From the event

  • Video interview with NATO Assistant Secretary General for Operations Martin Howard

7 Apr. 2008

Video interview

with NATO Assistant Secretary General for Operations Martin Howard

Q: We are here today with NATO's Assistant Secretary General for Operations, Martin Howard. Welcome.

MARTIN HOWARD (Assistant Secretary General for Operations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization): Thanks very much.

Q: Mr. Howard, at the Bucharest Summit last week NATO operation was a top priority. Can you please tell us what was the outcome of the meeting?

HOWARD: The main focus from an operational point of view was on Afghanistan, which I think is unsurprising.

I felt that before the summit we needed to get three outcomes on Afghanistan. One was a very strong vision statement about the Alliance and ISAF's commitment to the mission in Afghanistan. The second was agreement on an implementation plan to actually take the mission forward. And thirdly was a series of troop commitments by individual nations.

Now we got all three of those in Bucharest. I think in sum that amounted to a very good result from the Summit.

Q: To date, what do you believe are the key achievements of NATO in Afghanistan?

HOWARD: I think there are several. The first is that NATO and ISAF have done what they said they would do, which is to extend the control of ISAF across the whole of Afghanistan, from where it started in Kabul some years ago.

Secondly, I think NATO has achieved a number of very significant military successes against extremely determined opposition. Opposition who have used a number of tactics and whose intensity of activity has been very high. And NATO, I think, has during 2007 and 2008 shown that it can prevail against that sort of opposition. 

Thirdly, I think that NATO has made an important contribution with others in building the capacity of the Afghan security force in primarily the Afghan National Army (ANA). Fourthly, I think through its security operations NATO and ISAF have created the space within which the Afghan government can strengthen their governance institutions, if I can put it that way. And also provide the space for reconstruction and development to take place.

I suppose the last thing I would say is that NATO has shown that it can work together with 40 different countries in ISAF as a whole and bring them together into an effective force which can carry out a range of military tasks inside Afghanistan.

And those are the five or six, I think, key achievements that I would point to.

Q: What about some of the other operations, such as Kosovo and Operation Active Endeavour?

HOWARD: I think in Kosovo we have gone through a period, and indeed are still going through a period of very significant political uncertainty. I think the military performance of KFOR has been extremely good, including in some very difficult circumstances, notably the incidents in Mitrovica on the 17th of March, where KFOR was shot at and took casualties.

I think what needs to happen now is that that military performance is coherent with and is coordinated with the establishment of other organizations and the future of other organizations inside Kosovo. Notably the United Nations and the European Union and that is certainly what we will be working towards.

And Operation Active Endeavour, which is the other example you quoted, that, I think, is going reasonably well. It is been a very successful operation since it was established in 2001. What we need to do, I think, is move it away from a simple boarding exercise, or an exercise in boarding ships, to something which is much more intelligence led. And that is going to be one of the things that I want to focus on over the next few months.

Q: After only a few months on the job as Assistant Secretary General for Operations, what would you say have been your biggest challenge so far?

HOWARD: I think the biggest challenge has been, on Afghanistan, is getting 40 nations to come together to concert a degree on a plan over the next few years for how the ISAF mission should develop. And when I say 40 nations I mean the 26 allies, plus the 14 non-NATO trop contributors.

And that has been a very demanding challenge because each nation has its own perspectives on these things, though my feeling is that there was a good deal of commonality in terms of the basic aims that we were trying to achieve.

And that experience, I think really has been a very intense example of the biggest challenge, which I found, as someone who has worked in security for a very long time, but not worked in a multilateral environment. So that has been quite a new experience for me actually making, whether it is 26 or 40 nations, bringing them together to produce a common result.

Q: and finally, I know you already touched about this a little bit, but what will be your main priorities for 2008 and do you see NATO taking on any other operations?

HOWARD: Yes, well, the first is an easy question to answer. I am not sure about the second. I will try and do my best.

On the first, my immediate priority is for a successful CMX 08 exercise. This starts next week and that's a very important exercise. But looking... Yes?

Q: I am sorry, but could you explain a little bit more about CMX?

HOWARD: CMX, I do apologize, is the annual command post exercise which NATO carries out to test its high-level strategic procedures against a fictional crisis situation. And this year's exercise, CMX 08, starts next week and I think that will be another very busy period. So that is an immediate priority for me to deal with.

More generally, as I mentioned earlier, what is important is that we take the implementation plan we have agreed in Afghanistan, and convert it and make it work as a proper tool for the North Atlantic Council (NAC) to give political military oversight of the campaign. I have already said in Kosovo that there is a big challenge in terms of ensuring that what KFOR does is coherent with what others do against a background of continuing political difficulties.

We need to modernize the operations of Operation Active Endeavour. We may need to change the nature of our training operation inside Iraq, NTIM-I, and we also need to look and see whether there is any more support that NATO can give, in appropriate areas, to the African Union.

I am also keen to work on the whole business of civil emergency planning, which is another function that we carry out in my division, to ensure that that remains relevant to what NATO and the Alliance are doing.

So those, I think, are my main priority for the year. Whether NATO will get involved in other operations is always very difficult to tell. We must not forget that NATO has as its primary role its Article 5 commitment to the security of all its members, and that must remain current. We must have the ability politically and militarily to do that.

On the other hand, NATO is, and remains, the most effective military Alliance I think in the world. I mean, there is no other organization that can carry out the kind of things that we are doing in Afghanistan and Kosovo.

In that sense, as crises arise, I suspect that nations and organizations may look at NATO and say, well, perhaps NATO can contribute here. The only caveat I put on that is to say that, of course, we are very heavily committed, over 60,000 troops in Afghanistan and Kosovo. And that is putting a strain on the individual nations, and of course on the organization itself.

But the organization is ready to do more, I think, if others feel that it is necessary.

Q: Excellent. Thank you very much for coming.

HOWARD: Thank you. Thanks for inviting me along.