Updated: 29-sep-09 NATO IMS Speech

Rome Italy


25 September

“The military aspects of the new Strategic Concept”

Speech by the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee Admiral Giampaolo di Paola at the NATO Defense College

25 Sep 2009 - Chairman of Military Committee addresses 56th Annual Conference of NATO Defense College Anciens

Good morning.  I am delighted to be here with you and to be able to address this year’s Anciens’ Seminar.

The overall theme for today is “From Washington to Lisbon – Towards a New Strategic Concept”, and within that topic, I have been asked to address “The Military aspects of the New Strategic Concept”.  But before doing so, I wanted to take a few moments to put my piece into an overall context.

As the Commandant stated, the 60th anniversary of NATO has been an important event for this year, but I believe that it has taken on a greater significance than that of a mere birthday.  The Strasbourg-Kehl summit provided the ideal timing, given other world political and military events, for NATO to choose the road down which it is to travel.  People talk of travelling down the highway, but this is not the right phrase – a highway has only two directions on your side of the road – the right way and the wrong way.  Nor is NATO at a crossroads – this suggests that a road must be taken and each road leads in a markedly different direction.  In fact, NATO is at a junction, and it is a complex one with some poor signposting – some what like ‘La Place de l’étiole’ – the Arc de Triumphe roundabout in Paris or at Piazza Venezia in downtown Rome.  We can venture into the melée of traffic, but can we be sure of leaving at the right exit?  We are, therefore, in need of a good road map, or even a SATNAV, that will allow us to make the best choice of route – and that will hopefully be given by the NEW STRATEGIC CONCEPT.

So, in our journey from Washington to Lisbon, what are the landmarks that we are currently seeing:

  • The renewed US vision, with President Obama providing a new direction as to the way the US sees its role developing in the world – including its policy for Afghanistan, Russia and other ‘potentially volatile’ areas;
  • An enlarged NATO; now at 28, and with France back into the Military Structure;
  • The elections having been held in Afghanistan, and with a new COMISAF who has just delivered his initial assessment of the situation there;
  • A self-confident Russia, more active and assertive than in the recent past in the Euro-Atlantic arena and at the same time willing to engage in a strategic dialogue with the US and with NATO, albeit perhaps still on the terms and times of their choosing;
  • An uncertain future, with a rapidly evolving, perhaps mutating threat. A growing awareness of the globalisation of the security, that requires in response, to quote from Chancellor Merkel at Munich “the need more than ever for an enhanced global security network”.  However, within that context, NATO must be aware that it is not a global actor but rather it is an actor in a globalised world. We live in an increasingly globalised world, where borders are more a legacy of the past than a promise for the future – for years we had borders that were threatened, and now we have threats without borders.
  • Finally the financial crisis that has caught so many of our nations by surprise.  With its suddenness, depth and breadth across the globe, and the likelihood that it will eventually redefine relationships, and lead to a changed hierarchy in the world.  The crisis is, of course – or should I say ‘Hopefully’ – transitory in nature, but it could lead to increased instability in regions worst affected.

These events, taken in context with the timing of the 60th Anniversary summit, resulted in two specific outcomes:

First, through the release of the “Declaration of Alliance Security”, a concise highly political Declaration charting the path for the future.  At ten brief paragraphs, very different in nature from the usual all-encompassing multi-page Summit Communiqués.  It reminds us:

  • That Article 5 remains the cornerstone of our Alliance;
  • That NATO’s door remains open to new members;
  • That the nature of the threats we face has changed dramatically;
  • That our strength is in co-operation with others;
  • That a strong strategic partnership between NATO and the EU, and a positive NATO-Russia relationship are the necessary way forward to enhance security, stability, and peace in the Euro-Atlantic area;
  • and, finally, that being committed to renovating our Alliance to better address today’s threats and anticipate tomorrow’s risks, the HOSG tasked the Secretary General to convene and lead a broad-based group of qualified experts to develop, in close consultation with all Allies, and I re-emphasise all Allies, a New Strategic Concept.

This final paragraph of the Declaration brings me to the second key delivery of the Summit:

A new Secretary General was elected, Mr Anders Fogh Rasmussen.  Prime Minister of Denmark for 8 years, he is a very prominent political personality with strong and long-established personal links with most Allied political leaders. His arrival in August has already had a significant effect upon how NATO does business and how it  will develop.

The new Strategic Concept is not just to be a “revised concept”, driven by the Alliance’s and Allies’ traditional professional bureaucratic establishments.  Rather, it is intended to be a New Strategic Concept, driven by our political masters.   And because of the uncertain threats and challenges, which are shaping tomorrow’s security environment, we require a clear and forward-looking political vision for the Alliance of the 21st Century.  But it also needs to incorporate the notion of unpredictability – nobody can fully predict the future – and hence the need for future adaptability.

In facing this complex set of challenges, the process of delivering a new Strategic Concept will be every bit as important as the result itself.  It needs to be an open process that goes beyond the inner circles of NATO and national professional establishments.  It needs to open up to parliaments, to societies, to the people and the thinkers, and even to those who differ from us and can have sensitivities and values that are different from our own. 

So, we know that there will be a New Strategic Concept, and that it will be a highly political document, derived from a largely political process.  In fact, in Jul, the departing Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, initiated the process of work towards the new Strategic Concept in a seminar that was held in Brussels, and which brought together civilian and military experts as well as groups outside the normal NATO sphere, in order to better understand what the Concept should look like.  That meeting was a great success.

The plan, as outlined by the Secretary General, is to hold four seminars during the next 6 months in order to discuss specific themes within the overall concept.  The first of these is in 3 weeks’ time, in Luxembourg, and will have wide participation, including high-level military representation.

So, from a military perspective, what should we be looking for in that process, and in the finished product?   I would like to highlight a few key characteristics that I believe it needs to address:

  • NATO is a political-military organisation, but its military component makes it special and plays a pivotal role in supporting and delivering its objectives.  Therefore, from a military perspective, we must ensure that the underpinning analysis and conclusions reached in the New Strategic Concept are as relevant as possible.  Furthermore, that the direction provided is delivered in a way that can most usefully be translated into concrete military actions and a way forward.
  • As reiterated in the Declaration of Alliance Security, “Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, based on the indivisibility of Alliance Security, remains a corner stone of the Alliance”.  However, to maintain relevance in today’s and tomorrow’s security environment, a new understanding of Article 5 is needed.  We need to define more clearly, and in contemporary terms the requirement for homeland defence, in a world where global challenges, risks and threats have no borders.  Today’s threats and challenges are primarily terrorism, proliferation of WMD, diminishing national sovereignty, scarcity of resources, energy security, the consequences of climate change, massive demographic growth and shifts, technological revolution, cyber threats, competition for values and ideologies, failed and failing states, world-wide economic and financial upheavals.  So, in the 21st Century security environment, we need to have a fresh look at the sense of Articles 4, 5, and 6 to ensure their relevance in the light of a residual conventional threat and the emerging 21st century challenges and threats.
  • Furthermore, all of these phenomena, factors, trends and events have global dimensions, which call for a forward-looking interpretation of Articles 4, 5, and 6.  This would not in any way undermine the commitment for collective responsibility to support the defence of any Ally.  Rather, it needs to embrace the sense that we require collective security for our values and interests, just as much as our territory; for the 21st Century we need collective defence and collective security.  For example, can we not look at our engagement in Afghanistan as homeland defence at distance?  I think yes, because in countering terrorism in Afghanistan we defend our people and our homeland from it. 

These are far more than hypothetical questions.  They have fundamental implications for how individual Allies, and NATO, collectively shape their capabilities and processes.   We are faced with a truly potent cocktail of choices, and options.  But, given the realities of resource and capability constraints, reinforced by the economic crisis, how should we identify which are the most urgent priorities?  How do we optimise the allocation of resources between them, and between current and future tasks?

NATO is, and must continue to be, a learning organisation.  It has learned enormously from its various operations, starting in 1995 with IFOR, the start of our Balkans operations.  Indeed, more than any other aspect it is our operations and missions that have had, and will continue to have, the most impact on the direction of the Alliance.   Due to its sheer size, and complexity, our operation in Afghanistan is the most dominant example.

The New Strategic Concept must draw on all relevant experience from these operations.  Equally, we need to ensure that we do not end up simply re-defining NATO only in terms of its Afghanistan experience.  In developing a New Strategic Concept, we need to look through and beyond this operation, and anticipate other future operations that might be very different in nature.  The recent example of our anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean is a clear example of how rapidly new challenges and operations can arise.

The authors of the New Strategic Concept can, and should, draw far-ranging implications from these operations.  They touch upon virtually every aspect of NATO’s structures and how we do business.

Allow me to highlight a few key themes, which I believe, from a military perspective, that the New Strategic Concept needs to accommodate:

  • The Threat needs to be explained in a way that addresses both the complexity and uncertainty involved.  It must also be articulated so as to inform both defence practitioners, and also the broader public opinion.  This is important to ensure that our publics and parliamentarians have a good understanding of the types of future missions that will probably need to be conducted on their behalves.  Without this basis of knowledge, it will be increasingly hard to maintain the necessary public and parliamentary support needed to pay for military capabilities and sustain future campaigns.
  • In this sense, the work could usefully draw also from other recent exercises, such as the writing of the Livre Blanc in France, the UK’s Security Strategy and the Multiple Futures Project undertaken by Allied Command Transformation.  These wide-ranging reviews involved extensive consultation to assess and explain the changed, and changing, security environment.  Common to both exercises is the sense of the uncertainty that we face.  This needs to be captured and articulated in the New Strategic Concept.  If Hollywood were to be believed, we could be confronted by alien attacks in the future.  I’m not suggesting that there is any grain of reality in this, but more often than not, movies anticipate situations that we consider unbelievable at the moment when we see them; then, some years later, they become reality.  The creativity of film makers is often anticipating the future further ahead than the forecasts of the Centres for Analysis and Think Tanks.  So, if we stick to a shopping list of threats, we might fail to respond to the next crisis quickly and effectively; the flexibility of thought and action we need to accommodate the unknown is really what I am talking about here.  It must be a forward-looking document, and at the same time needs to provide a framework that can continue to absorb change.  In this regard, it is likely that the re-fresh rate may well need to be shorter than the average 10 years of its predecessors.
  • It also needs to explain the Security Continuum, by which I mean the relationships that exist between what might be termed the softer and harder ends of the security spectrum.  The New Strategic Concept needs to articulate this clearly, and must address the fact that there are intrinsic links between the provision of security within national territories and what might be termed forward defence, through expeditionary operations.   It also includes tasks such as capacity building, and training of other nations’ defence and security organisations.  Some Allies have done this for many years, but for others this is a new approach.  We have a good example in the recent political decision to establish the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan.  But, I believe that we are likely to see an increased demand for such activities in other areas, and that we need to be ready to deliver.  If you like, this could be seen as helping to deliver stability to nations on NATO’s periphery, or in areas in which we have strategic interests, as a means to deliver security at home. 
  • The New Strategic Concept must highlight, and provide clear guidance on the notion of a Comprehensive Approach. Currently, the International Community, including the Alliance, has a ‘Comprehensive Awareness’ but has not yet been able to deliver a truly ‘Comprehensive Approach’ (we lack a clear co-ordination as to who is doing what and who is in the lead).  Our experiences in Afghanistan and other operations demonstrate that today’s security challenges require a more coherent application of political, military, economic and other measures.  The New Strategic Concept needs to set out NATO’s commitment and contribution to such a Comprehensive Approach.  But it must not be presented as a “silver bullet” solution to all challenges. Neither should it be portrayed as “being owned by NATO”.  There are also clear mis-matches between the ambitions for a Comprehensive Approach and the reality.  Many civil institutions are either unwilling or unable to cooperate with the military, to a sufficient extent.  These problems manifest themselves at both the national and international levels.  However, there are signs of a new level of cooperation between international institutions.  The signature, last year, of a joint NATO-UN Declaration is a big step forward.  We also see closer ties with the OSCE and the African Union, and initial talks with the Arab League.
  •  NATO should be an actor in a globalised world, not necessarily a global actor.  This requires that NATO maintains, or indeed expands, its outreach and partnership programmes and is aware  that security, from a regional perspective, does not necessarily require the presence of NATO forces, but can be delivered through the forces of other organisations that have partnered NATO and who have shared or common values, including the common interest of global security.  Undoubtedly, that partnership would take many forms, from the implementation of a true Comprehensive Approach, through the existing programmes such as Mediterranean Dialogue, to a better, more defined approach with the EU – looking for true complementarity.  However, this latter area is one in which we still have not, by all evidence, made sufficient progress - there is no substantive strategic partnership with the EU.  I recognise the political sensitivities of such a relationship, but we have so much in common and the more NATO is responsive, coherent and proactive in dealing with security issues, the more credible a partner we will be in shaping our bi-lateral relationship.
  • There is another more subtle aspect to consider and that is the combined effect of France’s full participation in the NATO Command Structure, and the change in the perception of the ESDP by the US new administration.   Just as we understand that it would not be in the European interest to promote in the European Defence Dimension, developments putting at risk the core value of the NATO transatlantic link, the United-States has understood that a policy of competition between the two is no longer sustainable.  In truth, it is the combined and complementary action of NATO and the EU, as part of a comprehensive and global approach, in which we, as a whole, need to coordinate all of our capacities to find common solutions to common threats. In my opinion, we are seeing the first steps of a long process and it seems to be heading in the right direction.  The New Strategic Concept could be both a positive catalyst, and a vehicle to reinforce the cooperation between these organisations, for a reciprocal benefit to both.
  • We need Credible, Adaptable and Flexible Capabilities, and further Military Transformation.  Faced with the various, and sometimes conflicting, needs of very different kinds of operations, and new and emerging future security challenges, NATO and Allies must maintain and develop a range of appropriate and credible capabilities.  At the same time, we also need to develop more flexible and cost-effective capabilities, which can be adapted to face new threats and roles.   In doing so, the various factors and constraints that I have outlined will have significant impact.  Of these perhaps the most significant in the short term will be the financial crisis.
  • From a Resource perspective, The New Strategic Concept must be based on an approach that focuses also on what the Alliance should and should not do.  The Level of Ambition that will be expressed in the New Strategic Concept will need to have due regard for the resourcing issue, especially in light of growing financial constraints.  The need for collective defence against a residual conventional threat has not disappeared, and whilst new threats have emerged, NATO must be capable of dealing with all of them, and be resourced to do so.  Such threats in a globalised world put a particular emphasis on capabilities that are expeditionary in nature.  Ultimately, whilst the Military can define the resources needed to achieve the desired capabilities, it is only the Politicians that can ensure that those capabilities are adequately resourced.  In other words, the New Strategic Concept must be resource aware, and the ambitions set for NATO (the collective defence and collective security role) will need to be consistent and coherent with the resources that our political masters make available to underpin them.  If this is not the case, then the New Strategic Concept would be little more that a “fairytale exercise”.
  • Finally, a word about Risks and Choices.  Against such an uncertain backdrop, it is clear that the New Strategic Concept will need to give guidance on how NATO will equip itself to assess a range of complex options, in the face of significant resource constraints and a growing demand for its services. This will require hard political and military choices, and in many ways demands an improved decision-making process, in order to make better-informed decisions.

So, in summary, in developing the New Strategic Concept we need to look at the future, and not dwell unduly on the past.  For, although looking backwards is easier, it is falsely reassuring.  The world has changed, and will continue to change.  Equally, in looking forward and deciding on which road we are to travel, we must bear in mind the type of journey we wish to take to Lisbon – a non-deviating direct track, or a journey with things to see and do along the way, an enriching journey that benefits all.  Although NATO has changed significantly, to remain relevant it must also continue to change and to address the current and future security environment.

I believe that the real strengths of this Alliance are its core values: values of free democratic societies, values worth protecting, safeguarding and, if necessary, values worth fighting for; and this we do together across the Atlantic - North Americans and Europeans standing, shoulder to shoulder, together.

This is my view of the New Strategic Concept and the evolving role and sense of direction of the Alliance.  I hope that you will agree with me that there is much to play for in the coming months and years ahead.  We are at Piazza Venezia, and whilst we will need courage to deal with the traffic, at least through the New Strategic Concept we can replace our map with an optimised SATNAV, ensuring that we take the BEST road on our journey to Lisbon. 

Thank you.

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