Launching NATO’s New Strategic Concept

Speech by General James Mattis, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, A Transformation perspective.

  • 07 Jul. 2009
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  • Last updated: 10 Jul. 2009 12:01

Thank you, Secretary General, for the opportunity to contribute to this launch of a much needed process to develop the new Strategic Concept, a concept that will adapt NATO’s stance to the changed security landscape.

It’s been a long day and I will quickly make my points recognizing that much has been said here today with which I fully agree, and some of which I do not, allow me to humbly outline some of what a military commander expects of a new Strategic Concept, one that will ensure NATO’s armed forces provide relevant military capability when you call on us in the future to  − defend our principles and values, that grew out of the enlightenment, and to − defend populations against threats that, in some cases, bear little resemblance to those of the past.

Listening to what has been said today and from my own point of view as a NATO military commander, I see several broad themes. These themes echo much of what we found in Allied Command Transformation’s year long multiple futures project which I delivered last April to the Secretary General, a summary of which has been provided to you.

The security challenges we face today can no longer be addressed with yesterday’s answers. Internationally we are at a crossroad of cooperation or competition or “blueprint and scramble.” Recognizing the shifting points of stress in the current security setting, and addressing the strategic challenges and opportunities facing us, the new Strategic Concept must identify NATO’s fundamental role and what the political leadership sees NATO doing about the challenges.

I share with you that no military in history has successfully transformed itself without a clear understanding of the problem that needed to be solved. Simply, we need to know your updated thinking on what you see us doing. Amidst the complex, hybrid risks and threats that manifest today, we need better definition not just of Article 5 responses but of other circumstances that would cause NATO to deploy military forces. Your concept will give our military a new conceptual center of gravity, a “pivot point” as it adapts. With NATO facing global challenges, your military must be guided by a new Strategic Concept that permits NATO to respond proactively with international partners to restore stability, and not simply respond once a situation has gone critical or completely out of control, with all its inherent human and fiscal costs. And by acting proactively with international partners, NATO can help preempt heavy military options the Strategic Concept needs to incorporate in its thinking the changing character of war, while recognizing that the fundamental nature of war remains unchanged: a human endeavor fraught with peril, fear, passion and unpredictability.

The changing character of war demands − military forces capable of protecting human rights, − forces that can deploy and project an undeniably strong stabilizing influence in concert with civil agencies, − yet maintain its warfighting capability second to none.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need a new Strategic Concept that reconciles war’s grim realities with the human aspirations of our own people and the global audience. For the changing character of war in the information age will require military forces that recognize seizing or controlling terrain is:

  • secondary to protecting innocent lives, and that
  • capturing perceptions is the new “high Ground” in today’s conflicts, as the moral is to the materiel as three is to one...

So, our military must operate within a Strategic Concept that highlights the battle of the narrative, permitting our military to demonstrate both our values, and our Alliance’s determination to put its soldiers in harm’s way to uphold those values. Because our adversaries will always gravitate to what they perceive as our points of weakness, NATO cannot at this point in history surrender any part of the warfighting spectrum. Be they nuclear, conventional, or irregular threats, the threats must be addressed in this work or the concept will be incomplete and we could inadvertently encourage adversary attacks where we are least ready. Because surprise will remain a dominant factor in security matters, our new Strategic Concept must:

  • incorporate a modest expectation for predicting what the future holds, and it must
  • broadly guide our defense planners to ensure we do not adopt a single, preclusive view of warfare, which would likely leave our populations vulnerable to surprise.
  • we will need to determine from the Strategic Concept you draft what sort of operational shock absorber in our forces can best guard

Against the risks you anticipate and those we cannot anticipate, so we have the fewest regrets when surprise strikes.

The most likely risks and threats we face will not be successfully addressed by military means alone. The new Strategic Concept must shape how our alliance will address such challenges, in wars among the people. We must lay out how we will do so.

  • with our own military assets and
  • in partnership with other international and civic organizations,
  • in an operationally sustainable comprehensive approach on the battlefield/ humanitarian field.
  • the absence of alternatives has cleared military minds, and i hope political leadership minds are clear as well.

Recognizing that defending European territory under article 5 remains the core purpose, we must also recognize that in the globalized world, hybrid threats to our north atlantic interests and populations can originate in regions far beyond the geographic area of NATO.

The new Strategic Concept needs to establish expectations of deployability for our military forces. Whether it’s − to shift them within the alliance, to support a member nation, or to − deploy them out of area, − expectations of expeditionary forces need to be addressed in light of both territorial and out-of-area challenges. This is not an “either-or” option. Deployable forces are needed as much for indivisible defense at home as they are for expeditionary operations.
New areas of competition such as cyber and piracy have been discussed, and your military commanders will need to address them too within the concept that you create. Taken together, the Alliance will be confronted in new ways and in new domains, challenging our notion of what constitutes an article 5 attack.
The Strategic Concept will need to address the combination of purpose and capability in order to build the unity of our alliance in an international system of governance that finds itself at that crossroads.
While we cannot accurately predict the future, we must nonetheless anticipate the strategic context we will likely confront, compressing today’s complexity into the document and conveying clearly your intent.
In doing so, it will need to show how different parts of the security problem relate to one another to enable integrated solutions.
We must avoid having dominant but irrelevant forces designed for yesterday’s threats, but I reemphasize that we must avoid the pitfall of adopting a single view of future warfare, knowing the odds of predictability are against us getting it right.
Were I to sum up in one word what your military leaders need from a new Strategic Concept, it will not surprise you when I say “Clarity” because this is needed by everyone looking at NATO today, whether from inside or outside NATO, and not just by your military, for we live in complicated times.
Clarity of NATO’s purpose will

  • reassure like-minded nations who wish for stability
    • encouraging security cooperation with both traditional and non-traditional partners, and
  • clarity of NATO’s purpose, will caution our potential adversaries – the architects of chaos, because
    • the sure knowledge that we have the political will and the military means to defend our interests will temper our adversaries’ designs

Political clarity, matched by military and non­military capability

  • will lessen the chance of miscalculation by our enemies, and, in turn
  • lessen the chance for conflict

Clarity in our purpose, expressed in our new Strategic Concept,

  • will, in itself, bring a message of hope and stability to the world,
  • and clarity will clarify, for a new north atlantic generation, the relevance of nato in building a better future
  • and i believe we need the understanding and commitment to nato of a new generation of north atlantic leaders, drawn from our youthful populations, introduced by attuned leaders today.

In this regard, as important as any military force our alliance fields, clarity of political purpose will be the ultimate source of the north atlantic community’s persuasion and power.

Beyond these illustrative thoughts of my expectations, I would add one strong plea for our Secretary General and those of you involved in this important process: at the strategic level, political and military efforts are necessarily intertwined.

Political-military engagement in this process will be critical if we intend to achieve mutual appreciation of the security challenges and what we intend to do about them. Your military leaders must act as a bridge to maintain the linkage between your policy and military capabilities to support it. Matching your political ends to the military means, matching ends to means – is fundamental to a sound process to develop a relevant and viable Strategic Concept.

Harmonization of ends and means, of policy and strategy, is essential if nato is to act in concert in the future. This will require constant dialogue between civil and military authorities, a reciprocal process in which political and military leaders interact in a disciplined and comprehensive search for solutions, because it will fall to your military commanders to ultimately craft the development of military capabilities to meet your strategic expectations. So military expertise must be involved in drafting the new Strategic Concept to ensure a spirit of political-military collaboration, and to ensure that your political will is reflected in the forces we will together build to protect these democracies.

You will need competent, current and trusted military leaders of your choosing in your deliberations so we can craft the most resilient Strategic Concept, one that will result in effective, concerted action when you must commit us to active operations.
Including military expertise in the construction of the new Strategic Concept and any subordinate normative documents will gain you flexible, capable and determined forces able to apply military power ethically, representing the values we hold dear, built on unity of political and military purpose.

Secretary general, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your consideration.