Updated: 06-Dec-2000 NATO Review

Web edition
Vol. 47 - No. 3
Autumn 1999
p. 8-11

The Washington Summit initiatives:
Giving NATO the "tools"
to do its job in the next century

Admiral Guido Venturoni
Chairman of the Military Committee

Admiral Venturoni updates reporters on the KFOR mission in Kosovo at NATO Headquarters on 30 June.
(Reuters photo 29Kb)

The initiatives taken at last April's Washington Summit, which are now being implemented, provide the "tools" the Alliance needs to undertake its new missions. While reaffirming its primary function of collective defence, Alliance leaders also endorsed NATO's new roles in crisis management and stability through partnership, as well as an initiative to facilitate greater effectiveness in multinational operations. Kosovo is the first to benefit from these initiatives, which hold the key to solving future security challenges in Europe.

"Give us the tools, and we will finish the job". Winston Churchill's famous words may have been spoken in completely different circumstances over 60 years ago, during the early days of the Second World War, but they aptly describe the sentiments of the Allied nations that came together at the Washington Summit earlier this year to endorse the new Strategic Concept for the Alliance. While the Kosovo crisis was far from an ideal backdrop to the Summit, nevertheless, some truly remarkable achievements were made in Washington. The basis for a new dynamic is evolving rapidly within the Alliance - and Kosovo is actually the first to benefit.

As the traditional concept of inter-state conflict between nations gives way to more urbanised, intra-state aggression, the Alliance continues to develop new ways to further peace, stability and security through international cooperation in crisis management. The Washington Summit signalled a new era in the conduct of NATO military operations. With broader perspectives and new initiatives, the tools needed to do the job are emerging and being moulded into shape by NATO.

As Chairman of the Military Committee - the link through which the political and military interests of the Alliance are brought to bear - I am currently focused on ensuring on the military side the successful outcome of a variety of initiatives stemming from the Washington Summit. After my first few months in office, I felt it timely to share my thoughts and views on the future of the Alliance with the wide readership of our flagship publication, NATO Review.

The Summit initiatives

This has been a crucial year for the Alliance. There are three new members, the growing prospect of peace in the Balkans, and a recent positive resumption in our relationship with Russia. But it is nevertheless from the Summit initiatives that we will draw perhaps the greatest inspiration for the future.

The new Strategic Concept, which was the cornerstone of the Summit, above all else confirms NATO's essential purpose: to safeguard the freedom and security of its members by both political and military means. This traditional stance has not changed, and collective defence, the transatlantic link and a stable security environment in Europe remain the key elements of the Alliance's military posture.

However, the Summit also laid the foundations for an Alliance policy for the expansion of stability through partnership and dynamic crisis management, which will be essential to the pursuit of peace, stability and security in the next century. While the security environment in the heart of Europe has matured considerably since the end of the Cold War, the peripheral areas of the Continent face an increasingly turbulent period. Instability is likely to increase, fuelled by increasing political and ethnic differences and the delusion among despots like President Slobodan Milosevic that intra-state rather than inter-state violence may provide a means to an end. For these reasons, many nations have placed, and are continuing to place, their trust in the increasing political and military strength of the Alliance.

NATO's power has always resided with the individual member nations. Working through the consultation mechanism to achieve consensus, the decision-making process of the Alliance is impressive. Within these member states, military forces have traditionally played an important role in ensuring a strategic balance in Europe. However, the Washington Summit has now launched the Alliance into a new era. The new initiatives provide fresh impetus for the member nations, are destined to interest an even wider range of partners and nations, and will hopefully convince former rivals of the mutual benefits to be gained through joint missions and cooperative projects.

The new Strategic Concept

The new Strategic Concept that came out of the Washington Summit recognises that maintaining a strategic balance is no longer paramount in the current security environment. In framing our future defence needs, we will continue to move away from the old planning tools of strategic parity, concentrating instead on the functional characteristics and 'sufficiency' in military force needed for credible deterrence and timely and effective crisis management.

German KFOR armoured vehicles patrol the centre of Prizren, Kosovo, on July 16, providing an example of the new types of missions the Alliance may take on in future.
(Reuters photo 59Kb)

NATO's military intervention in Kosovo has shown that amid the sometimes conflicting motivations of the common good and individual nations' self-interest, NATO has the potential to be a catalyst for progress beyond its traditional role of collective defence. I believe that collective defence balanced with comprehensive crisis management - in other words, blending self-defence with crisis force projection - is the key new dynamic resulting from the Washington Summit. Much remains to be done and the Alliance may not yet have all the answers, but the crucial, initial building blocks were put in place at the Washington Summit. Kosovo is the proof that it is possible to generate the common will to achieve this goal.

The Strategic Concept also outlines the requirement for future Alliance military operations, including crisis management responses in non-Article 5(1) situations. The actions to plan for are likely to be on a smaller scale than the scenarios envisaged during the Cold War. But they may last longer, in some cases require greater cooperation at lower levels of responsibility, and take place concurrently with other operations. This change in the way the Alliance expects to work makes crucial new demands on military forces and, specifically, the force structures that sustain them.

The requirement to react with joint forces simultaneously in a variety of theatres has already been partly addressed with the advent of the new Command Structure, which provides for regional commands and flexible joint operations. However, the need to satisfy force levels and bring force structures into line, so that we are able to react efficiently and effectively, remains the highest priority for the Military Committee.

The Defence Capabilities Initiative

The Defence Capabilities Initiative (DCI) - another innovation of the Washington Summit which aims to enhance NATO's military capability - was a breakthrough for the Alliance. It will spearhead greater effectiveness in future multinational operations and will permeate through the full spectrum of Alliance missions. It will encourage cooperation at lower levels of responsibility and place a special focus on interoperability between Alliance, Partner and other nations as they operate in the field, whether it be in collective defence or in crisis response operations such as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, or elsewhere. Operation Allied Force, the air campaign directed against Milosevic's forces, showed that the military does have the potential to manage difficult, politically sensitive crises. Including Partners and non-Allied nations at every step of the way in the search for solutions to the Kosovo crisis also set a new benchmark for international cooperation.

But combining languages and cultural diversity under one banner presents considerable challenges to the Alliance. Procedures need to be developed to provide greater interoperability at a tactical level. Maintaining interoperability of Allied forces in an era of rapid technological change is one of the purposes of DCI. KFOR is already showing that this is possible.

Greater cooperation, in particular between governmental and non-governmental organisations, is also essential to achieve complex military goals. These can only be achieved within the framework of a clear political strategy that draws together many diverse strands of activity, both civil and military, which need to operate freely at a tactical level.

Facilitating European military operations

"The decision-making process of the Alliance is impressive." Here, an extraordinary session of the North Atlantic Council in joint foreign and defence ministers session takes place at NATO Headquarters on 18 June to consult on the situation in Kosovo.
(NATO photo 44Kb)

Special prominence was given at the Summit to the realisation that the Alliance must further adapt itself to the exigencies of a new security environment, especially in Europe. With the realities of Kosovo unfolding in the background, Allied leaders agreed to move forward and develop the core values of an increasingly flexible defensive posture, which would be able to react more swiftly to non-Article 5 crisis management needs. This capability - which is at the heart of the concept for a European Security and Defence Identity - is based on a re-balancing of the transatlantic relationship. It will offer the prospect of effective European-led operations, supported by selected elements of NATO assets and infrastructure.

The new NATO Command Structure and the implementation of the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) concept will be among the military tools which provide the basis for this initiative. While much work remains, the most important hurdle is to muster the politico-military will within Europe to focus nations on a unified approach to collective defence and crisis management. This is vital if the transatlantic link is to be enhanced, and nations are to be able to provide a green light for European military operations, in which the Alliance may not be engaged as a whole.

In other areas, as well as broadening our technical infrastructure, such as secure integrated computer networks, moves toward a common NATO policy on training and evaluation are planned. We need to understand that more exercises do not necessarily lead to better training for our forces, and that ways must be found to improve work practices and make more efficient use of manpower.

In the area of intelligence gathering, NATO - which has few intelligence assets of its own and is already dependent on its member nations for intelligence contributions - must solicit its members for considerably more input than previously. This implies the acquisition of additional intelligence platforms to complement the concept of Alliance Ground Surveillance, which provides seamless in-depth surveillance at the strategic, operational and tactical levels.

NATO has the tools to do the job

Multinational troops stand to attention at the opening ceremony of Exercise Cooperative Assembly at Rinas airport in Albania last year.
(NATO photo 49Kb)

All these Washington Summit initiatives stand to improve our crisis management capabilities. I view the developments stemming from the Summit with considerable optimism. They will lead to progress in force planning, changes to force structures and a re-balancing of force levels, which will ensure that member nations are able to confront future threats to their collective defence, while remaining responsive and alert to the requirements of effective crisis management. From a military standpoint the new Strategic Concept is a bold step forward and - with the experience gained by the conflict in Kosovo - will ensure that NATO has the wherewithal to evolve and to remain adequately equipped to cope with future risks.

On the ground, numerous challenges face KFOR and it is likely that the nature of the force will change, as it steadily transforms itself from an Alliance force into an international military enterprise. Already, 39 nations including Russia are participating in KFOR, and more nations outside NATO are offering assistance: evidence that the building blocks of a truly international endeavour are firmly in place.

It is encouraging that these developments were broadly envisaged prior to Washington. The Summit decisions aim to equip NATO for the present and future challenges of an uncertain security environment, and the Allies have defined the "tools" for the achievement of its missions. Now, we must ensure their delivery and get on with the job of moving the Alliance into the twenty-first century.


  1. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty refers to collective defence.