02 Apr 15. Having returned from Brussels yesterday afternoon where through Tuesday I had been involved in some fascinating ‘round-table’ discussion ahead of having the honour to present a formal address to members of NATO International Military Staff in the CMC Conference Room at the behest of the Director General I may conclude that I am now not only very much better informed of how NATO is meeting the various challenges it faces but also that I am very confident of the ability of the alliance to continue adapting and changing to meet constant round of threats that we face.
Today I can consider that NATO is well run and that it has the ability to provide and sustain a full spectrum of military support and capability wherever that may be required. I have always been and remain a very loyal supporter of NATO and I do wish that I could convince doubters that not only is NATO fit for purpose but also that it remains vital to our future peace and stability.
Having written more extensively on the subject of NATO last September following the Wales Summit I will not attempt to repeat any of what I said back then. Neither would I wish to change anything that I said back then either but that does not mean that I should fail to use this opportunity to re-emphasise not only the vital importance that NATO plays in the security of all of its 28 member states but also its faults.
Complicated by size and scale it may well be but that does not mean that NATO is unable to make fast decisions when they are required. Recognising past criticisms, the Wales summit agreed to significantly enhance responsiveness through a plan that would develop packages of force able to deploy within days as opposed to weeks if required in response to challenge. The commitment encompassed the creation of a force consisting of a land component with appropriate air, maritime and special-forces operations availability, command and control presence along with other required force elements and enablers.
In my own address on Tuesday I said that I believed NATO to now be robust, agile and able to command simultaneous challenges whenever these may be presented. But whilst recognising the success that NATO has already achieved and will again achieve in the future that does not mean we should ignore l I am sure in fiture achieve remains TO and I , ty to for two years tio nger of politics tary and a none military threat osome of the shortcomings that the alliance must now address.
Having expanded membership to 28 nations while it is true to say that the alliance has risen to the challenge of redefining its role what it has not yet done is work out how it should better embrace the out-of-area question and also how it should handle the equally problematical question of moving toward individual national specialisation.
I have already covered the ‘out-of-area’ issue in a previous commentary piece and I do well understand that getting 28 nations to agree a solution will not be easy. The potential and possible need to consider the issue of ‘Specialisation’ is an equally difficult and vexing question that I suggest will neither be sorted in under a decade nor will it be one that will go away.
The notion that one nation might effectively give up existing capability in one specific area that it has always had and that it might rely on another nation to act on its behalf in that capacity might even stand accused of potentially creating more problems than it sets out to resolve. But it is an issue that on the basis that nations continue to question affordability in defence may need to be considered as a potential way forward. To some the notion of specialisation is abhorrent and dangerous just as is the concept of pooling and sharing and giving up any form of sovereign capability.
Critical technology retention is an equally vexing issue and one that quite rightly needs to be handled with great care. In terms of specialisation I suspect the big problem is the possibility that the nation given responsibility for holding a specific capability specialisation finds itself in disagreement on having involvement in a specific area or conflict. This is indeed an issue but like it or not if some of the mature NATO member states fail to get the message on the damage they are doing to defence by continuing to look at ways of cutting spending and investment in defence I would have to say that like it or not specialisation will be a route that we are forced to travel.
The old adage of ‘what you never had you never miss’ may not stack up well in defence but the truth is that with many smaller alliance member states relying on the wider capability of larger member states specialisation is nothing new. The point to note now though is that the ultimate impact of individual national defence cuts is that capability erodes to the point that there is a lack of capacity, sustainment and resilience.
When that point is reached and if the nation in question fails to recognise the importance of sustaining sufficient investment the danger is that it is then perceived to lack relevance by fellow alliance member states. That said, as far as I am aware none of the larger mature NATO member states appears ready to give up elements of capability and allow the beginnings of a transition that would allow a fundamental change in the whole approach to western defence and of how the alliance might in future operates.
While I would much prefer the status quo to exist I can hardly ignore the suggestion that if policy continues to dictate cuts in defence spending that the longer term future course of action would need to be an extension of specialisation. To an extent this is as I suggest already occurring with NATO AWACS aircraft providing support to Poland and the Baltic states. Note too how the Royal Air Force was able to respond to a request to assist the French in Mali with both Boeing C-17 transport capability and also certain C4ISR related elements in the form of Raytheon Sentinel capability. The US and French governments also responded to a British government request to provide military assistance in the form of Maritime Patrol Aircraft capability searching for Russian submarines alleged to be rather too close to British waters and because in this case, the UK no longer has any maritime search capability.
Specialisation is a difficult issue to be sure and it is one that NATO will need to tread warily. Another closely linked issue is the need for NATO to establish partnerships to assist in a range of very different threats that we face today. By this I am referring to what is generally termed today as hybrid warfare or sometimes by the more traditional term unconventional warfare. The latter has other meanings of course and the hybrid term is essentially a reference to cyber plus other means of warfare that might include technology and mass communication. Hybrid warfare is an institutional threat and put another way would be to say that it covers a broad combination of military and none military means that can be applied towards a strategic goal and that might well be based on covert and overt actions and/or deception together with manipulation and abused use of communications.
Hybrid warfare requires a great deal more readiness and preparedness than perhaps anything that has gone before. These are not my words but essentially those of NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg. He is right and certainly there will rarely if ever be warning of ‘attack’ but such is the sensitivity and uncertainty of how to approach the very large and diverse range of ‘hybrid’ threats and that in effect know no boundaries that there remains a considerable amount of work and analysis left to do by us. That a comprehensive approach is required by NATO to the hybrid threat is not in doubt but with this being as much a military and none military threat and one in which it may be argued that the forward approach should be NATO working with partners such as the European Union, government and non-government organisations and the private sector if that is to occur we probably still have some way to go.
That said NATO has not been standing still on the Hybrid warfare threat. The development of hybrid warfare exercise scenario’s, the setting up I believe of an deployable allied Special Operations Component Command headquarters as one of the deliverables from the Connective Forces Initiative Package and a pledge to work with the European Commission to improve levels of co-operation in order to meet the hybrid threat are important additions. At the heart of the hybrid warfare threat is the ability to use communications to your advantage. These may be in traditional form or perhaps using social media.
There can be little doubt that Hybrid warfare particularly in the form of cyber-attack has the potential to cripple the infrastructure and communicating ability of nation. NATO needs to be in a position to both deter if necessary, defend and also where appropriate, attack. To an extent we may also see the hybrid threat as akin to what we used to call propaganda attack but in terms of influencing, manipulating, provoking and silently destroying infrastructure and other national capability I suspect that we should see this enemy being far more dangerous.
As I have said, the way forward for NATO has to be through a mix of partnership, coordination and providing a better understanding of the threat. I will come back to this issue in subsequent pieces. To conclude on two final NATO related issues though I would mention again the greater need for all nations to take NATO more seriously and that includes the UK MOD.
Finally and as I outlined in detail in my own address on Tuesday, I consider the commitment that all member states signed up to in the Wales summit last year to work towards spending 2% of GDP on defence is in danger of imploding because those that led the horses to the water have no intention of drinking the water themselves. On that basis and given the urgency of need to spend more on defence as opposed to less might it not be better to revisit the issue and make it something that everyone should be able to sign up to and agree – rather than spending 2% of GDP spend 6% of total national spending on defence.
I will leave that thought with you – not sure whether there will be a ‘Commentary’ on Good Friday or not just yet but I can say with absolute certainty and a three line whip hanging over me that ‘Commentary’ will be having a week long break for during Easter week itself!
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