises the increasing significance of stabilisation operations and of military support for reconstruction efforts.
  • It stresses the need for a broad approach to security, not only with regard to NATO's own crisis management instruments, but also to improving its cooperation with non-NATO nations, institutions and organisations in order to collaborate more effectively in planning and conducting operations.
  • The Guidance sets out a number of more detailed capability requirements that Allies, individually and collectively, need to address further, such as:

  • the ability to conduct and sustain operations far from home territory with little or no host nation support,
  • the ability to deter, disrupt, defend and protect against terrorism, and to protect information systems of critical importance to the Alliance against cyber attacks,
  • the ability to identify hostile elements, including in urban environments, in order to conduct operations in a manner that minimises collateral damage and the risk to our own troops, and
  • the ability to field forces with the greatest practicable interoperability and standardisation among Allies and partners.
  • It defines NATO's top priorities among these requirements, starting with joint expeditionary forces and the capability to deploy and sustain them.

    Finally, the CPG lays the foundation for a management mechanism to ensure the implementation of the CPG within the Alliance. The mechanism was in fact established in February 2006.

    How the CPG affects the Alliance

    Situated below the 1999 Strategic Concept but above other capability-related guidance documents such as ministerial guidance for force planning, the CPG provides a single, overarching statement of guidance which applies to all capability-related planning in the Alliance, regardless of the body or configuration in which it is conducted.

    The CPG is also unique in that it answers a fundamental question germane to all capability-related planning disciplines, namely what Allies want NATO to be able to do in qualitative terms. To this end, the Guidance provides a common set of capability requirements as well as priorities.

    Indeed, the Guidance has already begun to assist the various Alliance planning disciplines, other capability-related bodies and agencies, as well as the nations themselves to pursue coherent priorities. For example, Ministerial Guidance 2006 agreed by the Defence Planning Committee in June 2006 took into account the CPG, as did the Ministerial Guidance for Civil Emergency Planning agreed in January 2007. In addition, MC 550, the Military Committee's Guidance for the Military Implementation of the CPG, and its subordinate documents also reflect the CPG in practical terms. There are also numerous indications that the document is helping the transformation efforts of individual Allies.

    The CPG is a high-level guidance document which provides a framework and political direction for NATO's continuing transformation

    The Guidance is by its nature a very capability-focused document. It does not seek to define requirements in terms of specific platforms or equipment, like types of ship or transport aircraft required, but rather in terms of what types of capabilities are required and the intended effects in theatre. Viewed in this context, capabilities are much broader than mere equipment considerations and include many others such as associated doctrines, procedures, organisations, training, support and interoperability.

    The CPG not only provides a vision of the capabilities sought in the future, it is also firmly focused on support to operations. Hence, the document is practical and realistic, and the guidance it offers is relevant to ongoing operations. For example, it provides a political impetus for the development of an effects-based approach to operations which seeks to ensure that the various instruments of the Alliance brought to bear in a crisis and its resolution are drawn together to best effect as well as coordinated with the activities of other actors.

    The document underlines the requirement for nations to develop and field flexible and sustainable force contributions, and to share defence burdens fairly.

    The Guidance also acts as a catalyst for the transformation of NATO's processes. For example, the CPG, through its associated management mechanism, has underlined the usefulness of a single, consolidated list of NATO capability requirements and priorities as a means to maximise coherence and harmonisation throughout the capability development process. As a result, Allied Command Transformation, with the support of other bodies and agencies, is already engaged in developing such a list.

    Similarly, on a grander scale, the recently initiated effort to enhance the defence planning process as a whole and explore the potential of harmonising the responsibilities, procedures, timelines and reporting of the individual capability-related planning disciplines was also occasioned by the CPG and its associated management mechanism.

    What the CPG does not do

    Having described the CPG and what it seeks to do within the Alliance, it is perhaps also useful to briefly address what the Guidance does not do.

    The CPG does not replace the 1999 Strategic Concept; it supports and complements it. To remain relevant, however, the Guidance will be reviewed periodically. Given the latest indications, one can expect the document to be reviewed after NATO issues its next Strategic Concept, most likely in 2009.

    The CPG does not delve into sufficient detail to give exhaustive guidance for each specific planning discipline and other capability-related bodies; hence the requirement for lower level guidance still remains.

    The CPG does not define in quantitative terms what Allies want NATO to be able to do. For force planning, this is done in a subordinate, classified document (Ministerial Guidance 2006), which is based on the CPG and was agreed by the nations concerned in June 2006.

    And finally, the CPG does not ask for more forces. It merely requires forces which are more usable, more deployable, more effective, but not necessarily more numerous.

    A road to transformation

    In conclusion, the Comprehensive Political Guidance provides a succinct yet fundamental vision for NATO’s ongoing transformation. Yet it is the implementation of the CPG, both within the Alliance proper and the nations themselves, that is ultimately crucial since this should lead to the development of more usable capabilities for future operations and missions, thereby ensuring that the Alliance remains effective, credible and relevant in the 21st century.

    As illustrated at the Riga Summit and indeed beforehand, Allied nations have embraced the path of transformation set out in the CPG. This path, however, remains long and arduous. The real challenge for Allies is to stay the course.

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