Updated: 12-Feb-2002 NATO Speeches

At the European
Defence R & D

24 January 2002

"The Pursuit of Enhanced Defence Capabilities"

A luncheon address given by Robert G. Bell, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defence Support


It is a pleasure to be here with you today. It is a challenge to say something not already emphasized by earlier speakers, but I am aware that even though I work on the International Staff "at 19" - if not yet "at 20" - at NATO HQ, I am the only American speaker at this conference on European defence R & D! Let me congratulate Jack, Michael, and Ilana for the organisation of this Conference, and for the relevance of its themes to today's defence challenges.

Ladies and Gentlemen: the conference title is "European Defence R&D: Funding the Future". I believe that "the future is now"! (as a famous American once said), and I completely agree with Sr. Airaglin, we must have a real sense of urgency here.

R & D is the engine of defence procurement, and nowhere is it more true to say that smart investment will translate into greater capabilities. When Lord Robertson became NATO Secretary General in October 1999, he said he had three priorities - "capabilities, capabilities, capabilities". In my remarks I want to place R & D in this wider context of defence capabilities, both in Europe, and also - not only because I am a NATO official but also because they are inextricably related - within NATO. As the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs stated in an official communication a month ago to the House of Commons: "Since most of the EU shortfalls are also addressed in DCI (that is, NATO's Defence Capabilities Initiative), actions taken by member states to remedy the shortfalls will contribute to mutual reinforcement of the EU capabilities and those arising, for the countries concerned, from the DCI."


We all know that throughout its history, NATO has struggled to mount a collective conventional defence capability worthy of the aggregate of the individual input of its members. Too often, the whole has been less than the sum of its parts. We all know that when you compare European defence spending with that of the United States, to use one well known example, European defence spending in the aggregate is about 60% that of the US. However, I do not believe anyone would argue today that Europe's capability is equal to 60% of U.S. capability. As Lord Robertson reminded us in a speech in Sweden earlier this week, "we are hard pressed to maintain about 50,000 European troops in the Balkans." Paul Beaver estimated 10-12% as a valid European/US capabilities comparison.

Insufficient cooperation in the R & D sector has been one reason for the gap in defence capabilities. It is forgotten by many that in the Cold War, NATO's relative weaknesses in the sphere of conventional armaments were a significant factor prompting the Allies to have a Military Strategy that was based on nuclear deterrence. Today, we still find significant shortfalls in the capabilities we need to fully implement Alliance strategy shortfalls that were all-too-starkly exposed in the skies over Kosovo and, since September 11th, in the US-led campaign in Afghanistan. But unlike during the Cold War, we cannot look to nuclear weapons for compensation in addressing the new security challenges of the 21st Century, including terrorism.

In the White House Rose Garden in October last year, President Bush declared that NATO was "the cornerstone" of the coalition against terrorism. For those worried about the possibility that America might drift back into isolationism, that was a very welcome statement indeed. I also paid particular attention to Lord Robertson's speech delivered during that same visit, when he bluntly underscored that if NATO was to be a true and equal partner of the United States in this and other future campaigns, more progress would have to be made with the development and implementation of a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), noting that Europeans - and I quote - "can surely expect a tougher US stance on transatlantic burden sharing".

To be sure, important progress has been made, both in NATO's DCI and in acquiring the capabilities in the target areas set out in the EU's Helsinki Headline Catalogue. However, the communiqué issued by NATO Defence Ministers in December made it quite clear that a lot of the heavy lifting on DCI remains to be done. Defence Ministers noted that - and I quote - "the forces of most Allies still have significant shortfalls", and they agreed that there was - to quote them - "an urgent need to make more progress in the development of more deployable forces"… And, as General Rupert Smith reminded us this morning, as of December, 40 of the 144 target areas in the Helsinki Headline Catalogue remained unsatisfied.


I think most informed observers of U.S. - European defence relations would agree that since the Washington Summit, U.S. policy towards ESDP has reflected what I might term certain elements of "assumed risk" - a tactical gamble, if you will. The U.S. has since San Malo supported ESDP as a vehicle for enhancing European defence capabilities in large measure because it calculated that European leaders could have more success in pressing for higher levels of defence spending and greater defence capabilities if these goals were pursued against the rationale of building defence as "the next great phase in the construction of Europe", rather than as actions demanded by America in the context of the debate over burdensharing and DCI. Under this and the previous administration, Washington has in effect concluded that the goals of this approach more than offset the risk that the fledgling EU defence force would lead in time to a capability that rivalled or rendered obsolete NATO, but only if the possible redundancies and competitive conflicts between the two proud organizations were kept firmly in check through clear institutional arrangements. In other words, recognizing there is only one set of military forces in Europe, the United States - and NATO, institutionally - have insisted on the proviso that both parties get the EU-NATO interface "right".

I do not speak for the US government, but as one, who strongly supports the ESDP initiative, I must say I believe there are some grounds for concern on both counts. That is: in addition to failing, at least to date, to reach agreement on the key EU-NATO institutional linkages, the results on the capabilities output side remain, at least to date, a disappointment as well.

Europe collectively does spend quite a lot on defence, but one main reason for defence capability asymmetries as between the two sides of the Atlantic is the difference in the size of the defence input, which is growing, as Tom Enders reminded us this morning. In 1999, although - as I noted earlier - European defence spending was 60% that of the US, its military research and development spending was only one quarter of the US level. Rupert Smith noted that per soldier, it was only one-eighth. The returns on even this investment were of course lowered additionally by the fact that the investment was fragmented between different sovereign states and their respective defence establishments.

The events of September 11th have reinforced the message of the Secretary General, that defence spending in many countries simply must rise. As he pointed out on October 1, the day before the Council removed the "if" clause on Article 5, the extra burden of fighting terror will require - and I quote:

"more money, wisely spent… It is not possible to have security and defence on the cheap and at the same time request more measures, more protection against new threats… For NATO, the zero real growth mantra which many liked to apply in security and defence is an insufficient and, maybe, irresponsible answer to the security needs of the 21st century".

It is certainly the case that some of the European allies have announced their intention to raise defence budgets modestly, which is certainly good news. And we should not skip past recognizing that the precipitous fall in defence spending over the last decade has finally been halted. The era of realizing the post Cold War "peace dividend" is clearly over. But levelling out or even slightly increasing the spending does not by itself guarantee that the capabilities can be met. And I do not believe it unrealistic - or unfair - to conclude that to date, ESDP has made only marginal improvements in terms of increasing defence expenditures. As Lord Robertson said, apparently somewhat provocatively, in his Sweden speech, "the truth is that Europe remains a military pygmy." I remarked yesterday to the Secretary General that if he wanted to be more "politically correct", he should say that in terms of military capabilities Europe remains "vertically challenged".

It is instructive, I believe, that in the "Belgian Presidency Conclusions" of the European Council Meeting in Laeken, the Presidency, while noting that "the European Council has adopted the declaration on the operational capability of the European Security and Defence Policy", states later in the same paragraph "that the Union is now capable of conducting some crisis - management operations". The operative word is "some". Later, the Belgian Presidency notes that "substantial progress will have to be made" if the European Union is to "carry out crisis - management operations over the whole range of Petersburg tasks". One leading UK Defence expert, at RUSI, has calculated that under present planning forecasts, the European Rapid Reaction Force would not be able to mount significant medium - scale operations for at least 10 years.

On the second part of this equation; that is, the importance of getting the NATO?EU interface right, I will simply limit myself to saying that we had hoped the question of assured EU access to NATO operational planning capabilities and core assets might have been resolved at Laeken, but it was not, and therefore NATO and the EU have not been able to move forward with the "Berlin-Plus" work programme. We all, I am sure, wish the Spanish Presidency every success on this crucial issue in the weeks ahead, and we hope that the "white smoke" will be visible long before the NATO Spring Ministerials later this year.

As Chairman of senior NATO defence committees, and in particular the Conference of National Armaments Directors, and the NATO C3 Board, which together have 21 of the key DCI items, I am more than just an "interested observer" in these matters. If there is to be no sea change in defence spending, then we have got to look even harder at the way we spend the money we are willing to allocate to defence capabilities and the ways in which we cooperate across the Atlantic in so doing.

What can we do in this respect? I agree with many of the suggestions advanced by earlier speakers, so I will simply highlight a few key recommendations now.

Standardization and Interoperability

One of the first answers is to improve interoperability. Another one is to improve standardization. By interoperability, I mean the ability of different systems to work together. By standardization, I mean any efforts towards fielding common systems - systems that are the "same", certainly in form, fit and function.

That redoubtable defence analyst, Thomas Callaghan, once put the distinction between the two a little more colorfully when he said that:

"Interoperability is what we do with the mess we have. Standardization is what we do to avoid having the mess in the future".

Standardized weapons, weapons that are common in form, fit and function, are intrinsically interoperable, whereas non-standardized weapons have to be made interoperable. Not only the military, but also the economic benefits of standardization have long been realised, certainly in terms of longer production runs and lower unit prices.

The Need for Common Programmes

My basic premise is that although rendering different systems interoperable remains in many instances an important goal of NATO armaments cooperation - and this is certainly reflected in the DCI - the fundamental mission of NATO's armaments community is the enhancement of defence capabilities. I believe that, increasingly, such enhancement is more likely to be achieved through common programmes, either by providing NATO owned and operated capabilities, or by spreading the resulting national assets into the armed forces of member (and perhaps also Partner) nations. Let me reiterate clearly that I am not questioning the importance of making different systems interoperable. When applied to existing, often highly disparate defence systems owned by a number of countries, it can bring real military benefit, but if our goal is merely to attain interoperability for new systems, then we will in a sense be perpetuating the problems.

Of course, common programmes are not a panacea. We all know the adage that when two countries decide to build an item of defence equipment together, they each end up sharing two thirds of the cost. Programmes involving many countries, such as AWACS, are difficult both to establish and then to manage, but I do believe that compared to the interoperability approach, common programmes such as AWACS are the most efficient and cost effective way of meeting NATO Military Requirements and achieving Alliance - wide defence capability enhancements.

U.S. Export Licensing Regulations

Another key prerequisite is the reform of U.S. export licensing and technology transfer régimes and their underlying legislative bases in U.S. law. There was discussion on this important topic yesterday at NATO HQ with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Bloomfield, which I found encouraging.

Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS)

AGS is both a case study and a litmus test. If there is one area where the logic of common systems should be overwhelming it is Alliance Ground Surveillance, and yet logic is not necessary a decisive driver of defence procurement. I agree with Tom Enders that this capability is "badly needed".

NATO Defence Ministers agreed in 1995 that - and I quote;

"...the Alliance should pursue work on a minimum essential NATO - owned and operated core capability, supplemented by interoperable national assets".

This requirement was elevated to the highest, Heads of State level, in a DCI tasking. The operational need for an AGS capability is based on a military requirement confirmed by the NATO Military Authorities in 1992. But since then, NATO's senior defence equipment forum - the Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD) has struggled to meet the Council's remit to pursue a common approach to achieving such a capability. A common AGS capability for NATO remains today as the highest non?funded acquisition priority of the Strategic Commanders.

Numerous national airborne ground surveillance systems now exist or will be fielded in the near future (JSTARS, ASTOR, HORIZON), but it has been repeatedly underlined by the Strategic Commanders that national assets will contribute to, but not fully satisfy the military requirements for, implementing Alliance strategy. Article 5 of the Washington Treaty requires strategic warning for the preparation and generation of necessary forces and capabilities to defend the Alliance against a potential aggressor, yet no national AGS assets have been formally committed by nations through the current Force Planning process. For non-Article 5 operations, such as peace support or peacekeeping, it is possible that national AGS assets needed by NATO might be committed elsewhere or could be constrained from fully joining a NATO deployment. Furthermore, the overall number of current and planned national AGS systems is small; they were designed separately, and much needs to be done to achieve interoperability between them. Finally, a national approach is not a realistic option for smaller allies, who cannot meet the high R & D and procurement costs of systems such as AGS.

The bad news is that after 10 years of effort, there exists today no true NATO AGS capability. The good news is that on September 18 last year, a special meeting of the North Atlantic Council reaffirmed NATO's commitment to acquire a NATO owned and operated AGS core capability - not a given before the meeting, I can assure you. Some nations had been suggesting that a core NATO AGS capability might be a "bridge too far", given resource realities in Europe, and that we should settle for interoperable national AGS assets. The Council also set a target date of 2010 for when the capability should be operational, and also agreed to "explore" an innovative new concept designed to bring current efforts related to sensor development into a state of convergence and overcome the "black box " barriers of the past.

So the essential framework for meeting this key capability requirement is mostly in place. I say "mostly" because I must come back to the question of the NATO-EU interface and the urgent need for early agreement on the presumed availability of core NATO assets. In the absence of such an agreement, there is no institutional agreement that would define how a NATO AGS capability could be "loaned" to the EU, and that in turn could threaten to damper interest in a core NATO AGS programme on the part of some EU members states of NATO.

Ladies and gentlemen, at present the Alliance's report card on its pursuit of enhanced defence capabilities reads as follows - "some good progress, but can and must do better". The EU's report card was written at Laeken: "capable of performing some crisis management operations" - but only some. Further progress will depend on all those involved in the defence effort - and certainly in the R&D community - redoubling their efforts, to ensure that the men and women of our armed forces who we send in harm's way to defence our democracy and our security are given the best tools and means to do the job, - and to ensure that our respective organizations - NATO and the EU - have the military capabilities required to meet their solemnly declared security missions. Those are our ultimate challenges.

The stakes here are very high. As I said at the beginning of these remarks, I believe "the future is now" in terms of changing the gloomy picture with regard to capabilities enhancement we have heard described at this conference today. Senator Lugar gave an important speech here at the Chateau du Lac last week-end in which he surveyed the range of current thinking in Washington about NATO's role and relevance and outlined "three schools of thought". To quote his speech:

" The Alliance invoked Article 5 for the first time in its history in response to September 11th, but, NATO itself has only played a limited, largely political and symbolic role in the war against terrorism. To some degree, Washington's reluctance to turn to NATO was tied to the fact that the U.S. had to scramble to put together a military response involving logistics, basing and special forces quickly ? and it was easier to do that ourselves. Since it was the U.S. itself that was attacked, we were highly motivated to assume the lion's share of burden of the military role of the war on terrorism and we had the capability to do so. But U.S. reticence to turn to NATO was also tied to other facts. Some Americans have lost confidence in the Alliance. Years of cuts in defense spending and failure to meet pledge after pledge to improve European military capabilities has left some Americans with doubts as to what our allies could realistically contribute. Rightly or wrongly, the legacy of Kosovo has reinforced the concern that NATO is not up to the job of fighting a modern war."

As we approach the Prague Summit next November, I believe the importance of capability improvements will grow even more salient. Enlargement will of course be a very important issue for that summit, but the question of whether we do much better with regard to capabilities could, in my view, prove to be equally or even more important in defining NATO's future role and relevancy. This can turn out to be a "win-win" outcome: a "win" for NATO and a "win" for the ESDP, but only if major initiatives are undertaken, from the highest levels of our governments on down, to redouble current efforts.

Thank you.

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