Updated: 17-Oct-2006 NATO Speeches

NATO, Brussels

13 Oct. 2006

Video interview

with the assistant Secretary General
for Defence Policy and Planning, Mr. John Colston

Bullet Video of the interview

Q: We're speaking today to the Assistant Secretary General for  Defence Policy and Planning at NATO Headquarters, Mr. John Colston. Welcome, Mr. Colston.

Can you tell me, what is the role of your division?

JOHN COLSTON (Assistant Secretary General for Defence Policy and Planning, NATO): Well, my division, the Defence Policy and Planning Division, has the primary task of helping nations to work out what they need to be able to do in terms of military tasks, in order to support the political objectives of the Alliance.

And then we try to help them understand what needs to be done in terms of transforming, adapting their force structures and their military capabilities, so that as an Alliance we can do the things which our political masters wish us to be able to do.

Q: At the 2002 Prague and then at the 2004 Istanbul summits part of the emphasis was improving capabilities. How far has NATO come on capabilities, and do you think the Riga Summit will see any significant progress on this front?

COLSTON: Well, that's a very big and it's a very important question, and we have come a very long way in recent years in the process of transforming and adapting our armed forces.

If you think that only a few years ago very few of our nations were able to deploy significant numbers of their military personnel outside of their own countries. During the period of the Cold War, NATO's forces were very much static, very much based in each of the individual nations, based on heavy armour.

The last few years have seen a complete turnaround in the ability of nations to deploy forces. If you think that in the beginning of the campaign in Bosnia we were able to deploy 60,000 forces. If you think that we, today, have 45,000 NATO troops deployed across three continents, in addition to the commitments which individual nations may have to the United Nations, or the European Union or to other forces, then that shows how far we've come in terms of being able to develop forces able to deploy at long distances and in very difficult circumstances to meet our political objectives.

So that's the good news. And there will be some more good news at Riga as well. We hope that at Riga we will be able to demonstrate real progress with our new NATO Response Force, which it was agreed at Prague in 2002 that we would create. And perhaps I might say a little bit more about that later on.

But we will also have a range of other things which we'll want to talk about and which we will want to demonstrate progress when we get to Riga.

I said that the job of my division was about both establishing what policy was, what nations wanted to be able to do in defence terms, and then producing the plan which comes from that policy. And at Riga I very much hope that our Heads of State and Government are going to agree to publish a short document which we have prepared since the Istanbul Summit in 2004, called the Comprehensive Political Guidance. 

The Comprehensive Political Guidance takes the NATO's strategic concept, which we agreed in 1999 and in Washington, and sets out what NATO needs to do, what NATO nations need to do today to make sure that they have the forces which are relevant to the 21st Century challenges and risks; the risks of proliferation, the risks of terrorism, the risks of transnational crime and illegal migration and so on and so forth.

So we hope at Riga we will publish the Comprehensive Political Guidance, and we hope also that we will have a good story to tell, to show that we're putting that guidance into practice.

If I can, just for a moment, take you back to the Prague Summit in 2002. At that Prague Summit we said that we would create the NATO Response Force. That is work which is nearly now complete. We said that we would introduce a new command structure. That new military command structure is in place and it's working.

We said that we would agree to a very wide range of individual national and multinational initiatives to improve our capabilities. That's long-term work, but it's already 70 percent complete, and it's making a real difference to the way in which we're doing our business. New investments in strategic lift, new investments in multinational logistics, command, control and communications. We're really making progress.

And just one last point, because I know this is a very long answer, but if you just look at the seven... sorry, the ten new allies who joined the NATO Alliance in 1999 and in 2004, they are today producing about 7000 forces between them, for NATO operations. Which is about a third of the total which the European allies are producing. And that's very impressive transformation in a very short period of time.

Q: Certainly.

COLSTON: But there's still more that we need to do. We need to do more to make sure that forces are readily available for our operations, that forces are readily available for the NATO Response Force now and in the future, and we need to do more to demonstrate real progress in addressing some of the key shortfalls in our capability.

Q: My third question, actually, is about the NATO Response Force. It's made enormous strides since its creation in 2002. Where is it now?

COLSTON: It's very close to the point at which we can declare full success. For NATO to take an initiative which involves 26 nations working out together how they are going to create and how they are going to implement a force of 25,000 personnel, capable of undertaking the full range of NATO's potential future military missions, including the most demanding missions, that's a very demanding task. And we are very nearly there.

Earlier this year, in June this year, the NATO Response Force had a major exercise in the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic. And that demonstrated our ability to deploy the NATO Response Force over very significant distances. It demonstrated our ability to deploy the NATO Response Force to a location where the local infrastructure was relatively limited. So the force had to look after itself, it had to feed itself, it had to sustain itself.

And that exercise in the Cape Verde Islands achieved what we call the proof of concept. We know that the idea will work.

Now I said we were very nearly there. We're not completely there yet. There is still more that we need to do. There are still areas where we require additional contributions from nations to ensure that the NRF is not just a success this year, but is a success next year and the year after as well, because this is not just a one-off exercise. Forces rotate through the NATO Response Force every six months.

We still need to do more to try to ensure that the burden of contributions to the NATO Response Force is shared on a fair basis. And we're still looking now at the possibility of sharing some of the most unpredictable costs of the NATO Response Force on a more equitable basis between the nations.

So there's still work to be done, but what we have achieved already, what I see as I travel around the NATO nations in terms of the real difference which the NATO Response Force has made to the way in which nations think about their own defence forces, that is hugely impressive.

Q: The Alliance regularly works with other countries in training and operations. Why work with other countries in defence? Isn't NATO prepared to work alone?

COLSTON: Well, if you think about the kinds of things which NATO is doing today in Kosovo, or in Afghanistan, our two biggest operations, then they are operations which help contribute to the security of NATO nations. But they also help to contribute to the security of the international community as a whole. It's in the whole of Europe's interest that Kosovo should have a stable and secure future. It's in the whole of the world's interest that Afghanistan should have stable and secure future, that it should not again become a haven for the terrorists.

So it's unsurprising that other nations want to work with us in our operations. And today about ten percent of the forces we have deployed on operations come from partner or other non-NATO nations.

So it makes sense for us to be working closely with such nations, so that we develop a shared understanding of how we would work together on operations so they understand our doctrine, our standards, and can in practice work together with us.

But there's a bigger reason here too. Since the end of the Cold War we have transformed as an Alliance and our policy now is to ensure that on a continuous basis we are cooperating and engaging with an ever-wider range of countries. Principally with the countries of the Partnership for Peace throughout Europe and Central Asia, but also with the countries of the Mediterranean and countries in the Middle East.

One of the key aspects of our working together with those countries is cooperation in defence reform. Partner countries are facing exactly the same challenges as NATO allies in terms of the threats of terrorism, the threats of proliferation, the threats of the 21st Century. And they face exactly the same challenges in adapting and modernizing their armed forces to meet those threats.

So this is something which is a very productive area of work, both for NATO, both militarily and politically, to work closely with our friends and neighbours in Europe and Central Asia, in helping them, in supporting them, in adapting their armed forces. That's why defence cooperation is so important.

Q: One last question, Mr. Colston. Will the Riga Summit result in increased defence cooperation between NATO and non-NATO countries. You almost answered that perhaps, but if you'd like to elaborate a little bit more.

COLSTON: I think so. And perhaps just let me add one or two details. Riga will be a summit for the 26 allies. But it will also be a summit where we, I'm sure, Heads of State and Government will want to signal the importance which they attach to the partnership, to cooperation, to engagement, whether it's with Russia, whether it's with Ukraine, whether it is with the countries which are actively seeking the membership of the Alliance, or whether it's those countries which are seeking to join our Partnership for Peace, such as Serbia and Bosnia and Montenegro.

And as I've said, defence cooperation plays a very key part in that process. We are working with all these countries in terms of how best we can develop the ability of NATO nations and our partner nations to work together to confront terrorism, to confront the challenges of the 21st Century.

And I hope that at Riga too we may be able to find some new ways of building on this close and interactive relationship with our partners. We are very interested, for example, in seeing whether we can build on NATO's strengths in military training and military education, to build closer links with the countries of the Mediterranean and the broader Middle East. And I hope that there will be something concrete we can say at Riga about carrying that work forward.

Q: Well, the very best for the Riga Summit, Mr. Colston, and thank you very much for taking time to speak to us today.

COLSTON: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

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