NATO in 2020: Strong capabilities, strong partnerships

Keynote speech by NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow at the international conference ''NATO and the global structure of security: the future of partnerships'', Bucharest, Romania

  • 10 Nov. 2012
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  • Last updated: 19 Nov. 2012 11:42

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by commending the National School of Political Studies and Public Administration for putting together a very interesting conference programme, together with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence.

It is a real pleasure to be with you in this spectacular building where we held our 2008 NATO Summit. But today’s conference is about the future, not the past. So I would like to talk about the NATO we expect to see in the year 2020 – a NATO that has strong capabilities, and strong partnerships.

But before I address those issues, let me first say a few words about our mission in Afghanistan.

Our ISAF mission remains NATO’s most important operational priority. And it will continue to be so until we have completed the transition of security responsibility to the Afghans by the end of 2014.

Romania has made a vital and sustained contribution to our common engagement in Afghanistan. This has been highly valued by Allies, by our partners in ISAF, and by the Afghans themselves. Several Romanian soldiers have paid the highest price for our shared security. We must – and we will – make sure their sacrifice has not been in vain.

Our mission is proceeding according to the strategy and the schedule that we agreed upon at the Lisbon Summit exactly two years ago. We are steadily handing over more and more security responsibility to the Afghan authorities. This means we are increasingly focusing our main effort on training and mentoring, rather than on combat.

352,000 Afghan National Security Forces – both Army and Police – have already been recruited, and are currently being trained and fielded. Their quality and effectiveness have been growing steadily. These Afghan forces are now in the lead for providing security to more than 75% of the Afghan population.

Next year, the whole of the country will come under lead Afghan security responsibility. By the end of 2014, the whole of the country will be under full Afghan security responsibility, and our combat mission will come to an end.

But the end of ISAF does not mean that we will turn our backs on Afghanistan and the Afghan people. As our leaders agreed at the Chicago Summit, NATO will remain committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists who could attack our countries. That’s why, last month, our Defence Ministers approved the framework for a NATO-led, post-ISAF, post-2014 mission.

This new mission will focus on providing training, advice and assistance to the Afghan Security Forces beyond 2014. Our continuing commitment should leave the Taliban under no illusion that they can simply wait us out.

Six of our current partners in ISAF have already offered to join us in this new mission. And several other partners have already indicated that they, too, are interested in helping to ensure Afghanistan’s long-term stability and security.

As we look to the future – to NATO in 2020 – I believe we should look very closely at our engagement in Afghanistan (and our experience in other operations) to see what lessons we can learn. For me, two lessons stand out above all others. First, the need for strong capabilities. And second, the need for strong partnerships. Let me take each of these issues in turn. First capabilities.

In the coming years, we need to make sure that NATO has the right capabilities to carry out its core roles – collective defence, crisis management, and cooperative security. Although we all look forward to seeing our military presence in Afghanistan and other theatres reduced, NATO has to be prepared for unexpected new challenges, and it must continue to deter adversaries who could threaten our societies.

The New Strategic Concept that we adopted in Lisbon reminded us that, in the 21st century, we face a whole host of threats and challenges – regional instability, violent extremism, weapons of mass destruction, cyber attacks. As we saw in Libya just last year, we may be called upon to act on short notice to address a crisis that isn’t even on our radar screens today.

The economic crisis of the last few years has made acquiring and deploying the necessary capabilities more difficult. This year, only three European Allies will devote more than 2% of their Gross Domestic Product to defence. More cuts are likely in the next few years.

At our NATO Summit in Chicago in May, we acknowledged these difficulties, and we agreed on a way to overcome them. We set ourselves the goal of “NATO Forces 2020” – forces that are well equipped, well trained, and able to operate effectively with Allies as well as with partners.

To help us reach this goal, we also agreed at Chicago to pursue two separate initiatives. One is about making us more effective – we call this our Connected Forces Initiative – and it focuses on better training, and on increasing the interoperability of our forces and our technology. The other – called Smart Defence – is about making us more efficient, and it focuses on improving the way we develop and acquire our defence capabilities.

Through our current operations, forces from individual nations have been operating shoulder-to-shoulder with forces from other nations – both Allies and partners. This battlefield experience, and the habits of cooperation it has engendered, is an asset that we need to retain once our current operations draw down. This is the driving force behind our Connected Forces Initiative.

As our operational tempo begins to decline in the next few years, we will place a greater emphasis on NATO-led training and exercises. We want to make better use of computer-assisted training and simulation. And we want to take advantage of the U.S. offer to rotate elements of a U.S.-based combat brigade to Europe on an annual basis for exercises that can turn the NATO Response Force into an effective, deployable capability.

All of these steps will be vital to ensuring that NATO forces don’t lose the operational “edge” and political solidarity gained in our operations over the past two decades.

But having well trained forces is not enough. Libya showed that we have to do better in ensuring that our systems are able to operate together on a technical level. That’s why our Connected Forces Initiative also is aimed at raising the level of standardisation in our communications and weapons systems, and in increasing the compatibility of the munitions used by different members of the Alliance.

Making our forces better connected is one of the key goals set at Chicago. But, even more importantly, we need to make sure we have the right capabilities, in sufficient numbers on both sides of the Atlantic, to meet the multiple threats and challenges we could face in 2020 and beyond.

In Chicago we agreed on a new guiding principle for our capability development within NATO – Smart Defence. This is all about Allies working together to deliver capabilities that would be too expensive for many of them to deliver alone.

We have made good progress since Chicago. We are already moving ahead with over twenty multinational, Smart Defence projects. These cover a wide array of capabilities, from countering Improvised Explosive Devices to sharing smart munitions. We are moving ahead with a NATO-owned and operated Alliance Ground Surveillance system, in which Romania is a stakeholder. And a longer-term program for Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. And there are many more projects coming through the pipeline.

In many ways, our work on missile defence is Smart Defence at its best. All 28 Allies together have agreed to invest over 1 billion dollars in the necessary command and control infrastructure. Together with Poland, Turkey and Spain, Romania has agreed to host United States’ missile defence assets. And several other Allies have already announced other contributions to the developing system: The Netherlands has announced plans to upgrade four air-defence frigates with a missile defence radar; France plans to develop an early-warning capability and long-range radar; Germany and The Netherlands have offered Patriot missile batteries to counter lower-tier threats; and Poland has announced plans to acquire a lower-tier missile defence capability. We hope to see other Allied contributions as well.

So multinational cooperation under the banner of Smart Defence will, we hope, enable us to get “more bang for the Euro” at a time of fiscal austerity for the Alliance. But multinational cooperation isn’t a panacea. Allies will also need to do a better job in prioritising how they spend their limited defence budgets, and pay more attention to the most critical needs of the Alliance. In some cases, Allies may need to specialise – focusing on certain capabilities where they have a comparative advantage and leaving other roles to other Allies. Prioritisation and specialisation are also key aspects of Smart Defence, and key tools for reaching the goal of NATO Forces 2020.

Now let me turn to my second priority for NATO in 2020 – strong partnerships.

The Chicago Summit was the largest in NATO’s history, with 32 partner nations alongside NATO’s 28 members – countries from Central Asia, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region, as well as from Europe. It was a reminder of just how central partnerships have become to NATO’s way of doing business. Indeed, NATO’s partners have been key to the Alliance’s success over the past two decades. From Afghanistan to the Balkans, and last year over Libya, our partners have made a major contribution to the operational outcome and the political legitimacy of our missions.

But partnership has very clearly also been a two-way street. Our partners appreciate the opportunity to hold security consultations with NATO. Many of our partners benefit from the Alliance’s experience and expertise with reform in a wide range of areas, such as defence and security sector reform. And our partners from near and far all know that, by plugging into NATO’s missions and other activities, they multiply the security benefits of their own efforts.

I have already noted the importance of keeping our partners engaged in Afghanistan. We also want to work with them in developing our Connected Forces and Smart Defence initiatives. Several partners are already making valuable contributions to the NRF pool of forces. We need to make it possible for interested partners to participate as much as possible in our training and exercise programmes, so that they, too, can retain the operational edge that we have all acquired on our recent operations together.

Partners are already engaged on Smart Defence. One model is our Strategic Airlift Capability, in which ten NATO Allies -- including Romania --work together with Finland and Sweden to manage, support and operate three C-17 strategic transport aircraft based in Hungary. We are now working on the framework that will permit partners to participate in some of the newer Smart Defence projects.

But there is much more to our partnerships than the operational and military aspects. All our partnerships have a vital political component, and NATO’s support to reform efforts in partner countries can bring significant benefits for our partners, and for Allies, in terms of the enhanced security and stability they bring.

Two decades ago, Europe faced a period filled with risks and uncertainties, when the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union disintegrated. There was no guarantee that the new-found freedom would last, neither here in Romania, nor elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. But freedom not only lasted – it flourished. And this was due in no small measure to Europe and North America working together pro-actively through NATO.

We offered to help the countries from Central and Eastern Europe with their transition to democracy. We created new institutions like the Partnership for Peace to assist new democracies with defence transformation, and with social and political reforms. And by announcing that our door remained open to new members, we helped to transform Central and Eastern Europe into a zone of democracy, stability and prosperity.

We still have work to do. People’s aspirations for freedom, democracy and stability are still not fully realized in some parts of Europe. We need to further assist reforms in Eastern Europe, help Georgia fulfil its Euro-Atlantic aspirations, and fully bring the Western Balkans into the European mainstream. Ukraine also remains an important NATO partner and a key country for Euro-Atlantic and regional security, a partner which the Alliance stands ready to further assist in its reforms, even as we voice our concerns about the conduct of its recent elections.

And there’s far more we could be doing together with Russia, to fulfil the potential of the strategic partnership decided in Lisbon. While there is plenty of useful cooperation underway with Russia on Afghanistan, counter-terrorism and counter-piracy, we have not yet been able to find a firm basis for cooperation in the area of missile defence. But we won’t give up. We will continue to try and convince Russia that its objections to NATO’s missile defence are not grounded in facts and that we should work together in addressing the proliferation of ballistic missiles. This is clearly a threat not just to NATO, but to Russia too.

Overall, NATO has made a major contribution to an unprecedented era of peace and stability here in Europe. In the process, we have developed valuable cooperation programmes and instruments that we can now use to help other countries. And our partners can help NATO help other partners as well.

In particular, I am convinced that our experiences here in Central and Eastern Europe could be especially useful for the countries of North Africa and the Middle East. Throughout this vast region, the revolutionary changes since the Arab Awakening two years ago have brought new opportunities, but also new uncertainties and threats. Partnership with NATO can not only help these countries carry out some of the reforms that are essential to overcome these uncertainties, but also help them to overcome the common threats that we face.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have mentioned the importance of learning the right lessons from the past before looking to the future. And there can be no doubt that NATO’s past successes have come from having the right capabilities, and the right partnerships.

So, as I look forward to NATO in 2020, we need a similar recipe for success – strong capabilities and strong partnerships. We have already mapped out how we can get there. The Connected Forces Initiative and Smart Defence will give us the forces and capabilities we need – the hard power that is still essential in an uncertain world. And by further developing our network of partner nations around the globe, we can add to NATO’s soft power that is equally essential in shaping a more peaceful and stable world.

NATO in 2020 should be globally aware, globally connected, and globally capable. That’s the kind of NATO the “Global Structure of Security” requires. And it’s the kind of NATO that your support can make happen.