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NATO's Istanbul Summit: New Mission, New Means

NATO's Istanbul Summit: New Mission, New Means

Speech by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the Royal United Services Institute. London, June 18, 2004. Source: NATO.

  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted and honoured to speak at this distinguished institution. RUSI can look back on a proud history of over 170 years. That makes it probably the world’s oldest “think tank” on security.

The secret of RUSI’s success is its penchant for thinking out of the box. If you want to hear middle-of-the-road stuff, you have to turn elsewhere. So, in my speech this morning, I would like to honour RUSI’s interest in the non-conventional.

Of course, I will speak about what is advertised – our forthcoming Summit in Istanbul. But I will not do this in the way you would probably expect it from a NATO Secretary General. I am not going to extol at length Istanbul’s showcase initiatives, no matter how tempting that might be.

Instead, I would like to push the envelope a little – by speaking about something that NATO Secretary Generals rarely touch upon in public: how to generate the forces we need to conduct the Alliance’s current and future missions.

Why do I broach this subject here and now? In fact, there are three good reasons why:

  • First, capabilities are essential to everything NATO does. NATO’s political clout is directly related to its military competence. The Alliance enjoys such a strong international standing because it can convert, when necessary, political decisions into concrete military action.

We have seen in Bosnia that moral condemnations or the use of economic sanctions availed us little without the backing of military power. In Kosovo, our military competence was essential in reversing a humanitarian disaster. Without our military capabilities, Afghanistan would risk a return to the Taliban boot and to become again a safe haven for Al Qaida. In short, to quote Kofi Annan, diplomacy works better when it is supported by credible military power.

  • Second, our missions are changing. Projecting stability has become a precondition for our security. NATO’s core function of defending its members can no longer be achieved by maintaining forces only to defend our borders. We simply can no longer protect our security without addressing the potential risks and threats that arise far from our homes. Afghanistan is a case in point. Either we tackle these problems when and where they emerge, or they will end up on our doorstep.

Projecting stability calls for forces that are very different from those of the Cold War. Simply put, we need more wide-bodied aircraft, and fewer heavy tanks. We need forces that are slimmer, tougher, and faster; forces that reach further, and can stay in the field longer but can still punch hard. In short, to use the catchphrases, we need forces that are more “deployable” and “usable”. We will only have them if NATO member states consciously plan for them and are prepared to put aside traditional ways of doing business.

  • My third reason for raising the way we generate forces is my strong conviction that the demand for NATO is likely to increase, not diminish, in the future. NATO will be called upon by the international community to be a peacemaker, peacekeeper, and the provider of security and stability. Right now – and for the foreseeable future – I cannot envisage any other organisation that could do the job of projecting stability as well as NATO can. When Kofi Annan recently delivered a speech inviting NATO to play a more active role in Africa, he indicated as much. And the UN’s interest in closer practical cooperation with NATO is pointing in the same direction.

So can we deliver? The simple answer to this question is that we must deliver. We must make sure that our means match our ambitions. There simply is no other choice.

The Istanbul Summit will help us deliver. It will provide us with many new tools to help us project stability: enhanced Partnerships, notably with our Partners in the Caucasus and Central Asia; a deepening of our Mediterranean Dialogue and a new offer of cooperation to countries from the wider region of the Middle East; new capabilities, notably the NATO Response Force and our new Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defence Battalion.

But the Summit will also decide on a stronger NATO presence in Afghanistan. And it is here where we have been confronted with challenges we have never had to deal with before.

Let me be blunt. Missions such as Afghanistan present wholly new challenges in terms of generating forces. We have never done anything quite like this before and it should not be a surprise that there are challenges.

We have already made a real difference on the ground. And I am confident that by Istanbul we will have generated the forces we need to expand NATO’s ISAF mission beyond Kabul. But our force generation system is far from optimal. We must improve this system so that we can meet future challenges more efficiently.

These challenges can be big – a new headquarters, an operational reserve. But they can also be small – a medical facility, a handful of C-130’s and medium lift helicopters, a couple of infantry companies, and certain surveillance and intelligence assets. Given the vast quantities of personnel and equipment available to the Alliance overall, we have to ask ourselves why we still cannot fill them. What is wrong with our system that we cannot generate small amounts of badly needed resources for missions that we have committed to politically?

In my view, the answer lies in taking a hard look at three critical areas. We have to look at:

  • the way we take political decisions

  • the way we plan and generate forces, and

  • the way we are funding our operations and equipment

First, a few words about political decision-making. Picture this: NATO's nations take and announce a political decision to undertake a mission. We task the NATO Military Authorities to plan for it and to resource it. And then we suddenly find out that nations are not prepared to make available the necessary capabilities.

Does this sound familiar? Well, this is pretty much what happened in NATO regarding Afghanistan. And you also know what followed: my predecessor and I have had to go around and around to ask nations for contributions.

This must change. I don’t mind taking out my begging bowl once in a while. But as a standard operating procedure, this is simply intolerable. We must adapt our political decision making process to take force generation into account. Whenever we enter into a political commitment to undertake an operation, we must have a clear idea beforehand as to what forces we have available to honour this commitment.

But how can we achieve this greater clarity? This brings me to my second critical issue, NATO’s force planning and force generation system. There is an obvious disconnect between our longer-term force planning system and the way we generate forces for a particular operation. We need to overcome this disconnect.

I am happy to report that work is already underway to address some of the shortcomings. For example, we are looking at defining concrete targets for deployability and usability of our forces, and a clear understanding of what nations are able and willing to do to match these targets.

This will provide us with more predictability about what forces we will have available when we agree to conduct an operation. But this predictability needs to be based on a clear view of future needs. This requires many nations to confront some rather traditional mindsets in their military establishments. There are still too many out there who are comfortable with old ways of doing business, and who prefer to run on the structures of the past rather than making the radical changes that real transformation means. The time has clearly come for us to challenge these traditionalist views.

A more responsive force planning and force generation process will get us a long way towards ensuring that our means match our ambitions. But there is yet another critical area we need to look at, which is funding.

We also have to re-examine the way we finance operations. Our established procedures have a nation pay for all equipment and personnel it deploys abroad. This is encapsulated in the formula “costs lie where they fall”. As a principle, it is a good one. But it can mean that those nations with certain key capabilities will always be asked to deliver – and always expected to pay.

This is not just unfair to certain nations. It also undermines the very logic of NATO as a coalition in which burdens are shared equitably and fairly. We will have to re-examine these arrangements with care, particularly to make sure that these certain nations do not end up paying twice.

That is why I want Allies to examine alternative options like, for example, common funding of essential capabilities, such as airlift or medical facilities. Given that transport helicopters and airlift are so difficult to find, is it outrageous to suggest that a group of nations come together to provide a NATO transport fleet of helicopters and aircraft. Isn’t this what we did – and very successfully – with our AWACS aircraft?

And could the same not be done for medical facilities as well? Or, could nations outsource to provide these specialised capabilities?

I also want nations to take another hard look at how they go about developing certain capabilities. Let us be realistic: some capabilities are simply unaffordable to individual smaller nations. Developing these capabilities bilaterally or multinationally can offer an affordable solution. So can the pooling of resources through outsourcing.

Some multinational capabilities are already being pursued in this way through NATO’s Prague Capabilities Commitment. But we should consider pushing the envelope to include other capabilities as well.

The structure of defence budgets is another area where new approaches might help us make progress. Some countries have one defence budget, out of which they finance peacekeeping and other operations as well as new military hardware. I personally do not think that is the best way to meet these requirements. Because it creates a zero-sum situation, where operations become a drag on military modernisation, and vice versa.

Ideally, therefore, the cost of real-life operations should not come out of the defence budget. At the very least, we should encourage nations to develop contingency funds within their own budgets, in order to be able to respond to possible unexpected demands related to crisis response operations.

The bottom line is that we must ensure that nations not only have the capabilities, but also the funding to use these capabilities in NATO operations. This is an issue that both Defence and Finance Ministers need to address. And I believe they should do so quickly.

  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

If NATO intends to be serious about operations, now and in the future, then it has to get serious about capabilities and force generation. We need a much higher level of confidence that nations can and will provide the forces that are necessary. This means changes in the way we do business – in the way we take decisions, in the way we plan and generate forces, and in the way we fund our missions.

My predecessor, Lord Robertson, was fond of his mantras “capability”, “deployability” and “usability”. In my view, we need to add another one: “predictability”. We must devise a formula that both encourages and enables nations to honour their collective decisions and commitments.

I am perfectly aware that procedural changes alone will not do the trick. NATO is an Alliance of sovereign nations. The decision to send troops abroad is always a sovereign one. So it is ultimately a matter of national political will. And it is not just an issue for Chiefs of Defence and Defence Ministers but also for Foreign Ministers, for Finance Ministers, and for Heads of State and Government.

Which brings me back to the Istanbul Summit. This Summit will, I trust, adopt new approaches both to force planning and force generation. But, transformation is a process, not a single event. Istanbul is the place where we will make a start. If we are serious about the need to project stability in today’s volatile security environment, we must continue to make sure that our means match our ambitions.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).