‘Knowledge is Power, Character is more’

Speech by Admiral Rob Bauer, Chair of the NATO Military Committee Canadian Forces College - Joint Command and Staff Programme and National Security Programme in Toronto, Canada

  • 16 Nov. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 16 Nov. 2022 18:40

Brigadier General Strickland,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Course members,

Bonjour à toutes et à tous.

It is a privilege to be in Toronto and to speak to so many of you here today.

Yesterday, as we got off the plane, we received news of the explosion in Eastern Poland, on the border with Ukraine.

This morning, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe has briefed Allies in the North Atlantic Council.

The investigation is ongoing. But so far, we have no indication that this was a deliberate attack.

And we have no indication that Russia is preparing offensive actions against NATO.

The preliminary results indicate that this was a Ukrainian air defence missile, that was fired to defend Ukrainian territory.

But as the Secretary General has said: this is not Ukraine’s fault.

Russia’s bears the ultimate responsibility for this loss of life.

The calm and rational reaction by the Polish civilian and military authorities has been very impressive.

They deserve our full respect for that.

The reactions from Allies showed strong solidarity.

The Alliance has reacted calm and coordinated.

NATO is a defensive Alliance that wants to do everything it can to stop this conflict from spreading.

We will always choose the path that we believe leads to peace and security for the 1 billion people who live on Allied soil.

In the coming days and weeks, we will maintain in close contact with the Polish authorities.

We will provide any help they require.

And of course, we will remain fully vigilant.

An event like this shows the precarious state of global security.

But it also shows the immense strength and solidarity amongst Allies.

Poland, as all Allies, knows that we stand side by side with them.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The war in Ukraine has ushered in a new era of collective defence.

An era that we are ready for.

For years, the NATO Military Authorities have been monitoring Russia’s pattern of increasingly aggressive behaviour.

We recognised the need to improve our collective
defence. And started planning accordingly.

Together, we have implemented the largest reinforcement of collective defence in a generation.

We agreed:

  • a new Military Strategy in 2019;
  • the Concept for the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA) in 2020;
  • and the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept in 2021.

And we are already and rapidly putting DDA to the test.

Within a matter of days and weeks, we ramped up our presence on the Eastern Flank.

Putting hundreds of thousands of troops under heightened alert.

Creating four new Battle Groups.

During the Madrid Summit in June, the Heads of State and Government agreed to further adapt our posture.
We are strengthening our forward defences.

And we are increasing the number of high readiness forces under the new NATO Force Model.

Of course we are not only looking at one region.

We are following a truly 360 degree approach to collective defence.

For instance by stepping up our presence in the High North. 

A region that is of great importance for Canada.
As the obvious gateway to the North Atlantic, the Arctic has also always had a strategic relevance for NATO.

It hosts vital trade and communications links between North America and Europe.

Unfortunately, the world is seeing increased competition and militarisation in the region, especially from Russia and China.

The fact that these two authoritarian regimes are working together in an already fragile region… means that we cannot go about our business as usual.

NATO is well underway to increase its presence in the
High North.

NATO has set up the Joint Force Command Norfolk.

NATO and Allies are conducting more and more Arctic and anti-submarine exercises.

And individual Allies are stepping up their national strategies for the region.

A good example is the announcement by Canada and the US to modernise the joint NORAD early warning and air defence system.

We also warmly welcome Canada’s plans to host a NATO Centre of Excellence on Climate and Security, sharing expertise and best practice with Allies.

When Sweden and Finland join the Alliance, seven out of the eight Arctic states will be members of NATO.

This will extend NATO’s defensive shield, increase our presence and our capabilities in the Arctic and strengthen the Alliance as a whole.

In this new era of collective defence we are also seeing that modern warfare is not just about artificial intelligence, quantum computing and robotics.

The war in Ukraine has taught us that you have to be able to fight yesterday’s battle… as well as tomorrow’s battle… today.

It is not a question of either nuclear and conventional warfare or hybrid warfare.

Going forward, modern warfare will be a combination of the two.

For instance, a F35 fighter jet will have a nuclear capacity as well as an enormous capacity to collect data… and it will also still have a machine gun.

Modern warfare is about bits and bots AND mud and blood.

Allied Armed Forces will need to be prepared to counter all types of threats and challenges.

But the most important thing the war in Ukraine has taught us - once again - is the importance of morale.

To know what you are fighting for

Two days ago, I welcomed a group of Ukrainian cadets at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

They are in the final year of their military academy.

Goal of the visit was to learn more about NATO’s structure and core tasks.

Soon, they will be gearing up to go into battle.

In their faces, you could clearly see the determination to serve their people and protect their country.
They were “beyond fear” as Madam Zelenska recently put it.

Because when you are in an existential fight... fear is a luxury you cannot afford.

Unlike their Russian counterparts, the Ukrainian cadets know exactly what it is they are fighting for.

They are fighting, not just to protect their homes or their families.

They are fighting to protect a way of life.

A system, in which all governments and citizens are bound by the rule of law.

Where sovereign nations and sovereign people can determine their own fate.

Practice their own beliefs.

Speak their own language.

The Ukrainians are fighting to protect not just what they have, but who they are.

50 nations around the world support them in that fight.

NATO Allies will support Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Because we too believe in democratic values and the international rules-based order.

For NATO, sovereignty is a sacred right that we will always strive to uphold.
Bringing together 30 (soon to be 32) nations around a table and trying to find compromise day in day out on thousands of pieces of policy is not always easy…

But it’s who we are.

We will not make a decision until all nations at the table agree.

We move forward as one. Or we don’t move forward at all.

It is exactly that quality that has drawn so many nations to the Alliance.

Either to join, or to become our partner.

Because we are able to take all our different backgrounds, capabilities, threat perceptions, strengths and weaknesses … and turn our diversity into strength.

It’s who we are.

And that brings me to the motto of the Canadian Forces College: “Knowledge is power”.

This motto reminded me of the motto of the Royal Naval Institute in the Netherlands, where I studied:

“Knowledge is power, character is more”.

That motto has shaped me and my career.

It has never lost its power.

Military education is not just about high grades or excelling academically.

It is not just about knowing everything about planning and conducting joint operations.

Nor is it just about knowing every service branch, or military/leadership theory in detail or being able to analyse or plan defence policy. 

It is not just about knowledge.

It is also about who you are as a person.

The armed forces are also about having guts/taking risks....
...being honest...
...taking responsibility,
….having each other’s back,
...and being willing to stand up for others.
In other words:

Loyalty, Integrity, Courage, Inclusion and Accountability.

The values of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The courses at the Canadian Forces College aim to equip you with the skills to become a good officer, a good leader.

A good officer must not only be able to manage complex operations, and make instant decisions....

He or she must also be able to cooperate with military personnel from other countries...

... with international organisations, with NGOs, or with industry....

Just as he or she has to be able to improve processes, or implement change measures....

… be able to make choices when it comes to complex ethical issues....

AND he or she must be able to switch leadership roles and styles at any time. 

That means that it is important to know what the troops think and what they need.

And that you know who you are yourself.

What you are good at and where your shortcomings lie.

Being a good leader requires that you are at least aware of your prejudices.

And that you remain open to learn from the people around you.

In essence, what we do at the NATO Headquarters every day - bringing together 30 nations and trying to find a common way forward – is not that different from what military leaders do with their units every day.

We wear a uniform not because we believe we are all the same… Nor that we should be all the same.

We wear a uniform because we believe in the power of the collective.

We believe in the power of bringing together people from different backgrounds and cultures, with different skillsets… to make sure we get the best of what they have to offer.

That we see together what we cannot see alone.

That we do together what we cannot do alone.

This is taught to cadets and sailors at a young age.

But it is a lesson that needs continuous updates throughout your career.

Last September, at the Military Committee Conference in Estonia, 32 Chiefs of Defence dedicated a special session to diversity.

Together, we discussed how we can make sure that their Armed Forces are attracting and retaining people from different backgrounds.

For the simple reason that it makes us stronger on the battlefield. And to quote General Milley: diversity is not a “woke subject”.

If you exclude huge portions of your society, you are missing crucial information and capabilities on the battlefield.

Any form of bullying, sexual harassment or discrimination damages the most precious commodity we have in the military: TRUST. 

There are no ‘quick fixes’ for promoting diversity and inclusion.

We were grateful to have such an open and honest contribution from your Chief of Defence, General Eyre.

The issues that the Canadian Armed Forces are grappling with, are issues that – to a certain extent – all Allied Armed Forces are grappling with.

By speaking about this openly, we can learn from each other’s experiences.

Trust is crucial also for mission command.

We have seen that in the war in Ukraine.

There was no trust between Moscow and the troops on the ground.

They have failed at creating a healthy system of checks and balances.

A system in which lower level leaders have (and take!) responsibility.

And tell their commanding officers when they believe they’re making a mistake.
With mission command, the commander explains WHAT and WHY.

And the people in the field decide HOW.

This helps ensure that you use ALL the knowledge and insights available to make the best decisions.

Not just a few people at the top.

That is what democracies are about… that is what NATO is about… and that is what Canada is about.

Mission command leaves room for initiative, creativity and flexibility.

It is a fundamental trade of NATO missions and operations.

And by teaching mission command to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, we have helped them achieve success on the battlefield.

(soon, they will be teaching us)

Therefore, our strength is derived not just from our knowledge or capabilities… but from the values we swear to protect.
It’s not just about what we can do… it’s about who we are.

In this new era of collective defence, we KNOW what we are fighting for.

Democracy… diversity… and sovereignty… are causes more than worthy to dedicate your life to.

Knowledge is power… character is more.

I look forward to getting to know the Canadian Armed Forces better over these next few days.

To get a better understanding of your capabilities and the challenges you face, as well as your knowledge and your character. 

I see in the programme that we have about an hour for Questions and Answers, so I warmly invite you to ask any questions you may have for me.