Updated: 08-May-2002 NATO Speeches

11 June 1998

Shaping NATO to meet
the Challenges of the 21st Century

by Secretary of Defense William Cohen
at the NATO Defense Planning Committee

  • As Defense Ministers we are grappling individually with how best to prepare our militaries for the 21st century.

  • But before we delve into the details of modernization or force structure, we need to be sure that we have a shared assessment of the pending challenges and a shared vision of how to shape the Alliance to meet those challenges.


  • Without a doubt, collective defense will remain the Alliance's core function in the 21st century. That said, NATO operations in Bosnia are a prime example of the new missions that NATO must also be prepared to undertake. Such missions relate directly to protecting the security of Alliance members by bolstering stability in Europe where conflict involving new members threatens adverse consequences on Allies themselves.

  • IFOR and SFOR have two fundamental characteristics we may expect to find in future missions. First, the increasing involvement of Partners. NATO-led PfP operations will be the operational coalitions of the future.

  • Second, defense of the Alliance's vital security interests may result in operations outside of the territory of Alliance member states - like Bosnia. This, in turn, means operations that place additional stress on our communication and sustainment capabilities. One only has to look to our day-to-day operations in Bosnia to know this will be true.

  • Bosnia has allowed us to learn as an Alliance what we as individual nations have learned through our participation in UN missions throughout the world and through our participation in operations like Desert Storm - and indeed in all our national operations. When you conduct an operation at a distance -- even a small distance -- deficiencies in mobility, communications, and sustainment become more than minor inconveniences -- they become fatal impediments to mission success.


  • Our second defense planning challenge is to sustain the ability of the Alliance to conduct a wide range of military operations at a time of rapid technological change, against a backdrop of unpredictable and multidirectional threats.

  • In the U.S. we have just begun thinking through how to use advances in information management and technical innovations to meet the challenges posed by regional and ethnic conflicts, biological and chemical weapons, and terrorism, to name a few.


  • In the face of our conventional military superiority, hostile states have acquired biological and chemical weapons as asymmetrical means to offset our strengths. The 21st Century will see a continuation of the threats to European security posed by these weapons. We must ensure that Alliance defense planning takes full account of the risks posed by biological and chemical weapons to our ability to perform combat and logistics operations, and to protect our populations.

  • In particular, the Alliance must address the dangers posed by states possessing increasingly long-range and accurate ballistic and cruise missiles. Potentially hostile states are acquiring the means to range much of Europe and hold our deployed forces at risk, and they are doing so much more rapidly than many estimated would be the case.


  • In the future, NATO will rely on national forces with different types of equipment and capabilities and somewhat different approaches to military operations. This diversity can be managed. However, those forces must be able to operate together. In a military context increasingly dominated by information this requires in particular, better interoperability in gathering and distributing data among sensors, shooters and commanders.

  • There are a range of responses available to the Alliance to meet these challenges through deliberate and thoughtful adaptation.

  • Let me outline for you U.S. ideas on how to address them in a practical way.

  • These responses fall into two general categories: Interoperability or Force Compatibility Initiatives and Conceptual Guidance Initiatives.

  • I believe there are six priorities essential to preparing this Alliance for the next century: communication; sustainment; doctrine; information assurance; biological, chemical and missile defense; and CJTFs. In addition, there are two guidance priorities that we must get right: future Ministerial Guidance and the Strategic Concept.


  • Our current force goals have begun to address the interoperability shortfalls identified in Bosnia. For example, when we started IFOR, units from different nations could not talk to one another because of incompatible equipment.

  • Now we are addressing such shortfalls through force goals such as the one for Alliance Deployable Communications Modules. This goal establishes three different deployable communication modules that are to be standardized by 1999. If all countries meet this force goal, the Alliance will greet the 21st century with an improved ability to communicate.

  • Our Ministerial Guidance should continue to move us toward greater C4I interoperability by requiring: common standards and architectures; procurement of more commercial off-the-shelf products; and compatible protection from electronic intrusions.

  • The goal should not be for individual nations to buy specific equipment. Indeed, we have to recognize that complete commonality of equipment simply will not happen, and therefore cannot be the solution. Instead, we must strive for compatibility between our respective systems and capabilities so we can talk with one another and share information in future military missions.


  • Bosnia also demonstrated that operations seldom last for only thirty days. When forces are away from home for extended periods of time there is a premium on resupply operations. In some cases there is a premium on basic issues like ensuring that soldiers from over two dozen countries show up with the appropriate clothing for the weather conditions.

  • Resupply is as much a matter of information and organization, as of material or even transport.

  • The commander of future Alliance operations needs to know precisely what assets are available, where shortfalls must be remedied, and the fastest way to get supplies where he needs them when he needs them.

  • Accordingly, the refinement of a flexible and responsive NATO automated logistics data system should be one of our top priorities.

  • We should strive to attain a NATO based open-architecture for information technologies by the end of 1999 so that we may enter the 21st century better able to sustain an operation like IFOR or SFOR. Such an architecture would allow us manage information concerning resupply in the way that WalMart routinely monitors its inventory and FedEx routinely tracks its packages.


  • Technology is a means, not an end. If we are to truly take advantage of the opportunities offered by advances in technology for meeting future threats, we will also have to change the way we organize and operate our forces. This will require adapting our doctrine and operational concepts.

  • In the U.S., each of our Services has been experimenting with new operational concepts and organizational structures. But we are only beginning to think about how to proceed in joint operations (involving more than one Service, as well as other government and non-government agencies) and combined operations (involving more than one country).

  • I recently designated the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command (who is also SACLANT) as the Executive Agent for joint concept development and joint experimentation. A major factor in the selection of Atlantic Command was their history of working on interoperability and training for combined operations.

  • I know that a number of my colleagues around this table are going through a similar process. As we transform our national forces for the 21st Century, we need to ensure we are all transforming towards compatible, if not similar goals.

  • True "force compatibility" requires not just compatible national doctrines, but the development and refinement of an Alliance doctrine that takes into account the new security environment and the ongoing transformation of our forces and the special challenges of multi-national operations.

  • Given that we (and other allies) are at the earliest stages in our thinking on these matters, now is the time for Alliance consultation, so that we can develop concepts collaboratively.

  • As an initial step, I would like to invite my colleagues to send representatives to a conference the U.S. will host this autumn to facilitate the sharing of ideas concerning concept development and joint warfighting experimentation as well as larger issues associated with true "force compatibility." We will provide further details on the conference through the U.S. Mission.


  • As we build the arch to the 21st century, the CJTF concept will be the keystone. The promise of CJTF is flexibility and organization. It will be the unifying concept for enabling the Alliance to respond and organize for both collective defense and "new" mission requirements.

  • As the capstone, the CFTF concept will hold at least three elements in place:

  • It provides the basis for separable but not separate forces and capabilities in support of a viable European Security and Defense Identity securely anchored in NATO.

  • It will facilitate operations with Partners. Partners filled nine positions on the CJTF headquarters staff during Exercise Strong Resolve 98. These were not mere observers but officers who were fully involved, working side-by-side with their NATO counterparts.

  • It will provide an ideal opportunity to engage Russia - building on the record of cooperation in Bosnia. We should seek Russia participation in future CJTF operations. In this respect, I welcome the IS briefing on the CJTF trials in tomorrow's PJC.

  • I look forward to the Combined Joint Planning Staff's July report on the recent CJTF implementation trials and hope that it integrates important lessons learned from our experiences in Bosnia.

  • As an aside, I note that one of the trials was preceded by a computer simulation exercise - UNIFIED ENDEAVOR -- which prepared commanders and staffs from Allied and Partner nations for the CJTF field trial. Some found the computer simulation more rigorous than the actual field trial and others have commented that they cannot imagine ever conducting a major field exercise without a computer simulation first.

  • UNIFIED ENDEAVOR demonstrated the enabling capacity of readily available computer technology to conduct exercises for a fraction of the cost of field exercises. By participating through a distributed network at a computer terminal located in their national headquarters, for appropriate exercises, Allies and Partners can save significant resources.


  • Technological change is a double-edged sword. While advances in information technology will greatly enable our abilities to control and sustain operations, our increasing reliance on information technology creates a new vulnerability.

  • Recent intrusions and disruptions to information systems have provided us with an urgent wake-up call.

  • In response, I sent Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre to NATO headquarters and to several Europeans capitals, to share this experience and invite the Alliance to collaborate on ways to address this growing, common problem. I am sending him to more European capitals later this month to continue the dialogue.

  • We need to develop the capability to protect our systems from electronic intrusions while ensuring the availability and credibility of the information in those systems. Information assurance must become an Alliance defense planning priority.

  • Given the nature of networks, a vulnerability in one country can easily create a vulnerability in other countries as well. So information assurance cannot be handled on a national basis. It must be addressed collaboratively.


  • The dual edged sword of technology also means the advances that are overcoming disease can also threaten us by what has been called the "11th Plague".

  • We must continue making progress to intensify and expand the Alliance's defense initiative against biological and chemical weapons risks, which our Heads of State and Government launched at the 1994 Brussels Summit.

  • Based on the recommendations of the Senior Defense Group on proliferation, NATO is developing the capabilities, doctrine, and plans to effectively deal with these weapons. Much work remains to improve our biological and chemical defenses and counterforce capabilities.

  • In the U.S., President Clinton has personally made this an urgent priority, given the vulnerability of our forces and, especially our publics.

  • Later today, in the NAC/D, we will approve the Senior Defense Group on Proliferation's Report on Alliance Progress Countering Chemical and Biological Weapons Risks, as well as the Program Plan for NATO Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense. Taken together, they represent important concrete steps towards protecting deployed NATO forces from the threats that will continue well into the 21st Century.

  • Let me turn to the two conceptual guidance priorities essential to preparing this Alliance for its future challenges.


  • As we shape the Alliance for the 21st Century, it is not enough merely to review our current Ministerial Guidance and annotate it here and there. We need to step back and fundamentally reassess our objectives for the development of our defense capabilities. For example, as we have adapted our Alliance command structure and are implementing the CJTF concept, we need to look at adapting our force structure.

  • We need to assess whether the current focus and substance of Ministerial Guidance requires "adaptation" to the current security environment -- just as we have "adapted" other Alliance structures.

  • In the coming weeks, at my direction, the US delegation to the Defense Review Committee (DRC) will engage their counterparts in a dialogue -- an exchange of views -- with an eye towards a DRC report for our consideration when we meet again in December


  • While we will address the Strategic Concept at length later today at lunch, there are important connections to the work of the Defense Planning Committee (DPC) and the interoperability priorities I have just touched upon.

  • The Strategic Concept that we agree to at the Washington Summit will provide the overarching guidance for defense planners for the decade of the next century.

  • As such, it must address the challenges I have just discussed and provide the direction for the pursuit of the force compatibility responses that will allow us to shape this Alliance for what lies ahead.


  • The NATO of the 21st Century must both harness the potential of advances in technology and renew its commitment to the basics of military effectiveness. This will require a partnership of NATO military organizations, NATO defense managers and industry.

  • The Defense Planning Committee lies at the heart of this military Alliance. I look forward to the work it will produce in the coming months on our way to the next fifty years of the most successful military Alliance in history.

Go to Homepage Go to Index