Friis Arne Petersen and Hans Binnendijk argue that the Bucharest Summit could be the right stage for taking the next step towards better civilian-military cooperation.

Developing a Comprehensive Approach to civil-military cooperation represents one of the major challenges facing the Alliance today. Afghanistan remains the clearest illustration of that.

The question is no longer one of whether NATO needs such an approach but rather defining the content.

This is no easy task in view of the complexity of the concept. A lot more work is needed to forge a common understanding on the scope, nature and direction of the Alliance’s Comprehensive Approach. The Bucharest Summit will be another important stepping stone in this process.

As a supplement to the formal NATO track, it is important we continue the informal dialogue, exchange of ideas and collection of lessons learned on NATO’s civil-military cooperation. As a contribution to the transatlantic discussion, two workshops were held in Washington DC, co-hosted by the Embassy of Denmark and the National Defense University’s Center for Technology and National Security Policy.

Let's see how comprehensive we can make this... A Spanish project in Afghanistan designed to improve water supplies shows the way by involving aid agencies, the Spanish military, the Afghan military and local workers
© NOMAD Photos

The events brought together practitioners, academics and diplomats from both sides of the Atlantic, addressing the broader parameters of civil-military cooperation as well as specifics on NATO’s cooperation with international organizations. The following points build on the many useful ideas and proposals for a NATO Comprehensive Approach generated through this process.

As a starting point, five propositions frame any reflection on this challenge for the Alliance:

  • NATO forces are engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan right now. To achieve victory, the Alliance must have a Comprehensive Approach to civil-military operations encompassing its own resources, its cooperation with the international community, and most importantly its work with the Government of Afghanistan. This is not a debate for tomorrow; it is a requirement today.

  • NATO cannot be successful in achieving Allies’ agreed political goals in an operation without well-coordinated civil-military capabilities throughout the campaign.

  • Well-coordinated capabilities must be planned and exercised; they require integrated training. Best practices and lessons learned must update training and education programmes to be understood and employed. They cannot be achieved through ad hoc methods.

  • Thus far, as an Alliance we have not found the path to go beyond ad hoc. However, that has and continues to cost Allies in wasted resources, and longer deployments.

  • As we look to the future, we see more complex missions for NATO, whether they are led or supported by the Alliance. Even as we conclude and implement proposals on a Comprehensive Approach, greatly increased energy should be devoted to knitting together integrated civil-military operations from the field to the school house and the exercise arena. Improving NATO’s capability for working with others actors such as the EU and the UN is critical in this context.

This is not a debate for tomorrow; it is a requirement today.

There are two distinct but related asset pools for preparing NATO as an organization to work closely on a Comprehensive Approach - military forces and critical civilian capabilities. Both are indispensable if NATO, internally and with partners, is to achieve optimum civil-military teamwork.

First, NATO commands must determine the military resources necessary to achieve initial stability and the return of essential services in the immediate wake of military operations. These are assets such as military police, CIMIC (Civil Military Cooperation), construction engineers and military medical personnel. These forces have the mission to move into areas in the wake of conflict and work with combat forces that are still securing the area. They must provide public security, temporary governance and the most basic of services. These forces must be culturally aware and accustomed to working with both traumatized populations and civilian actors, including NGOs that may already be in the conflict area.

Second, NATO military organizations at all levels must be able to prepare and conduct integrated military-civil missions, including through two-way, co-equal organizational interfaces. This requires pre-established information sharing, comprehensive planning methods, role integration and ultimately operational support. Military support to civil agencies can be extensive and generally requires resources (vehicles, shelter, communications, security, supplies, etc) in excess of the kit required by the military unit alone. Joint pre-mission exercises and training are key to ensuring common understanding of the different organizations’ approaches, cultures and objectives.

In Stabilization and initial Reconstruction (S&R) missions, where the military and civilians will integrate closely, NATO forces should elaborate mission requirements to address four areas:

  • The military must provide a secure environment for the conduct of civilian stability operations.

  • The security force must protect the victims of conflict as much as they seek to neutralize perpetrators of unlawful violence.

  • The military will be required to provide both physical security and logistical support to deployed civilians, and to conduct humanitarian or reconstruction operations.

  • Military planning must retool to provide capability for integrated civil-military planning.

NATO has its Defence Planning Process (DPP) to develop force requirements for military operations. However, the DPP process has not expanded to develop comprehensive civil-military requirements.

First, the DPP should identify military capabilities to be deployed along with initial combat forces for immediate post-conflict stability operations.

Second, it should develop stand alone S&R packages for non-combat contingencies. With these plans NATO can track force generation of S&R assets in the same way as combat assets.

There is also no DPP equivalent to muster and manage necessary civilian resources. These need not be owned by NATO, but could come from several sources (as described below). However, NATO political and military leaders need to know in advance what civil resources they can plan on, their readiness level and capabilities, and what support they will require from the deployed military units.

Civilian capabilities that might be integrated with military capabilities can come from two broad sources.

First, they can come from NATO Allies’ and partners’ national assets. In fact, as with military assets, so too with civilian - the preponderance of capabilities are owned by nations. These include capabilities such as interagency departments of member governments. Contractor support has also become a large factor in national support. If this is indeed to be the primary and most dependable source for embodiment of a Comprehensive Approach, there is reason to consider establishing a modest NATO capacity to coordinate national contribution and planning efforts.

Second, civilian support can and usually does come from a host of international organizations, both nongovernmental and multinational, many with specialized and highly desirable skills. Key organizational partners for NATO are well known: the UN, EU, and OSCE. Other potential partners include regional organizations and major NGOs such as the Red Cross.

Mutual support and communication is one of the key tenets of getting the most out of a comprehensive approach © NOMAD Photos

When working with these organizations, a memorandum of understanding to enable planning and capacity development should – as far as possible – be agreed upon well in advance, in addition to crisis-specific work from the earliest stages in the pre-deployment planning phase. Most operations have a dearth of civilian resources, and military commanders are eager to partner with any quality civil resource. That calls for cooperation with national and international partners, both nongovernmental and multilateral. For any civilian-military cooperation, institutional liaison is essential at the operational and tactical levels, and ideally at the strategic level as well.

Unfortunately, unlike military capabilities, civilian resources are rarely available and ready on the massive scale required for deployment to current crises. It can take considerable time to identify and deploy necessary civilian resources. Allies should consider organizing a standing civilian corps for international crisis response. Such a capability could be used under NATO or the EU so long as it was available to both organizations. Merely compiling a list of volunteers and skills is not sufficient. These resources should be afforded specialized education and exercise opportunities that expose them to the operational environment they will have to manage.

Any Comprehensive Approach to civil-military cooperation must address the justice, rule of law and governance sector. Without a systematic effort in this field, securing a sustainable transition to post-conflict development and reconstruction has proven to be extremely difficult.

Another challenge to be overcome in building an integrated comprehensive capability is the task of communicating across dissimilar cultures.

Critical to this is addressing the problem of organized crime that often fills the gaps in governance in the immediate aftermath of major combat. Civilian capabilities must take the lead in dealing with this pervasive de-stabilizing menace. That requires specialized advanced intelligence planning and continued access to information both from international law enforcement and from local governments. In turn the military must be tied closely to the information flow on criminal activity and enforcement actions in their operational area.

Another critical civilian task in crises resolution is police training. Here again, close coherence of civil and military efforts is key to operational effectiveness. Justice and rule of law could be an area suitable for enhanced cooperation between NATO and EU, for example through the establishment of joint centres of excellence with a view to enhancing transatlantic thinking and developing common strategies, based on lessons learned, on how to solve this difficult challenge in future peace missions.

Another challenge to be overcome in building an integrated comprehensive capability is the task of communicating across dissimilar cultures. Just as NATO’s many militaries have cultural differences, so too each civilian organization has a unique culture. Operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo experienced hard communication stovepipes among organizations that proved difficult to breech. For civilian organizations working with a strong, large and ever-present military organization, individuality is important. NGOs are special organizations with cultures of strict impartiality that are essential to self-protection and effectiveness. The military should do nothing in word or deed to compromise NGOs’ impartiality.

Any Comprehensive Approach to civil-military cooperation must address the justice, rule of law and governance sector.

To break down barriers between military and civilian partners, NATO must engage in integrated training, educating, exercising, and planning for military and civilian personnel who may be operating together. It also needs to emphasize as a top priority the imperative to share information laterally as well as vertically across the network.

In preparing for working with other organizations, four points should be agreed:

  • Autonomy of decision making and action. This does not preclude close consultations or reaching prior agreements and understandings, either informally or formally, as by memorandum of agreement.

  • The related principles of unity of effort and unity of command are crucial. In most situations closely integrated civil-military operations are the only path to success.

  • There is a single pool of both civilian and military resources among Allies and partner nations for operations. These assets overwhelmingly belong to nations who commit them to organizations such as the EU, NATO or the UN. Enhancing the capabilities of these forces helps all organizations.

  • Putting a capability in one inter-organizational channel or mechanism does not preclude putting it in another. The standard is simply effectiveness. NATO may need to invest in some limited capability not least to complement or work with the EU where practical.

The most potent civil-military organizations for transatlantic cooperation are the EU and NATO. In response to unfolding or extant crises in Bosnia, Kosovo and now Afghanistan, these two organizations have created “on-the-spot” provisions to work together. A far better approach is to plan ahead for cases where NATO-EU cooperation is in order. There is potential in the coming year or two for major strides on several interrelated efforts, including maturing EU preparations for military and civil missions, full integration of NATO’s own capacities, and a mechanism to coordinate expeditious planning and decision making between them.

Some initiatives both NATO and the EU can pursue to help realize these goals might include:

  • Continue strengthening ESDP (European Security and Defence Policy) where practical.

  • Seek Allied acceptance of ways to renovate the effectiveness and timeliness of NATO’s political decision making processes, formally and/or informally

  • Further rationalize the NATO command structure to accommodate participation by France and for more optimal command and control, including for a Comprehensive Approach, at all levels.

  • Synergize a Comprehensive Approach to capabilities and operations, both internally and through NATO-EU structures, such as a standing NATO-EU planning group.

  • Consider establishment of a transatlantic framework for civil-military cooperation to systematically collect experiences, to develop common concepts, and to conduct training and exercises for officials and military staff engaged in reconstruction and development in peace missions.

These steps, if pursued in parallel, could over time allow an evolution that would strengthen both NATO and the EU, and appeal to the interests of all Allies. A fundamental ingredient for its success would be for all Allies to embrace the broadened range of NATO capabilities and roles in practice – most of which Heads of State have already agreed in principle to give the Alliance.

What can be concluded from this brief essay on the real civil-military capabilities that operate within the Comprehensive Approach concept is that prior, civil-military integrated planning and coordination is essential to achieving and maintaining early post-conflict success and setting the optimum conditions for a return to normality. NATO has been engaged for more than 12 years in crisis response to defend the interests of the people of NATO, and these missions show no sign of abating.

The more effective the civil-military team, the quicker the operation moves to subsequent phases and ultimately its culmination and drawdown, reducing deployment times, costs and casualties, both civilian and military. There is a compelling case for a standing NATO capability and agreements for advanced planning and more effectively integrated civilian-military teams.

With that in mind, NATO should re-double its efforts to move beyond the current limited ad hoc arrangements, and take another step at Bucharest to ensure that the Comprehensive Approach initiative moves closer to a Comprehensive Capability.