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General Sir Rupert Smith: DSACEUR

Since November 1998, General Sir Rupert Smith has been Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. One of the most outstanding officers of his generation, he became DSACEUR after commanding the British Army in Northern Ireland between 1996 and 1998 and UNPROFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995. He leaves SHAPE in September and will retire early in 2002.

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NATO Review: Can soldiers be both warriors and peacekeepers?

General Sir Rupert Smith: A soldier is a warrior. He is no good as a soldier unless he is a warrior. The purpose to which you put your soldier covers a range of activities, including peacekeeping.

NR: What are appropriate activities for peacekeepers to be involved in?

RS: This depends upon the nature of the peace you are trying to keep, who is breaking the peace and the level of force you need to bring to bear to create the conditions you have been sent to create. If you are facing a fully armed enemy deploying a fully organised army, then you have to produce a similar capability. If you are facing the occasional armed man, then it is clearly inappropriate to be using more force than necessary to achieve your aims.

NR: What sort of force do you believe would have been appropriate to employ during the Bosnian war and do you feel that you were able to employ that force?

RS: The forces deployed by the United Nations were not there either to keep the peace, enforce the peace or be peacekeepers. They were there to protect the convoys of aid being delivered to non-combatants. In most cases, this aid was delivered successfully. When their mandate was expanded to protect what came to be known as the "safe areas", they were less successful, though they still managed to get aid into those enclaves. However, when it came to deterring further attacks on the "safe areas", without any potential use of force other than calling on NATO for air strikes, they failed and it took some time to gather together sufficient forces with the necessary capabilities to take more forceful measures.

NR: Should soldiers be deployed with the kind of mandate that the UN forces had during the Bosnian war, or should a more robust mandate be established before troops are deployed?

RS: You can deploy forces with such a mandate provided that is what you want them to do. What you must not do is to decide at a later stage that you want them to do something else, without equipping them and giving them sufficient rules of engagement to carry out that task. This was demonstrably the case with the "safe areas" in Bosnia, where the idea was to deter further incursions into those enclaves but the forces to achieve that were inadequate.

NR: What strategy will generate results in complex situations, such as Bosnia?

RS: If you wish to use force to help arrive at a resolution of a conflict, it must be employed in support of a political process. The prospect of the use of force and the political process must run in parallel, and not be treated as linear processes. The events of 1995 in Bosnia are a good example of a number of actors pulling in the same direction at the same time. Richard Holbrooke was pursuing a diplomatic solution, which led eventually to the Dayton Agreement, and force was being used to complement the negotiations, although this was more by seizing opportunities than by planning.

NR: You have been involved in the Balkans in both a NATO and a UN capacity. How has this shaped your views about the respective roles of these two organisations?

RS: I don't find it useful to compare the two because they are different organisations. NATO has a limited membership. It is regional. It is organised and equipped to do one thing, which is to fight. The nations which are members of NATO are on the whole confident of the North Atlantic Council's political direction of their forces. On the other hand, the United Nations has all nations in it, or very nearly all. It has a global responsibility as opposed to a regional responsibility. It is the legal authority for much of what we do and it encompasses a wide range of difficult tasks other than that of fighting.

NR: What ingredients do you consider critical to the success of the NATO-led operations in the Balkans and to peacekeeping operations in general?

RS: NATO can only achieve success in peacekeeping operations on the most limited of scales because all NATO can do is provide the conditions in which success might be found. It is with the other agencies, those that build nations, reform institutions, rescue and rehabilitate peoples, and so forth, where success is to be found.

NR: What benchmarks should be in place for there to be a reduction in the size of the peacekeeping missions?

RS: Judgements have to be made about the prospects of fighting starting again as well as the state of other institutions, such as a well-developed police force and a judicial system, all of which must be trusted by the local population. In the wake of civil strife, the failure of internal government and the breakdown of trust between ethnic groups, the benchmarks to look at are the status and activities of the agencies which caused the fighting in the first place. Have they been neutralised by your presence? Have you either got rid of them or reformed them? Have you either rebuilt them to make them of value or have you replaced them and produced something else in their stead? As the risk of fighting breaking out again diminishes, you can reduce the deterrent presence on the ground. However, this is not a quick process.

NR: How can soldiers best be prepared for missions such as SFOR and KFOR? And where does the work of a soldier end and that of a policeman begin?

RS: I will start with the second question because it helps answer the first. The primary business of a soldier is to kill his opponent. That is why he is there and why we deploy him. The policeman's primary purpose is to arrest the wrong-doer and see to a successful prosecution. Those are two very different functions. Of course, the soldier can help the policeman, by providing information, even by guarding the policeman so that he can carry out his functions. But in the end, he is not a policeman. In the same way, the policeman is not imposing his will or the law by force. He imposes the law by the deterrence of a successful prosecution. And there is the difference between the two. So in these circumstances, it is well to remember that difference because it tells you what you have to prepare your soldier for. He has, first and foremost, to be capable of using his weapons. But his next step is to be able to support that policeman in the circumstances of that community. So he has to understand that community. He has to be able to operate at a low level, making what are probably greater and more complex decisions than he would have to make in a conventional battle. Lastly, he must be in a position to gather the information that supports the policeman in his work. Otherwise, you do not grow the police force you need to replace your soldier.

NR: Militaries have become involved in many aspects of reconstruction in the Balkans. What lessons do you draw from your experience of the Bosnia and Kosovo missions? And how can civil-military relations best be coordinated?

RS: We use soldiers, particularly engineers, to carry out reconstruction tasks. Some of these tasks are appropriate for the military to do. For example, with the possible exception of one or two non-governmental organisations, we probably have the greatest expertise in areas such as mine clearance. That said, using military engineers to build schools is probably valid in the early stages of an operation. But, once matters have progressed, such reconstruction is taking the possibility of generating work away from the local population and is no way to build a new society. Some senior engineers may be needed to supervise local construction work to start with but, even then, they should not stay for long because their presence would be stopping the evolution of a society. Coordinating such work with the civil agencies charged with reconstruction requires some form of central civil administration, whether it's the local government or some imposed administration such as is the case with the United Nations in Kosovo, and then it should be clear who is supporting whom in each particular case.

NR: How do you envisage a future European rapid reaction force operating? Under what circumstances might it act independently of NATO?

RS: I see a European rapid reaction force operating in much the same way as a NATO one. The countries providing the forces are in most cases the same and I don't see any great difficulty. In the event of a crisis in the European region, a debate would have to take place between NATO and the European Union. The merits of who took what action would have to be discussed before deciding which institution should take the lead. The exact circumstances as to who would have the lead would vary according to the crisis.

NR: Although you are a long way from the normal retirement age, you will leave the military early next year. What challenges do you anticipate taking up in your retirement?

RS: The challenges will find me. They always have.

Read more: SACEUR, peacekeeping
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