Bucharest is the time to ask difficult questions, say Julian Lindley-French and James Townsend. And without adequate answers, the Alliance will not be properly adapting to the demands of a new century’s security threats.
© James McLoughlin / Van Parys Media
Seeking better focus to gain more strategic effect
NATO’s Bucharest Summit is important. It comes at a moment when the collective will and conviction of the Alliance is being profoundly tested.
Implicit in every debate about and over NATO is a simple but profound question: has the Alliance the strategic imagination to engage the many new threats and challenges that are emerging in NATO’s world?
Energy competition, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global reach terrorism, pandemics, global warming, cyber-defence, critical infrastructure disruption and destruction and, of course, Afghanistan all provide the sober backdrop to a series of summits that will take place over the 2008-2010 period. Together, these could demonstrate whether the Alliance is planning for success, or preparing for failure.
A strategic tipping point is at hand and for all its many contradictions NATO, as the West’s only truly strategic organization, remains the West’s best hope for generating strategic effect in the 21st century.
To that end, a new strategic concept must be crafted over that period that re-establishes the relationship between strategy and effect as the basis for Alliance planning. Only then will NATO be transformed into the strategic security and defence hub that will be essential if the Alliance is to serve its people in a newly strategic age.
The Bucharest agenda confirms the importance of the moment. The remaining business of the 1990s meets head on the challenges of the 2000s – possible further enlargement to the Adriatic Three, a comprehensive political military plan for Afghanistan, the future of Kosovo, whither the NRF, what to do with the frozen NATO-EU conflict, missile defence and maybe even an early debate over a new type of strategic concept.
Structure follows power but power must be driven by vision and ideas and that requires real boldness and vision.
The problem is not the fault of NATO per se. NATO is after all only as good as its members’ collective will and level of ambition permits. Headquarters reform and the new integrated defence planning process demonstrate the extent to which NATO itself is moving in the right strategic direction.
However, a profound dilemma still exists due to the determinedly regional and tactical mindset of too many NATO nations. NATO’s level of ambition must therefore be addressed at the Bucharest Summit but, such are the implications, that it will probably be avoided. Unfortunately, a level of ambition dilemma masks a fundamental question for the Alliance: what to plan for? What armed forces do NATO nations need given the broad array of threats and challenges faced by the Alliance, how should they be organised and funded?
Indeed, given the limited levels of financial and human capital available for defence investment, be it NATO or the EU, the West as a whole has yet to properly consider what kind of institutions and forces are most likely to generate cost-effective security across the broad multitude of security tasks that Western security power (not just military power) will need to confront - and of which defence is but a part.
The problem is this; the unfortunately labelled ‘wars of choice’ are yesterday’s wars. All the conditions exist for the return of strategic state competition between the Great Powers over two or even one defence planning cycle. This is also liberally fuelled by the dark side of globalization that could all too easily make ever more destructive power available to ever poorer states or radical groups. And yet, strategic stabilization remains a fact of the West’s strategic life.
NATO needs to prepare for the generation of effect at its most strategic and intense. Yet it must simultaneously maintain credible security governance in places where the dark side of globalization must be contained. The result is a capability-capacity crunch whereby the need for networked warriors seemingly undermines the need for a critical mass of muddy boots.
Resolving the capability-capacity crunch: NATO’s need for boldness
Resolving the capability-capacity crunch requires what, by NATO standards, is a radical response. Speaking of the 1944 Battle of Huertgen, Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff Walter Bedell Smith said, “We never do anything bold. There are at least 17 people to be dealt with, so we must compromise - and compromise is never bold”.
© Akg-Images / Reporters
Gulliver: the danger of getting tied down by smaller things
In today’s world there are two first order requirements upon which strategic credibility is founded; effective grand strategy and the cohesive and cost-effective organization of power at the strategic and regional levels of security along the twin axes of comprehensive and cohesive national efforts and effective and extended partnerships. Structure follows power but power must be driven by vision and ideas and that requires real boldness and vision.
However, when tasks expand structure exponentially in the absence of strategy or vision, the result is the entrenchment of bureaucracy, leading irrevocably to the slowing, lengthening and reduction of strategic effect. Too many in the Alliance have lost the art of strategy and replaced it instead with a bureaucratic approach to security which prepares not for strategic success, but rather the preservation and promulgation of the bureaucracy itself.
Unfortunately, NATO’s historic responsibility to ensure a Europe free and whole tends to work against the need for a NATO that can act and think big. The very process of managing enlargement has involved the necessary introduction of a significant number of military and civilian staff who understandably will take time to fully grip and grasp NATO’s strategic role. This process of retrenchment has been reinforced by those many Europeans who seem only willing to recognise as much threat as they can afford to justify their retreat into Euro-isolationism.
As we approach the 60th anniversary of NATO’s founding, the Alliance as a whole must go back and examine the fundamental strategic reasons for its existence.
Many members of the Alliance speak the language of strategic effect and rapid response even as the very process of preparing for it leads to delay and prevarication. The language of effect is proclaimed even as power is disaggregated and throttled. As ever, the victim of self-delusion is sound planning and any real progress on vital issues such as sufficient strategic enablers and common funding of operations.
In the absence of strategic consensus, the political-security loop linking the events the Alliance must shape, the forces and means committed to them and the hard planning required to drive them, has become dangerously weak. As a result, little connection is established between, for example, the missions and tasks of the Alliance as laid out in the November 2006 Comprehensive Political Guidance (CPG) and the means, method and mechanisms with which to fulfil them. In other words, the Alliance strategy looks good on paper but fails to drive the requisite modernization of thinking or forces in sufficient members to act as an effective set of planning drivers.
It is in this vacuum that sound planning is undermined as members go off in their own differing directions with the result that the intra-Alliance gap in strategic thinking is becoming dangerously wide. Consequently, the Alliance too often retreats into largely fruitless debates over the organization of the inadequate.
Without effective defence and force planning criteria, such non-strategy imposes a seemingly endless list of tasks on small forces in very large places over extended time and distance. Indeed, very rarely these days do NATO forces do what they are designed for nor have relevant equipment for their missions. This increases risks not only to the forces themselves but to the very people they seek to serve.
States such as Australia, India, Japan and South Korea should be offered access to the core planning standards that can re-establish the West as the foundation of hard security in an uncertain age.
Sensitised, if not traumatised, by the collective experience in Afghanistan, no NATO member seems able to venture an answer to that most pivotal set of questions – what security picture do the members of the Alliance seek to create ten years hence? How best to prepare societies to bear the cost of the future security obligations? What forces do NATO members really require in a complex security environment? At the very least, as we approach the sixtieth anniversary of NATO’s founding, the Alliance as a whole must go back and examine the fundamental strategic reasons for its existence.
NATO’s search for strategic effect
For all the undoubted power of the NATO nations, the cancer of the counter consensus has exacerbated reactivity, timidity and uncertainty at a time when the West’s only strategic security organization needs to be seen to think big about the big world in which it must operate. The result is a form of strategic denial and neurosis in which leadership is replaced by trivia, and irresolution masked with grandiloquence. The most marginal of advances is greeted far too often with the words ‘historic’, ‘landmark’ and/or ‘pivotal’. The result is ersatz strategy in which the more empty the meaning of a commitment the grander the title. So it is no surprise that in such an environment ‘strategy’ has become the most over-used word in the English language. One only has to examine poor performance of most NATO members in the fulfilment of the Prague Capability Commitment to realise the extent of the self-delusion. For the sake of the peoples of the Alliance, this state of affairs must end and end soon.
NATO must confront the most profound of planning dilemmas as it seeks to resolve the inner contradiction of the enlargement of its membership, the enhancement of capabilities and the projection of effect.
The bottom line is this; even though a new NATO strategic concept is desperately needed to update the Alliance effort, the crafting of such strategy is in danger of becoming another exercise in bureaucracy and ultimately futility that dogged the 1999 Strategic Concept. Sadly, it is not just the threats themselves that NATO members must confront, but the very culture that has been created to avoid their confrontation.
Make no mistake, NATO needs an updated Strategic Concept but one that will properly drive defence and force planning convergence and effects-based unity of effort in support of an Alliance-wide level of ambition. To do that it is time to confront ourselves.
The need is pressing. In Afghanistan the burden of risk is being shifted from the capitals onto operational commanders who lack sufficient authority, tools and resources to succeed and then are blamed for failure when they do not. This is patently unfair and utterly pointless. In the total security age into which NATO is moving in which all national power will need to be mobilised transnationally, such strategic pretence is not only unfortunate, it will prove in time downright dangerous.
Therefore, Bucharest must start the process of strategic renovation that the Alliance desperately needs. Such renovation would in turn have four main components.
First, a re-statement is needed of the planning drivers in the Comprehensive Political Guidance as the basis for the new Strategic Concept. This will include the modernization of Article 5 as part of a new strategic defence architecture (including missile defence, cyber-defence and the role of Alliance nuclear forces in a new deterrence concept), and the role of Alliance armed forces (armed with both the capabilities needed for strategic effect and the capacity to sustain operations), in dealing with global reach terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Second, political top cover is required for the start of the Strategic Concept debate. However, there is a problem. The need to maintain momentum of Alliance modernization could be stymied by the timing of US elections. Therefore, at the very least it would not only be useful but also feasible to agree and re-state the fundamental principles of the Alliance in the 21st century. Ideally, an Atlantic Charter should be prepared and be ready for the sixtieth anniversary Summit in early 2009.
Third, the process of planning reform must be accelerated so that NATO can by 2010 deploy at least two major joint operations and six such smaller operations based on the development of affordable capabilities and capacities. To that end the transformation model will need to be adapted to reduce the cost per soldier that is rendering European forces far too small and exacerbating the capability-capacity crunch. Such a force will require a streamlined Alliance integrated defence planning process that combines the staffs of defence planning and defence investment into a central planning function.
Fourth, the great age of NATO enlargement is coming to a close. Bucharest will hopefully take important steps towards the completion in the next few years of NATO’s historic mission to uphold the commitment made to people’s on both sides of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War by opening the way to new members. However, the whole concept of partnership must change. If NATO is to become the strategic security hub that it surely must, then partnership must mean strategic effect as well as regional stability. That means opening the doors to partnership to like-minded states the world over that want to join NATO’s strategic stabilization mission. States such as Australia, India, Japan and South Korea are but a few who do not seek membership but should be offered access to the core planning standards that can re-establish the West as the foundation of hard security in an uncertain age.
Effective security will mean a credible NATO ability to engage in all forms of co-option and all levels of coercion in partnership with other vital institutions and state partners. Indeed, security is partnership in the 21st century. However, the forging of a new strategic partnership will mean top down boldness, not bottom-up incrementalism. The alternative is that planning simply becomes the management of decline and none of us can afford that.
Only true strategy – not bureaucracy -- can truly define priority, and developing that strategy will take informed political leadership, political courage and a new strategic consensus in the Alliance committed to (and willing to invest in) the strategic effect role for which NATO was created.
That is why a new strategic concept with teeth and grip is vital in a new strategic age.
That is why Article 5 must be renovated as the foundation of Alliance military credibility at the centre of new strategic defence architecture.
That is why NATO nations must act to strengthen the treaties of military balance and non-proliferation with the power of counter-proliferation, including relevant missile defence.
That is why the Alliance must create forces able and willing to address the strategic task-list of tomorrow and through civil-military leadership leverage all forms of security power.
Bucharest must initiate the generation of true strategic security, a security that is based on credible military power and able to prevail in all aspects of security engagement. That is the planning challenge.
Winston Churchill once said, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”. If Bucharest can live up to the words of Churchill, then NATO could truly be said to be preparing for what is going to be another big security century. Bucharest will have then done its job.