Monday, 26 October 2009

Ministers on Defence Transformation

The transformation of NATO for the 21st century has been a major topic at ministerial meetings for some time, and the Alliance has a military command dedicated to transformation based in Norfolk, Virginia.

Ministers discussed transformation at their working dinner in Bratislava, and a major part of that discussion was the prioritisation of resources. In the midst of recession, and deep cuts in government spending in years to come, the debate for NATO is no longer how to increase defence spending, but how to do more with less. Ministers agreed the Secretary General´s decision to appoint a high-level group of officials from defence ministries to address this question directly at the NATO level. One way that NATO adds value to national defence budgets is with collective projects, which include initiatives such as Allied Ground Surveillance and Strategic Airlift Capability.

In fact the core of the transformation debate is how NATO can acquire the capability to project forces quickly across the globe. This means military transformation, but also major change sin the decision-making structures at a NATO level which were not designed for an Alliance of 27 states, and are increasingly unwieldy.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gave a speech prior to the opening of the Defence Ministers meeting, in which he addressed defence transformation from the NATO perspective:

.. the new Strategic Concept will need to urge continued military transformation – to allow us to cover the full spectrum of tasks, from collective defence to peace support operations. It should also encourage Allies to work more closely together in acquiring key capabilities and in funding operations. Needless to say, the current financial crisis and the budgetary problems faced by all our nations only make this a more pressing requirement. This is also about taxpayer’s money. We have to make efficient use of our resources, through better cooperation, through better coordination and through collective solutions.

He also dealt with the issue during the question and answer session:

[On] modernization of NATO. Actually, it's my ambition that the Strategic Concept as such, should serve as the leverage for modernization, transformation and reform of NATO. And I fully agree that we need such transformation. Let me just mention a few areas. Firstly, militarily. It strikes me that 70 percent of the armed forces in Europe are stationary. I spoke about our core task territorial defence, but I also ask myself, how can we make territorial defence critical if we cannot deploy military forces, if we cannot move them around, if they are not flexible?

So we need transformation in a direction of more flexibility, more mobility, more deployability. Which leads me to my second point. We also need to streamline our structures. Our command structures, our Headquarters, of course, including civil headquarters in Brussels. And recently I had the opportunity to present to the NATO Ambassadors in Brussels some of my ideas as to how I would like to gradually modernize and reform our Headquarters.

As far as our military headquarters are concerned, I also think there is a potential for streamlining. However, I also think this should be an integrated part of our Strategic Concept exercise.

And finally, it's my ambition to ensure that NATO can become an efficient decision-making body. If we are to ensure NATO relevance on the international stage then we also have to speed up our decision-making processes. You touched upon the number of committees, but even more important than the exact number of committees, and I agree with you, we should look closer into that. Actually we have an ongoing exercise, a review of our committee system. But even more important than the number of committees, is the procedure as to how we use the committees. I don't think they should delay decisions, but they should improve the quality of decisions. So it's a very important point.

The ministers debate at the dinner was discussed by NATO Spokesman James Appathurai earlier in the day. He was quite blunt about the financial situation:

The bottom line, when it comes to money, is this: In the next few years we foresee a shortfall of several hundred million euros between what governments have committed to do within NATO budgets when it comes to operations and capabilities, and what they have allocated in terms of money to pay for that. That shortfall will only grow as NATO's responsibilities grow as well. The Secretary General is going to draw attention to that this evening and ask allies to look at where we can do a number of things. One is to prioritize the things that we do, the things that are more important, the things that are less important. Second, to see how we can pool resources, pool assets, do better at being cost effective in the way in which we acquire equipment, in the way in which we do our logistics.

Appathurai also addressed the question of deployability:

A second aspect is capability. In essence less than half of our forces are deployable outside of the country which provides them. Less than 10 percent are sustainable outside of the country for any extended period of time. There has been a lot of improvement in the last four or five years in raising those numbers, but it is still not enough, because not only can forces that can't move not be sent very far out of area, for example, to Afghanistan, they're also quite limited in the kind of support they can provide even to allies in an Article 5 contingency. So more deployable forces, more sustainable forces make sense, both for collective defence and for out-of-area operations and the Secretary General is basically going to want to put before allies the idea of having more concrete timelines for reaching higher targets for deployability and sustainability of their forces.

For NATO, the bottom line is, as the Secretary General told the press following the meeting “To me, the discussion on transformation is very simple: we need more capability for the money we spend on defence. And we are not doing well enough.”

On can question whether the idea of NATO as a global security provider, ready to intervene across the globe is a good one. Opinion is divided. However, it is undeniable that NATO is not well suited to the role at present. The experience in Afghanistan has cruelly highlighted that fact. However, it has also shown that however good the decision-making procedures, however well adapted and trained the military, whatever resources are provided, the main ingredient that is necessary is political will to do what is necessary for operational success. In Afghanistan the Alliance is seen as united in theory, but divided in practice, and all the transformation in the world won’t compensate for that.

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