Updated: 16-Jan-2006 NATO Speeches


19 Dec. 2005

STOPWATCH 2 , Debate 4:
Transforming NATO

Special interactive video forum series with Jamie Shea

Audio file
Video forum

JAMIE SHEA (Director, Policy Planning, NATO): Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon and welcome once again to NATO Headquarters for this edition of Stopwatch, your monthly video web discussion on a topical NATO issue.

I'm Jamie Shea, and once again it's my pleasure to be the moderator of today's discussion.

Last week we at NATO hosted the Foreign Ministers and a decision was taken to hold a NATO summit next November, so just under one year from now, in Riga , Latvia . And the ministers have decided that the theme for next year's summit is going to be NATO's transformation.

Now, transformation, of course, is a big word and it covers a lot of things, so what do we mean by the transformation of NATO? Is it a military concept? Is it a political concept? What does NATO have to do to really be ready to meet its 21st Century security tasks?

So here today to help me demystify this concept of transformation I have once again some very special guests.

First of all, I have John Colston, who is the Assistant Secretary General for Defence Planning and Policy here at NATO Headquarters, and who oversees much of the day-to-day policy work on NATO transformation.

I'm very pleased, to my immediate left, to welcome back to NATO Headquarters, John Kriendler, an old friend who used to be, some years ago, the Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Policy Affairs and the Director of NATO's Political Directorate. But now he's gone into academic life, where he is the Professor of NATO and European Security Studies at the George Marshall Centre for European Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen , Bavaria . John, looks like you made a good transfer there, but welcome back. Good to have you wish us.

And my third guest today is one of my colleagues in the Policy Planning Unit at NATO Headquarters, Lieutenant-Colonel Ludwig Decamps of the Belgium Armed Forces, who is currently serving on detachment as a policy planner and who is also a member of the Secretary General's NATO Reform Group.

So I couldn't imagine a better panel.

So John, first of all, to get the discussion going I'm going to turn to you. What do we mean by NATO transformation? NATO has had transformation summits before. For example, at Prague , just a few years ago. So does just the fact we're having another transformation summit mean that we really haven't done our work and we need to sort of start the process anew? So could you please sort of tell us more or less what's on the agenda?

JOHN COLSTON (Assistant Secretary General, Defence Policy and Planning Division, NATO): Well, thank you, Jamie. You said that transformation was a long word, but it's a simple idea. It's changing, it's adapting. It making sure that NATO, both as a military and as a political Alliance is ready to meet the challenges of the day. And it's sufficiently flexible to be able to respond to the challenges that may emerge in the future.

NATO is both a political and a military Alliance . Therefore we have to transform, we have to adapt, both our political way of doing business and our military way of doing business. But you'll forgive me, perhaps, if I concentrate on the military aspects of change.

Transformation isn't new. If you look at the way in which NATO is capable of operating today, compared to the way NATO was capable of operating just 15 years ago, the changes are hugely different. We've moved from a Cold War structure to a structure which is capable of undertaking operations and missions anywhere from Afghanistan to Africa . And if you just think some of our newest members, who have been in the Alliance for little over a year, and now leading provincial reconstruction teams in the mountains of Afghanistan, that shows how much we've changed.

But the world is changing, and because the world is changing it means that we have to change too, to be ready for today's challenges, to make sure that we can meet the challenges of today's operations and that we are sufficiently flexible to ensure our security against whatever risks may emerge in the future.

SHEA: John, thanks. I understand that. But Ludwig, turning to you and John has given very well the sort of conceptual framework, but what are we specifically looking at in concrete terms when we talk about NATO's transformation? Is it just asking the nations to spend more money on defence or simply modernize their military forces, or is NATO looking for something more specific?

LUDWIG DECAMPS (Policy Planning Unit, NATO): Not exactly. I think when we look at the next summit of course we don't start from nothing. We have had, as you mentioned, the Prague Summit in 2002, which was really key in defining NATO's transformation agenda.

So if I may perhaps first have a very short look at what was decided at Prague . One key element decided at Prague was to go for a new military command structure, and central in this command structure is transformation because we have created the Allied Command Transformation, which is the driving agent and is the forcing agent even for transformation within the Alliance .

Another very important decision taken in Prague was the creation of the NATO Response Force, which is a multinational joint force, composed by units and capabilities given by the nations to NATO, and which is trying to promote this transformational goal that is really very present in today's business at NATO.

SHEA: Understood, but the NATO Response Force obviously is still quite a small force, whereas NATO needs to deploy in all of its various missions at the moment, potentially thousands, tens of thousands of troops. Surely transformation has to go deeper into the structures than simply one elite force, no matter how impressive, like the NATO Response Force.

DECAMPS: I don't think the NRF, per se is an elite force. It's a highly technical force, and it's a very flexible force as well. So it is an operational tool that the nations will provide to NATO to conduct a whole series of possible operations. And this can go from humanitarian operations, as was the case in Pakistan , to really high intensity conflict.

But what is also important, in terms of the NRF, is that the NRF has also a transformational dimension. That means that it's not a standing force. There is a mechanism of rotation which means that after six months the nations provide a new set of troops to become part of the NATO Response Force. And before being certified to be allowed to enter into the NATO Response Force there's a whole training cycle cobbled to this concept, which means that really this is really to the benefit of all nations and all the military forces in the individual member states.

SHEA: Ludwig, thank you, but John, as an independent observer, although somebody very familiar with the way NATO works, these two sort of flagship activities, the new command structure, the Allied Command Transformation, the NATO Response Force, are they proving to be successful, and are they carrying by themselves the burden of transformation in the Alliance? How do you rate them?

JOHN KRIENDLER (Marshall Centre, Garmisch , Germany ): I think that they've made a good start, in a variety of ways. Benchmarks have been achieved, in some cases quite rapidly, which are definitely positive in terms of achievement of transformation. It doesn't mean that there aren't problems, that there aren't complexities out there, because transformation is very costly. It costs a lot of money to transform military forces. And not all allies have the available resources or are eager to use them for these purposes.

But in terms of the political decisions having been made, the NATO Response Force having achieved initial operational capability and with a final operational capability scheduled for 2006 in October, it seems to me important steps have been made, which have had an impact beyond the NATO Response Force itself.

SHEA: But John, you mention this key question of money, and everybody knows that military defence budgets in Europe are not going up, they don't seem to be a priority at the moment. NATO has this target of sort of two percent of gross national product for defence, but it's not observed in many countries, and therefore, do you feel that there's really the financial envelop there for NATO to make the success of transformation over and above maybe one or two specific deliverables, or symbolic deliverables even.

KRIENDLER: I think the answer is yes. If you can't make more money available; that is, if you can't increase defence budgets, you could spend it better. So increases in procurement can lead to the kinds of savings that can contribute to transformation.

Moreover, I think that some allies at least realize that the additional costs that they would have to entertain in the short term will lead to reduced costs in the longer term or in the medium term. So I think that the answer is yes. But there are painful choices that have to be made. And at the same time that you have costs involved in ongoing operations, which are expensive, then the costs of transformation do have a significant impact.

SHEA: I mean, this operation issue is one that I wanted to explore, John, particularly with you, because it's true that NATO seems to be sort of stuck in a... sort of on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand there's the need to modernize, to transform, what you were talking about, which Ludwig and John were talking about, but on the other hand, NATO is constantly deploying its forces in distant places like Afghanistan or a training mission in Iraq, helping the African Union in Darfur. All of this is costing money so are operations now sort of being bought at the expense of transformation?

COLSTON: Could I just first of all add a comment to what John has said.

SHEA: Yes, please.

COLSTON: And I think it's absolutely right. NATO transformation is not about buying more tanks, about buying more fighter aircraft, about buying more ships. It's about investing in those capabilities, which enable us to make good use of what we have got and to move military force where it is needed. So we're looking for enabling capabilities. We're looking for large aircraft. We're looking for transport shipping. We're looking for the very necessary nuts and bolts of logistic support which enable an army to operate in deployed areas.

And this means choices for nations. It doesn't necessarily mean a radical increase in defence budgets.

But to answer your specific questions, yes, I think there is a tension. There is a tension between the costs of maintaining operations and the costs of investing in change, of investing in transformation. But I think nations do understand and are progressively working towards achieving the right balance between those costs.

SHEA: How is it going to be achieved, do you think? Because it does appear as if we're trying to sort of square the magic circle. Is there a solution for being able to do both at once?

COLSTON: I think there is, and I think it comes about firstly by recognizing that defence does not come on the cheap and that there are absolute levels of defence spending that have to be maintained. And to be honest, some nations still need to do better in respect of the absolute amount of money which they're spending on defence.

The second point, however, is that transforming a defence structure does not mean that necessarily you end up with more expensive structures in the longer term. Indeed you may well be able to make savings in terms of the domestic infrastructure supporting your armed forces. You may be able to make savings in terms of the numbers of military forces, military personnel you are sustaining.

So I think a recognition that what you're trying to do is you're trying to do things differently, rather than trying to do more, and a recognition that the costs of operations and the costs of transportation have to be met and that there are proper and reasonable charge on the taxpayers of allied nations.

SHEA: Ludwig, again, building on this, I remember a few years ago, you probably do as well, the previous Secretary General George Robertson, was constantly bemoaning the fact that NATO governments were still spending vast sums of money on legacy systems, heavy metal armies he called them, from the Cold War, instead of doing what John was describing, reinvesting in modern technology and new methods.

Are you satisfied that the message of now has been delivered and that NATO governments are giving up these old legacy Cold War systems and really reinvesting in what we need now? Or are we still wasting a lot of money, frankly.

DECAMPS: Well I think the message is being understood, but it takes a lot of time to reorient your long-term investments. And I think there when you mentioned the operations, is it conducive to transformation or not, I think what is important to understand is that transformation is not conducted in a vacuum actually. So it would build on the operations and on experience we gather during operations.

Take, for instance, Afghanistan , which is a good example for instance.

SHEA: Yeah, what are the lessons that we've learned there.

DECAMPS: Some lessons learned is that we need a lot of flexibility built into our forces because today instead of looking at the Cold War situation where we're oriented to defend against a massive aggressive from the east, nowadays soldiers are asked to do a whole series of things actually. They have to be prepared to assist in humanitarian assistance. They have peacekeeping missions. They have peace-enforcing missions. They can be involved in quite high intensity warfare. And I think what is typically now is that this can happen almost at the same time and in the same area. You might have different scenarios at the same time.

So we need very much built-in flexibility. That's one element.

I think when we also look at our experience in Afghanistan , and also the recent deployment in Pakistan , is that it's expeditionary operations so deployment and sustainment of forces abroad is a very difficult issue. And that we cannot ... that we cannot deal with it... that this cannot be done with the legacy assistance we had from the past, and that we need to invest in new capabilities.

I think this message is penetrating national governments now.

SHEA: So you believe that the lessons learned from operations like in Pakistan and Afghanistan , is now really being fed into NATO's force planning process? Can you point to any examples where you think this is happening?

DECAMPS: Well I think it is because we see, but again, this is... you cannot expect changes on the very short term. And I think when you look... you look at national defence planning that it's more and more oriented towards capabilities NATO thinks are relevant for our future and current operations.

SHEA: Thanks. John, we'll bring you in here, because we've spoken so far mainly about... apart from operations, mainly about the new command structure and about the NATO Response Force. But you'll be, let's say at the Riga Summit in 11 months time, and what would you be looking for as an independent observer to declare the transformation summit a success? I imagine you'd be looking for a lot more than simply the full activation of the NRF or the new Command Structure.

I mean, what other things on the list are you going to have your eyes open for?

KRIENDLER: It seems to me that there are three or four distinct benchmarks that one could look at and which one can seek certification for. You have the Prague Capabilities Commitments. To what degree have they been achieved in...

SHEA: Sorry, but for our audience, what is the Prague Capabilities Commitment.

KRIENDLER: Ah, thank you. The Prague Capabilities Commitment were commitments that were taken by allies at the Prague Summit in 2002 to address a variety of different kinds of shortfalls in military capabilities. And to establish timelines to address those shortfalls. And they dealt with a whole range of issues I don't go into.

So it seems to me that if one could point to those and say look, we've been able to do all of these things, or most of these things, that would be a significant achievement.

Secondly, you have the Istanbul Usability Goals. These were goals established by allies at Istanbul , related to the usability of forces for deployment, and it addressed the issues of these old steel armies that you talked about. And it seems to me that there too you have a benchmark that can be looked at.

Perhaps there are other additional new initiatives as well, in addition to the NATO Response Force, of course, that could be identified for the Riga Summit. But those are some of the kinds of things that I would look at.

SHEA: Well, John, that's interesting, because John has given us a list there, and so obviously no surprise, I'm going to turn to you and ask you will we make it? How are we doing, for example, in fulfilling the Prague Capabilities Commitment?

COLSTON: The report card shows mixed results, I think it is fair to say. There are some very positive things which have been done since the Prague Summit in 2002, not least the successful implementation of the NATO Response Force concept, which we've already mentioned.

But in a whole range of other areas, nations are working together to deliver some key capabilities and address some of the key shortfalls. By the time of the Summit , for example, I would hope that there would be an agreement in place between a whole range of European nations about how we are going to charter large civil aircraft from the commercial aircraft to support our deployments.

Already we have in place a group of nations who have got together to make more effective use of large sealift to move military deployments around. And there are a whole range of other initiatives where genuine progress has been made, either on a national basis, or on a multinational basis to address some of the shortfall (inaudible)...


SHEA: But are nations also working on what John called usability goals in terms of meeting these figures of say 40 percent of national forces being effectively deployable, eight percent deployed at any one time. These are fairly ambitious targets. Do you think that we're going to get there by next November?

COLSTON: They are ambitious, and I suspect not every ally will be there by the time of the Riga Summit. My expectation is that the majority will. And what perhaps is most important is that these targets have been taken into national planning. They've been taken into the national consciousness about how nations approach the funding and planning of their armed forces.

Because what we have to look for from Riga is a confirmation that we have a common understanding of why we're delivering military capability, why we're transforming those capabilities. And a common understanding of what needs to be done to meet the key challenges (inaudible)...


SHEA: Again, you mean by a common understanding that nations have to realize that this is to be able to use the forces...

COLSTON: Absolutely.

SHEA: ...rather than leave them on the shelf waiting for a rainy day.

COLSTON: Absolutely, yes. Absolutely. We need, in a sense a transformation of the mind from the Cold War mentality that armed forces were there as the ultimate insurance against the ultimate threat, to a perception that armed forces can and should be employed as a force for good on a day-to-day basis, to contribute to our own security and to bring peace and security to nations which are currently facing challenges.

SHEA: Ludwig, turning to you, I know just sort of looking at the debate that there are some other ideas in the pipeline. The Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, has been talking about common funding. Now what does he mean by this? That NATO should adopt the UN system, that all blue helmet missions would be sort of reimbursed by the organization itself? Does NATO need something similar to be able to fund its operations?

DECAMPS: No, I don't think NATO needs something similar. It's very important to understand that traditionally the forces that NATO deploys in an operation are provided by nations, and this is done through a mechanism called Force Generation.

So they're handing over part of their forces to NATO to conduct certain operations, transfer of authority you would say. So traditionally the bulk of the forces, and the capabilities, come from national inventories.

Now, there is... on top of this you have a level of capabilities that can be paid together by NATO members states, and this is referred to as common funding. Now the question is, how can we make best use of common funding in the transformational context. Because traditionally, I think, common funding was more or less focused on the static facilities. You know, during the Cold War static headquarters. This was paid by common funding.

Now today we are living in a completely different situation, where we have forces to be deployed to... out-of-area, to far away places, I would say, with all the challenges involved. And then comes the question from some nations, why do we have to pay individually to, for instance, transport our troops from our country to the operational zone. Why can't this be done by NATO and also be commonly funded by all the NATO members?

Of course, after all..

SHEA: You mean, 26 decide, so 26 should pay, that's the principle.

DECAMPS: Yeah, because the decision is always taken by consensus at the North Atlantic Council. So some nations are putting this on the table and I think this merits some attention.

SHEA: But John, isn't there sort of a danger here from your perspective if NATO goes to common funding, countries would sort of spend even less on defence. We'd just sort of sit back and say well, we don't need to worry because the big countries, let's say, who are wealthier, will be paying for all of this? Wouldn't that sort of be against the solidarity in some way? Everybody has to make an effort.

KRIENDLER: I think that's right. I think that there's a balance that has to be maintained between solidarity and between a shared responsibility, a shared risk... shared responsibilities on the one hand. But on the other hand one has to recognize that particularly for some of the smaller countries deployment to Afghanistan , of even a relatively small number of forces or equipment, is quite expensive.

So there needs to be found some way of achieving a balance between these two desirable objectives.

SHEA: How's that going to be done, John?

COLSTON: Yeah, I think the real test is going to be to ensure that we individually and collectively are spending money as effectively as we can. And there are many areas of our business where actually money can be spent more effectively if we put it into a common pot to pay for particular aspects of our operations.

And we're actually doing that. We've actually changed some of the rules. So that some of the enabling capabilities, which all the nations need if they're deploying to a particular theatre of operations, will be commonly funded. And we need to look at other areas where that principle can sensibly be applied.

For example, support to operations. Not every nation needs to take its own hospital with us, so wouldn't we be better off perhaps...

SHEA: And then what, bring it back after six months as somebody goes in with a new on.

COLSTON: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Wouldn't we be better perhaps to think about developing a commonly-funded facility which could stay in the theatre for as long as NATO needs to stay there.

And there may be other examples of capacities which would benefit from that joint approach. And we actually end up getting more by pooling our resources.

SHEA: Ludwig, John has been talking a lot about sort of doing things more in common and that leads me inevitably to this notion that NATO should have more commonly-owned assets. Everybody, I think, is familiar with these AWACS aircraft that now protect sporting events like the Olympic Games in Greece or football tournaments or even royal marriages in Spain , as part of obviously the fight against international terrorism. But that seems to be all that NATO has as a common assets, and I've seen that there's some talk now about what John referred to, a sort of common strategic lift capability, common logistics. We can think of ballistic missile defence. We can think of different ways of observation, like allied ground surveillance.

How realistic do you think it's going to be that nations really will be prepared to put money into a pot to give NATO more commonly-owned assets?

DECAMPS: I don't think I agree when you say well AWACS seems to be the only thing NATO owns, because we own, for instance, a military command structure, with all the assets related to that. Meaning, not only facilities to host military staff structures, but also deployable communication modules, for instance, that can be deployed when NATO launches an operation.

So there is much more than AWACS. But I agree, AWACS is the most visible part of the assets that are owned by NATO.

I think we... there's no intention, I think, to create a 27th army so to close(?). You have the 26 armies provided by the nations. We're not going to create an additional one at NATO Headquarters.

But I think we must look at common funding and the budget(?) we own together, as an enabling factor. And there are also perhaps some economies of scale to be made, I think, taking the field hospital as an example.

So but we will be very much be in the hands of nations who will have their ultimate say on what they think is useful to put together, put capabilities together in a multinational format and then make it available for NATO operations.

SHEA: Okay, John. You've heard a lot of very rational explanations and rather optimistic explanations about NATO's ability to really get to groups with military transformation. And not just talk about it, but do it.

You're, again, an independent observer now, so you have the luxury of your own views. How far do you think we're going to get between now and Riga ? Where do you think we're going to come out and what would you think would be the difficulties in trying to move on some of these more ambitious items?

KRIENDLER: I'm encouraged, because I think that we've made substantial... or NATO has made substantial progress already. I'm discouraged because the things that we're talking about raise a variety of kinds of issues. They raise issues related to costs, which we've talked about already. They raise some conceptual issues too, which need to be addressed.

SHEA: Which are?

KRIENDLER: Well, for instance, issues related to how the NATO Response Force should be used. Should it be used for everything that's out there that can be addressed? Should it be reserved only for the highest-end expeditionary, high-intensity operations, as one example?

So those are issues that need to be resolved. And this is an Alliance of 26 sovereign nations who sometimes have quite different views about these things.

On the one hand. On the other hand if one looks at NATO's ongoing operations I, at least, am struck by the fact that there are so many of them, of such complexity in so many different places, spread over such a wide geographic area. And I think that...

SHEA: Do you think that we should sort of concentrate on one type of mission in one type of place?

KRIENDLER: Not at all. What I'm suggesting is that based upon this experience I think that allies recognize the need to do these things better, to do them more efficiently, to have the necessary capabilities, and that, I find at least, encourages me in terms of what can be achieved by Riga .

SHEA: Yeah. But one question, final question to you, what we've seen with many of NATO's missions is that we're dealing basically with sort of boots on the ground, sort of peacekeeping operations, stabilization, being there. But a lot of what we've been talking about today strikes me as sort of, you know, high end, combat-type operation capabilities.

John, do you think NATO is sort of going for the wrong sort of emphasis in terms of what it's actually doing? Should we not be putting more investment into sort of reconstruction teams and peacekeeping forces and infantry boots on the ground, rather than this sort of expensive high tech stuff?

COLSTON: I go right back to what I said at the beginning. I think we have to be ready both to undertake today's operations and to be ready to face what other challenges the future may present for us.

This means yes, that we do need to be investing in the capabilities necessary to support reconstruction, to support stabilization in circumstances where others cannot do that job. But it also means that we have to be careful that we safeguard our capabilities as a strong and versatile military Alliance , because we can never be sure what tomorrow will bring.

SHEA: So you think the people who make this sort of distinction between sort of combat forces and peacekeeping forces are really making a false distinction.

COLSTON: I think it is actually quite a dangerous distinction, because I think we have to look to maintain forces which are capable of undertaking the full range of missions. And that's the best means, in my view, of ensuring that we don't have to use the harder end of our military capability in the future.

SHEA: We've still got a little bit of time left, and I think there's one other aspect that deserves mentioning, which is our partnerships, Ludwig, because we all see now that NATO doesn't really do operations alone any longer. It does these operations with partners. Host countries provide support or bases over fly it. Many of our partner countries contribute forces. So what do you think we can do to make sure that this transformation sort of trickles down to the partners as well, so we don't have a situation where sort of we're moving ahead and they're staying behind and we lose our basic interoperability?

DECAMPS: I think partners are very much interested in NATO's transformation and you see this in everyday life. Really they want to get as closely involved in all those projects as possible. And I think NATO is also interested in having partners on board.

So this is really a win-win situation, I think. Here again, though, speaking about military transformation, I think that the Allied Command Transformation, ACT, plays a key role also towards partners, because actually the added values is the connections to be seen and the connection between Allied Command Transformation and the different capitals, because it allied capitals or partner capitals. To bring the message of transformation to those capitals, so that then this can be taken into account and those partners and allies are making the national defence plans.

SHEA: Okay, Ludwig, thank you very much. I'd like to bring this discussion to a close. Unfortunately we've run out of time, but at least I think one conclusion we can draw is that there will be some substantial military transformation going on in this Alliance next year, and that we can look, John, forward to concrete deliverables at the Riga Summit.

But for today I'd like to thank John Colston; I'd like to thank Professor John Kriendler; I'd like to thank Ludwig Decamps. I'd like to thank, obviously, you, the viewers, once again, for tuning in to this latest edition of Stopwatch.

And I'd like to assure you that after Christmas in the new year, there will be more Stopwatches on the NATO website, beginning in January. We've got lots of ministerials, we've got a summit, we've got lots of operations. So there's going to be lots of NATO issues to discuss and we obviously always welcome, by e-mail, your questions and your comments and your feedback and even your suggestions for future Stopwatches.

But for now the watch has stopped and I'd like to...

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