Speech by Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee

at the 57th Annual Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Bucharest, Romania

  • 08 Oct. 2011 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 13 Oct. 2011 13:10

Mr. Chairman, Honourable President of the Assembly, Dr. Karl Lamers,
Honourable Members of this Assembly,

It is my pleasure, my privilege to be here today, so I thank you for your invitation, indeed.

The topic of today, as the Chairman said, is Libya, the implications for operations over Libya by the Alliance and there are many. But first of all, let’s think a moment, Operation Unified Protector, that is the name of the Alliance engagement in Libya, it is the first operation that has taken place after the Strategic Concept has been approved by the Heads of State and Government in Lisbon. So, we could think and say, the operation over Libya has also been the first application of that concept. So, this is a very important political meaning, I believe. But, there is another aspect, for the first time, we have been engaged in a part of the world, in this case, Libya which belongs to the area of the Mediterranean Dialogue. Libya was not and it is not yet a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue, still we have always been seen by our Mediterranean Dialogue partners with a certain, let’s say carefulness, I don’t want to say suspicion, let’s say carefulness. Engagement in that part the world was always considered very touchy, very sensitive, and very unlikely. Well, it happened, and it demonstrated we never get it right, when we make forecasts of what we are going to do, where we would intervene or would we not - we never get it right.

So, the first, I would say, political lesson that you have to extract from this is that we need mental and political agility because surprise will always come. We will never forecast exactly what is going to happen. So, we need the mental and the political agility to be able to respond to whatever crisis emerges, even when we’ve not predicted and normally we have never predicted crises. Did we predict that we were in Afghanistan in 2000? No, still we are in Afghanistan, after 10 years we are still there. And we are there, I would say, successfully. So, unpredictability is really, I would say, the key characteristic of the security environment nowadays. Therefore, the ability to adapt to this, to react to this, is fundamental; it is a political ability to react to this unpredictability.

Second, we have been engaged, we are still engaged in Libya, over Libya, in the name of the International Community, on the basis of the resolutions 1970 and 1973 more particularly. We have responded in an extraordinary fast-pace to the request of the International Community and, in particularly, on the basis of the Security Council resolution 1973 to protect, on behalf of the International Community, the Libyan people. So that resolution is not only fundamental for what it represents, but also because it has been one of the first cases, in which, the International Community, the United Nations has asked to all of us to act on their behalf to protect people from the actions of their own leadership. That is quite a remarkable resolution. Protection of the people is something now recognized as a value for the International Community, which can justify, in certain cases, also the use of military force. And, when that situation came up... Who intervened? This Alliance - it is quite remarkable, isn’t it? What is also remarkable, after resolution 1973 was passed on the 17 March, seven days from such an engaging resolution, the Alliance was able to react, to plan, to decide, to intervene. And, you know how difficult it is to decide for an Alliance of 28 members, where each member has the right to say its opinion, to achieve consensus. The Alliance works by consensus, it was enough that one nation would have said, “No” and we would not be there. So, building a consensus on such a sensitive issue, using military force over Libya, was quite a remarkable achievement in one week, and to do the planning while the political process was developing. In that same timeframe, we developed plans and we were able to also call for the forces. Because it’s not enough to make plans, you also have to call the forces to come, and then act. So, that is quite a remarkable achievement.

But there is another point. In this case, the decision was taken just to use airpower and maritime power. Maritime power for the arms embargo and airpower for the no-fly zone. I remind you that there were three key points of the resolution: arms embargo, no-fly zone, and protection of the civilians. Only air and maritime power, no ground forces, no boots on the ground.

Well, we have conducted, we are still conducting an operation with only the use of air and maritime power. As of today, we have flown over 25,000 sorties - I say again, 25,000 air missions over Libya. Of these 25,000 missions, over 10,000 have been Strike Missions, and by “Strike Missions” that means bombing, let’s call it what it is, with de facto zero casualties, zero civilian collateral damages. There has been one case, to my memory, in which one weapon has gone astray, and did not hit the target. But, it is not clear, and we say with full honesty, we don’t know where the weapon went. So, it may or may not have caused casualties, we don’t know. But one in 10,000, so when the Secretary General says that “it is an unprecedented, unbelievable precision” – well, I think he’s right. When we started this operation, no collateral damage and no civilian casualties was the must. And, when you say “no,” for all of us “no” means zero. Now, there is no perfection in human activity, no one is perfect, but if you look to the number, as we know it, not what Gaddafi propaganda was saying. If you look to the number, as we know it, only one case in 10,000 strikes -well, I think, we can say it is really zero. It’s as close as a human being can get to realizing the goal of zero casualties. This is remarkable.

The operation is still ongoing, two days ago the Ministers of Defence of the Alliance with their partners, so the Ministers of the coalition engaged over Libya, met in Brussels. And, they decided that the mission would continue until the need is no longer there. Clearly, the situation on the ground has changed dramatically. The situation on the ground is irreversible, that is for sure, so the operation is in a phase of winding down. But, we don’t know when the decision will be taken to terminate it because still there is the risk by pockets of resistance of Gaddafi forces to create threat and threaten the population. If you look at what is going on today, fundamentally, there are two main pockets of resistance, one in Sirte which has also a symbolic value because it was the home place of Gaddafi and Bani Walid. These are the two major strongholds where still some Gaddafi forces, limited, but very stubborn and very tough Gaddafi forces are exercising violence against their own people. As you know, as you see on the media, the people are trying to flee Sirte because they are in a dire situation.

Well, I cannot say when this will terminate although there was a general idea by the Ministers that we are getting very close to the end, but the decision, in the end, will be political. There will be an assessment by the Strategic Commander, by SACEUR, Jim Stavridis. But in the end, the decision will be based, yes on the military assessment of the Operational Commander and the Strategic Commander, but also on a number of political considerations, I think, including consultation with the United Nations and the National Transitional Council, which is the legitimate authority governing Libya today.

What are the implications and the lessons of the Libya operation for the Alliance, for this Alliance, for all of us? Well, there are operational lessons and political lessons. I personally feel more comfortable with the operational lessons, you can understand. But, you probably are more interested in the political lessons, I suppose. And that, maybe will come out in the discussion because after this introduction I will be available for discussion. I understand that we have plenty of time for discussing this.

Operational lessons, one is very important, NATO works! NATO works. I know there is nobody in this room that is not convinced of that, but outside of this room there may be many who would like to play the “death toll” for NATO. They would say, “NATO - sorry, time out.” No, NATO works. NATO works in a very adaptable, politically agile way, and we have responded to the international call for protecting people. And, I'm proud to say that only NATO could have done this. Only NATO, which is a standing organization, with strong political control and with strong effective military machinery, was able to put together a feat of such military force, and use it with such control. Political control always but such ability, precision, and determination. Within the limits, which were very strict, and rightly so, of the resolution. We have been working on a very tight boundary. It was not, “Okay, go to war. Fight, hit, destroy.” No, we were acting within precise limits of protecting the people. Don't allow any breach of the embargo from the maritime side, this was our part, so no arms coming in by the sea and ensuring there was no illegal air activity. And, we have done all this, we have been conducting control of the Libyan skies, Strike missions and maritime embargo, while at the same time, we have allowed an incredible amount of humanitarian activity to come in. During this period, as of today, over 1,600 humanitarian missions, by air and sea, mostly by air have taken place. So, all of this has been done, we have done an incredible job with incredible effectiveness.

So, NATO works! When the moment came to use, legitimately – in a legitimate way, the military force, only NATO could do it. And that, I think, is something you should be aware and proud of, and you should decide how to use this machinery, which is not only at the disposal of our collective security but is also at the disposal of the International Community for crisis management, for helping people, for helping resolve a situation. So, this is also a new demonstration of the Strategic Concept, when called for Crisis Management, Collective Security for sure and Cooperative Security, it really means that the Strategic Concept is visionary enough to be able to respond to crises that we will never predict. And I cannot predict what the next crisis will be or where it will be. What I can predict - that this Alliance will be capable to respond.

Second fundamental, I think, operational lesson - we could not do it, and actually we could not have done it without the engagement of the partners. And when I mean “partners,” I don't mean only the European partners like Sweden, which has been one partner, a very, very effective partner. But in this specific case, regional partners, Arab country partners - we're talking of Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Jordan. Bringing these partners together has been quite an achievement, we're talking about countries which up until yesterday were looking at us, as I said, with suspiciousness or with carefulness, with prudence. We have also had the political support of the vast majority of Arab countries, and by the Arab League. If there had not been a direct and indirect political support by the Arab League, we would not have done it because I'm sure the Council would not have decided to intervene. Politically, it would not have decided. Going back to the partners, and I know there is the Swedish delegation here… Bringing in Sweden is easy, very easy. Sweden could be a NATO country yesterday, not tomorrow, but this is another story. But bringing in an air operation, in a complex air and maritime operation, partners like Qatar, United Arab Emirates and working together – that, believe me, has been a very complex job. So we have, I think, to recognize the merit of the ability of our structure to react to the situation in an agile manner.

Third lesson, the Comprehensive Approach, you know that the Comprehensive Approach is the iconic word that dominates everything we do. We do everything in a Comprehensive Approach framework, which means, the “military tool is not the tool,” it is one tool within a broader context of actions. From the very beginning, there was a Comprehensive Approach in the sense that while we were conducting the military campaign, there was a political process ongoing, there were sanctions in place, and there was cooperation with the humanitarian organizations for bringing in humanitarian support. When we speak of 1,600 missions, we're not talking of just one organization, there were several different organizations. All Allies, all nations who wanted to come in and bring support. So, to organize the connection with them, and determine how to bring them in and how bring them out - that is the Comprehensive Approach, and that has been done.

But there are other lessons, more operational, which need to be drawn upon, that may be less positive but this is good because nobody is perfect, not even NATO is perfect. To conduct Operational Unified Protector, there have been a number of capacities that have been brought to bear by one Ally, by a single Ally. Although the majority of air operations; therefore, the air platforms have come from European Allies and Canada, certain key “enablers” have been provided by one Ally, one Ally only. And that is a weakness, because while we know that we can always count on that Ally, sometimes that Ally with his global responsibilities may also have difficulty in making available to NATO these capabilities. So, when you rely for certain key capacities, on one and only one Ally, that might create weakness in some situations. To fly over Libya, 25,000 air missions by over 200 aircraft - you need air refuelling, because to fly over continuously an area, you need somebody to refuel the aircraft and we are talking of a situation, in the end, where the Alliance had the fortune, the good chance to have certain air bases, mostly, from Italy and Greece very close. Even though we had quite good, close platforms from our air bases, in Italy and in Greece, still there was a lot of refuelling over the skies of Libya. And that refuelling has been, mostly by and large, provided by one nation, the United States of America. So this is something that we, all the rest of the Allies, need to work on.

Another key essential capacity is ISR - intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, persistent ISR is not enough. Persistent means you to have to be over the skies of Libya 24 hours a day for seven months now, every day, every night - controlling the airspace and what happens on the ground. If you want to have that incredible capacity to strike over 10,000 times without collateral damage, you need to have a persistent capacity to look at a target. First of all, find the target, then identify the target, then to ensure you can strike with precision without creating damage and finally do the strike. Well this means, we need constant persistent ISR, this is something, which also in this case, one Ally, by and large, has provided this capability. This is something that needs to be corrected.

There was another critical capability which was necessary, precision guided munitions. If you want to strike with precision and not just create damage, you need to have precision strike munitions. It is not just dropping a bomb, a 500 pound bomb. No, you need to strike with the right munitions, at the right point, at the right moment. Guided munitions are essential in this kind of mission. And we have not; we are not having, so far, any problems but certainly there were some nations with shortages filled in by other Allies. Which is, in a sense, good because it means, that we are a cohesive Alliance in which one partner, one Ally supports another one, even on a delicate issue like precision munitions. But, it also means that these munitions could be used, could be exchanged, and used among aircraft of different nations. This means there is interoperability, this means that the system works; we have standards which allow us to exchange munitions. But, at the same time, there were national shortages, so there is a need to give a look to this aspect.

And then, to conduct, I don't want to repeat myself, but so many air activities - day and night, you need very effective personnel. Because to conduct just one precision strike mission, you need a lot of people which work on the information that is coming from the persistent ISR- which read, look, control, check and eventually give the green light. You need people, specialized people who know how to do the targeting, and targeting and “targeteers” are not something that you buy at the supermarket. No, even many of the Allies do not have enough of this capacity. So, this is another, let's say, critical asset that we have to improve. So, these are, I would say, the lessons from an operational point of view.

Therefore, we will need to invest in training, you need to train people. You know that we are changing our command structure. We are making it smaller and we are making it leaner, but when you have a smaller, leaner, and agile Command Structure, with less people, you need 100 percent quality people, 100%. They must be the top, the very best. And, we need to work on training, including training in warfighting because if you are not able to train on warfighting and conduct warfighting when requested, you will not be able to accomplish the mission. That is why NATO can do it, but we have to do more, we have to do better with all our people, so training is fundamental.

Capability development, we have to learn from what I said just before and invest in the right capability. You are Parliamentarians; you know that we are living in a very difficult financial environment. You know what is going on in defence budgets throughout Europe but also in Canada and the United States for that matter. Therefore, it is essential that we really spend rightly, the money, our sovereign parliaments give to us. Spend better, means the right capability, for example the lesson from Libya tells us what capabilities we need. Spend together, because working together, we can achieve capability that many of us could not achieve alone. So, that is an important lesson for you, the members of this assembly and members of the Defence Committees in your countries, I suppose. You have to understand that we need to invest in the right capability, in a cohesive, coherent manner and togetherness, following the path that the Secretary General has labelled with the name “Smart Defence,” and that is what it is all about! Spend the money you have on the right capability in an effective way.

Now, what is the future? Well, first of all, we don’t know the impacts of the Arab awakening which is taking place. We don’t know. So, we need to be attentive, we need to try to understand. We don’t know if another Libya situation will emerge and even if it emerges, if we will be called upon. We don’t know, but we need to be ready. Certainly, the fact that over Libya, in Operation Unified Protector, we worked together with Arab countries from the region, possibly has changed the way those countries look at us. So, I see a serious prospect for a deep engagement with the countries from the Mediterranean Dialogue, with countries from the region, with countries from the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, and countries from the Gulf. There is now, probably, an opportunity because they will look at us, they are looking at us in a different light, and that is a political issue. So, we have now to invest in this relationship with the Arab countries, taking advantage of the change that is taking place in the Arab countries. To build a relationship, eventually that will become trust and confidence. And that is what the third mission of the Strategic Concept tells us, Cooperative Security. Cooperative Security means one thing, “My Security,” which you care about, is “Your Security,” which they care about. So, “Your Security” is mine and “My Security” is yours. Therefore, we have an opportunity to invest in these relationships. I think this is a very important lesson, a significant political lesson.

And the final thought I would like to exchange with you, we need to be open to the rest of the world. We live in a globalised world, NATO is not a global organisation but certainly an organisation with global concerns at the least. We have been conducting the Libyan operation, while at the same time, we are engaged in Afghanistan. Let’s say to simplify, with 150,000 men, with 150,000 men and 50 partners, in ISAF there are 50 partners. We were engaged and we are engaged in Kosovo with 38 partners at the same time. We are fighting piracy off the Somali Coast together with the European Union, with China, with Japan, with India and with Pakistan. At the same time, we are conducting the mission over Libya with our Arab partners. So, this is a tremendous engagement, but it also demonstrates the potential of having a network of relationships with global actors. This is what the Strategic Concept calls “global partnerships,” because global partnerships are something which help you prevent situations like Libya from happening, or when they happen, to intervene on behalf of the people, in the case of Libya together with our partners. So it is a key, I would say, the most important, probably the most innovative element of the new Strategic Concept, and it is a political concept, not a military one, the military helps and the military engages, but politics lead.

With that, I thank you for listening to me and I’m standing ready for your questions.