NATO’s Emerging Challenges: Speech to 11th Allied Land Command Corps Commanders’ Conference, Valencia, Spain
October 24, 2017
This Commentary was first given as a speech at the 11th Allied Land Command Corps Commanders’ Conference in Valencia, Spain on October 18th, 2017.
Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’ve been given half an hour to try to challenge and provoke you this evening, and ask you to focus on the longer-term challenges you face at a time you already face more immediate challenges from developments like Russia’s Zapad 2017 exercise and violent extremist attacks on NATO territory. My challenge is not only to add more problems to the ones you already face, but to do so at time where I have been warned not to try to take military prisoners when I stand between you and desert, and I am all too conscious that I am a voice from the past that is speaking to NATO's future.
And yet, I hope that you will take the three additional longer-term challenges I am going to present seriously in spite of the more immediate challenges you face. NATO does not survive and succeed by concentrating on the present. While people sometimes talk nostalgically about how simple it was to define NATO's mission during the Cold war, its entire history is one of having to make radical changes in strategy and force planning to reflect changes in the threat and the nature of warfare and find ways to use its resources more effectively over time.
NATO's early decades involved having to meet the challenges of Europe's postwar economy, the Korean War, a conversion to a theater nuclear oriented force structure, the phase out of major U.S. military aid, decolonization and its related cuts in European forces, the Suez Crisis, Russian action in East Germany and Hungary, Russian parity in theater nuclear weapons, the Berlin Wall, and the impact of Vietnam on U.S. forces
And, I do not speak about such challenges from a theoretical viewpoint. More than half a century ago, beginning in the early 1960s, I was assigned by our Secretary of Defense to work in the NATO International Staff, and to help lead on what was called the NATO Force Planning Exercise. This too was a time of change. It was the time the Berlin Wall was accompanied by rising new security barriers between Western and Eastern Europe. We were seeking to create new longer-term force plans to strengthen NATO's level of deterrence and conventional warfighting capabilities at a time the FSU had caught up in theater nuclear warfare, had a seeming massive superiority in conventional warfare, and NATO’s ability to deter and defend was in grave doubt.
I stayed in NATO during the move from Paris to Brussels, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and helped NATO expand its budgeting and force planning efforts to cover a five-year period. I ended my role in the International Staff by leading a small group that developed some of the first computerized net assessments of the NATO-Warsaw Pact balance.
I continued to work on NATO – off and on in our Office of the Secretary of Defense, our State Department, and the NSC, and as the National Security Assistant to Senator John McCain. I worked on efforts to develop better integrated approaches to land-air warfare and common tactics and strategic for each of NATO’s corps, for dealing with the need to give forward defense a full alliance-wide priority, to create full net assessments of the NATO-Warsaw Pact balance for force planning purposes, MBFR and the preludes to CFEand for dealing with the emergence of new Russian nuclear strike systems like the SS-20 and SS-21 and to deploy the Pershing II and GLCM.
Challenge One: The Need to Find an Effective Deterrent
I did play a very minor role in advising on the decisions that President Bush and Chairman Powell made to cut U.S. forces after what seemed to be the end of the Cold War. But, like many here, I hoped that steps like the CFE Treaty and Partnership for Peace would end the remnants of the Cold War.
The fact is, however, is that Russia has made it all clear that the era of peace dividends is over. The invasion of Georgia in 2008, the Invasion of the Ukraine in 2014, Russian exercises in Kaliningrad, tacit threats to the Baltic states, and Zapad 2017 have shown the need to raise my first major challenge tonight.
Russia now seems committed to presenting a lasting challenge to NATO's security, and NATO has never been more relevant to the security of Europe, North America, and the Atlantic Alliance. There is a clear need for a new NATO force planning exercise that gives priority to planning an effective deterrent to further Russian adventures. NATO needs to use its resources to build up national and regional capabilities to deal with the full spectrum of Russian threats from "wars of intimidation," little green men, and other asymmetric and covert threats, to serious theater conflicts and one that at least involve the tacit threat of using nuclear-armed missiles.
Let me stress that we should still do what we can to move back to a Partnership for Peace and should not simply assume that Russia is hostile. But, the steps that NATO – and you—have already taken to reinforce deterrence and defense and deal with immediate threats are only a beginning. Until Russia decisively changes its behavior, NATO needs to develop and implement detailed longer-term force plans that reinforce deterrence and stability, that provide added security at the forward edge of the alliance and that combine a focus on forward deterrence with improvements in the capabilities of all NATO countries. They must also be plans based on a care net assessment of Russian capabilities, and that deal with a Russia that that is emerging as a peer power in many scenarios.
Such a NATO effort cannot be an effort based on broad concepts and goals, and vague strategic objectives. The key will be to develop detailed force plans and longer-term budgets that use each nation’s resources wisely over a period of years to produce tangible nation-by-nation changes in actual military capability. It will be to shape national budgets and force plans to build stronger land and land-air forces in the forward area and while building as broad a range of other improvements in deterrent capabilities in other nations as their resources permit. It takes years of real world efforts and focused defense spending to make real world changes in military capability at the national and alliance-wide level.
Moreover, achieving real change will require a consistent military effort to win support from national political leaders and popular political support. It will require both NATO and national military commanders to publically justify their goals and budgets, to show there is a real threat, threats, and explain the need to respond in terms of specific changes in forces and military capabilities at the national level.
In peace time, winning the battle of the budget is the most important battle that commanders can fight. Accordingly, the core of this challenge to you as military commanders is to help create NATO force plans that are practical and affordable, plans that can credibly be implemented over time by each individual country, plans that can win political and public support, and plans that tie the Alliance together in ways that bind it in terms of real military capability.
Your military advice and force plans must take account of national differences and needs and focus on the art of the possible. Nations remain nations. But, this does not mean that NATO commanders and military leaders cannot do much to bind NATO together and should not seek unity at the individual command, regional, and an alliance-wide levels.
NATO is only as strong as the ability of its military planners to find ways to look beyond national priorities and caveats. It is only as strong as its ability to solve the problems of interoperability and standardization and to create effective forward deterrence led by the land component of national and alliance forces. Important as the land component is, it also is only as strong as national, regional, and alliance-wide force plans take full account of the fact that deterrence is a matter of each member’s real-world ability to take part in common effort to conduct joint warfare.
Force Planning Versus a Search to Spend 2% of the GDP.
And let me challenge you more specifically by saying that one key task of NATO’s military must be to move NATO Ministers away from NATO's current pointless emphasis on having each country spend 2% of its national GDP on defense. At a time of real threats and risks, NATO needs to define the force goals and military capabilities that each country should focus on. It must reshape current budgets and capabilities to create the improvements in deterrence and defense that military expertise, net assessments of the balance, and careful examination of options for the future show are really needed.
Let me point out a few facts about just how much the “2% solution” has failed to deal with the reemergence of a Russian threat and the newer threat of terrorism and extremism. Consider what the Secretary General’s annual report for 2016 says about the real-world performance of NATO’s forward area states: Estonia (2.18%) and Poland (2.01%) are the only two forward area states meeting the 2% goal, and there is no indication that meeting this goal or spending more will meet any of NATO’s military needs. Twelve of the fourteen NATO countries closest to Russia now fall far short of the 2% goal.
The Secretary’s annual statement lists the following official percentages for the most threatened states in 2016: Turkey (1.69%), Norway (1.55%), Lithuania (1.49%), Latvia (1.48%), (Romania) 1.41%), Bulgaria (1.30%), Croatia (1.21%), Slovak Republic (1.12%), Albania (1.11%), Hungary (1.02%), Slovenia (1.02%), Czech Republic (1.01%). Just how motivation-less could any goal have been?
The key states that underpin NATO's European forces do little better. Germany, once the conventional core of the NATO alliance—and now perhaps the wealthiest European member in terms of the ability to spend—has made massive cuts in its forces and readiness and spent only 1.2%. The U.K. spent 2.17%, but is still making cuts in its force plans and readiness. The same is true of France, which spent 1.79%, and Italy, which spent 1.11%. The U.S. spent 3.61%—but most of this spending went goes to other theaters, and U.S. forces in Europe are only a fraction of what they were during the Cold War.
But, that said, it is critical to point out that the military impact of these shortfalls in meeting the 2% goal are impossible to estimate. Who, after all, could possibly know the military importance of an annual shortfall or surplus in a largely meaningless percentage? How much more real world capability can simply spending 2% of the GDP buy if it can easily take some countries a decade to compensate for past shortfalls in spending on the right forces? What good is an Alliance-wide goal where meeting it or not meeting it says nothing about the end result?
What Happens if You Compare NATO's Resources with Those of Russia and Belarus?
And, let me point out another set of figures which illustrate the need for net assessments, and to stop focusing on NATO spending alone and simply spending more. The International Institute for Strategic Studies—or IISS—estimates that Russian military spending dropped from $64.5 billion in 2014 to $46.6 billion in 2016—largely because of cuts in its weak petroeconomy and energy export income. To put that Russian figure of $46.6 billion in perspective, the United Kingdom alone saw its budget drop from $61.6 to $52.5 billion during the same period but the UK alone still spent 113% of all Russian military spending in 2016 .
If one looks at the patterns in total NATO military spending reported by the Secretary General in his 2017 annual report:
- NATO Europe reversed the decline it made in military spending in 2015, and spent an estimated $241.8 billion on defense in 2016—some 5.2 times or 419% more than Russia.
- If one adds the U.S. and Canada, NATO spent $921.4 billion—19.8 times that of Russia.
- Moreover, even if one adds Belarus to Russia, that only adds $509 million to the “Russian” total. A total that now becomes all of $47.1 billion. NATO Europe alone is still 5.1 times larger, and all of NATO is still 19.6 times larger.
- If one looks at military personnel, the force ratios are far more favorable to Russia. But, Russia has an active strength of 798,000 and Belarus has 48,000—a total of 846,000.
- The Secretary General reports that NATO Europe alone has 1,774,00—2.1 times Russia and Belarus combines. If one includes the U.S. and Canada, the NATO total rises to 3,152,000—3.7 times higher.
NATO needs to focus on using the resources it actually has—or can get—in setting tangible military goals and shaping a new NATO force planning exercise. It needs to focus on options for resolving national and regional differences over priorities and plans. It needs to reach workable compromises in dealing with debates like "360 degrees" versus "regionalism," issues like "assured access," and assigning leading and supporting roles with well-defined plans.
Shaping a New NATO Force Planning Exercise
If a new NATO force planning exercise is to work, it must also be based on giving political and public transparency to military voices that can win political and public support and create confidence at both the national and alliance levels. This does not mean the military should challenge political leadership, but it does mean they should inform and persuade it. It does mean that the military should communicate the necessity to develop a better mix of national forces that can keep the peace, and should seek to inform and inspire popular support.
It means reaching out through the use of tools like the Internet, ending the tendency to overclassify, providing public net assessments and explanations and justifications of force plans, giving full transparency to exercises, working with national and international think tanks, and using embed to develop real-world outside expertise and experience.
The central focus of real world "strategic communications" is not communicating with potential threats. In democracies, it must be to demonstrate to political leaders and the public that there is a real need to provide the right level of military forces to provide the proper level of security. This means providing military advice and plans that replace empty calls for 2% of GDP spending—and pointless whining over burdensharing – activities that are about as totally uninspiring a set of goals for democratic politics as anyone can possibly conceive of.
The task of NATO should not be to criticize nations for failing to meet an arbitrary spending goal. It should be to find ways to improve it force planning process in ways that help each member of the alliance do the best a given country can. The priority must also be to do the most where NATO is weakest. Today, this means a focus on forward deterrence, as much as on forward defense.
It is also to understand that NATO's success will depend on its ability to influence national defense budgets in ways that evolve a mix of national and regional force postures that gets the best level of capability that each nation can develop. It will not be to somehow create equal burdens. It will be to exploit current strengths and reinforce smaller, weaker, and forward states from the rear and North America.
In saying this, I fully understand the difficulties you face in dealing with different national priorities. I know you all have long lists of issues and uncertainties. But, making hard choices in the face of change and uncertainty is a fundamental responsibility of command. Moreover, given time, a collective effort, and a clear focus on deterring a very real threat—NATO has the resources to create far more effective military capabilities. If you can make a consistent collective effort at defining the way forward in specific enough terms to set credible goals for each member country, if you can show political leaders and your publics the resulting benefits, effective common force planning should be able to achieve far more than striving for a 2% of GNP goal that can easily be both unobtainable and militarily meaningless.
Challenge Two: Focusing on the Future and Not 20%
The second challenge I would like to present is an extension of the first. Land warfare has evolved into becoming part of joint land-air-naval-missile operations that can range from asymmetric political to nuclear warfare. There are no binding scenarios, but rather a spectrum of contingencies. As a result, every aspect of military competition, deterrence, and the risk of conflict is evolving in ways that are harder to predict than in the past. This not only affects every aspect of defense procurement, but national and collective efforts at training, exercises, and doctrine. It means simultaneously adjusting to changes in asymmetric, hybrid, cyber, and space warfare. It means rethinking logistics and resupply.
Most important, it means creating new staffs and capabilities to looking ahead at the full spectrum of shifts in what no longer is land warfare, but rather the land component of land-air-missile-naval warfare. NATO must find ways to adapt each major component of joint warfare to deal with the rapidly evolving changes in the nature of war without focusing on any one set of changes or attempt to predict a given future and set of scenarios.
Land forces—and every other aspect of military force—must take account of the shifting interactions between asymmetric political and military threats, changes in land and air warfare technology, shifts in conventional and asymmetric war and deterrence, evolving nuclear threats, new forms of conflict like cyberwarfare and the use of the Internet. They must face threat’s evolution toward technological parity, and the emerging threats to NATO’s advantages in command and control and IS&R, and find the best pathways forward.
There is no one set of scenarios or future that NATO can plan and prepare for. Revisiting the decisions of Cold War means living in a past that no longer exists. Seeking a technological edge to deal with only one new aspect of war is a recipe for failure. Strategic, tactical, and force planning must focus on planning for uncertainty. Every NATO and national commander must regularly adapt to the need for change, and some form of new staff structure is needed to support this effort.
And here again, a major change is needed in NATO’s current goals. Responding to the need for change and a far broader spectrum of options for political and military conflict requires very different force planning process from one that focuses on NATO's current goal of spending 20% on military procurement.
The Secretary General’s report shows that calling for each member to spend 20% of its total defense spending on procurement has been no more successful on a nation-by-nation basis, and in supporting forward deterrence and defense than calling for spending 2% of GDPs.
For half a century, I’ve watched far too many NATO countries focus on major procurement efforts designed to maintain national military industries with buys that seem best designed to defend the past. The 20% solution may be the worst approach yet. Once again, a goal is set regardless of the need to respond to major changes in the spectrum of land and joint warfare. It is set regardless of what 20% buys, and whether it meets NATO's changing future military needs. The end result is that real-world force objectives seems to be, "We don't really care what you do, or what you waste, as long as it is 2% of your GDP and 20% of that sum goes to some form of procurement buy."
Yes, some nations did increase their spending between 2015 and 2016, and others have pledged further increases. But, so what? Increasing spending in this way may or may not buy the right capabilities, and minor percentage increases may well take a decade or more to build effective forces after a decade of not spending and taking "peace dividends."
A new NATO force planning exercise must not only shape force plans with clear national, regional, and alliance-wide priorities, it must bring together new mixes of military, civilian, and technical expertise that focus on the full range of change and the emerging lessons of war. NATO needs to conduct serious efforts to deal with the changing nature of military competition and war by creating specialized staffs and efforts at net assessment, force planning, and creating effective strategies that really can deal with the real-world evolution of the Russian and other threats.
Above all, NATO must look beyond procurement
alone and consider shifts in strategy, tactics, and technology. There is an old American joke that, “He who dies with most toys wins.” One does not have to be a master of strategic thinking to realize that dying isn’t winning.
Challenge Three: The Decades Long Threat of Extremism and instability in Key Parts of the Developing World
Finally, let me address my third challenge. NATO has done many things well in bringing together its members to deal with the threat of terrorism and extremism. Yet, it is still not clear that a lasting form of victory—enduring security and stability—can be won in Afghanistan after nearly two decades of military intervention and train and assist efforts.
NATO is winning important victories against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but they are not bringing stability, eliminating extremism and state terrorism, or putting an end to the risk of civil war. Libya, Somalia, the Sudans, Yemen, and many other African states are active examples of violent human tragedies for which NSATO has as yet failed to find any clear solution.
Russia is one critical threat and reason why NATO is still relevant to every aspect of our common security, but the lack of stability of North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia poses both a terrorist threat to NATO countries and a threat to a steadily more integrated global economy. It is driven by ideological, economic, population growth, sectarian, ethnic, and tribal problems that can lead to violent internal conflicts, terrorism in the West, and potentially broad conflict between the world’s great religions and civilizations.
Let me give you just a few examples of the forces at work that all too material—not driven by religion:
- MENA populations—living in largely desert areas with limited water are now five to six times what they were in 1950.
- The is a massive “youth bulge in most” such countries driven by major increases in the range of ages zero to 14 that will impact for at least two decades.
- The political upheavals that began in 2011, and 50% cuts in petroleum exports in 2014, have created major new development problems for even the wealthiest petroleum exporting states.
- Male, youth unemployment in the ages from 18 to 24 ranges up to 40%, once disguised unemployment is considered.
- Corruption and failed governance is a critical problem and the World Bank and Transparency International ranking many governments as the worst performing and most corrupt in the world.
At the same time, reports from Europol and the U.S. National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) make it all too clear that threat to terrorism in Europe and North America is not diminishing. In fact, just as Russia presents a rising threat to NATO states near its borders, extremism and terrorism present a growing threat to all of the states in western Europe and the United States. NATO forces are only part of the effort to meet this challenge, but they are critical part and one where a stronger focus is needed on longer term planning and action.
Moreover, each such conflict or crisis outside the NATO region has taught us new lessons about land and air warfare, military and police training, and strategic partnerships with states that have very different cultures and values. NATO must give learning these lessons of land and land air warfare, how to deal with terrorism and paramilitary operations, and how to best help strategic partners in North Africa, the Middle East, Sub Saharan Africa, and other parts of the world almost the same priority as dealing with defense and deterrence in Europe.
And let me stress the term "strategic partners." As an American, I am all too sensitive to our losses to terrorism and extremism in the United States—just as those of you from other countries are sensitive to the loss to any of your countrymen. But, let me remind you that poll after poll has shown that the vast majority of Muslims oppose extremism and violence, that the vast majority of largely Islamic states are now critical partners in fighting the small margin of violent extremists on their own soil, and that these partners in Islamic states bear far greater costs from extremism.
This becomes far clearer when we put the threats of terrorism and extremism in a global perspective:
- If one uses the START database used by our State Department, a total of 658 Americans and Europeans died in terrorist attacks between January 1, 2015—July 16, 2016. This is a tragedy, but a total of 28,031 people died in the rest of the world—and the vast majority were Muslims killed by a small group of religious extremists. They suffered is 43 times as many casualties as the West.
- Defeating the threat from groups like ISIS, Al Qaida, and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq is important, but it too needs to be kept in careful perspective.
- The START data base indicates that there were 70,767 terrorist incidents in the world between 2011 and 2016. A total of 60,320 occurred in heavily Islamic regions, or some 85%. A total of 51,321 occurred in the Middle East and North Africa, or 73%.
- If one counts only the incidents ascribed to ISIS, Al Qaida, and directly affiliated terrorist groups, the total was 12,159 incidents, or only 17%, and the majority actually occurred outside Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
- Only 4,845 incidents out of 70,767—or 7%—came from ISIS, Al Qaida, and directly affiliated terrorist groups in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. There were 6,505 incidents from ISIS affiliated groups alone outside the areas where the West is most active. It is all too clear that even the most total victories against Al Qaida and ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan—no matter how important tactically—will have little grand strategic effect on the threat of terrorism.
Islamophobia is the path way to arming extremism and violence. NATO countries can only contain the terrorist and extremist threat by working closely with moderate Arab and other Islamic strategic partners. Moreover, this need for partnership is likely to extend for at least the next two decades. We need to learn from each other how best to make such partnerships work, how to specialize, how to help prevent major organized threats and civil wars from emerging, and how to best ensure that the threat does not spread to our own territory.
As is the case with Russia, we also need to offer partnership to other countries that are not are partners today—not demonize a country or a faith, or exclude any opportunity to support and get support. And here, let me close with one final number. Islamophobes talk all too easily about a clash between civilizations.
All of US in NATO need to understand another trend in Islam. A major study by the Pew Trust—one of the world’s leading analysts of trends in comparative religions—estimates that Muslims are by far the fastest growing part of the world’s population. Pew estimates that the number of active practicing Muslims will grow by 73% between 2010 and 2050. This is a growth from 1.6 billion to 2.73 billion, and from 23.2% to 29.7% of the world’s population.
The key to dealing with the resulting challenges is for NATO to work collectively and—on a national level with strategic partners outside NATO—to deal with a common threat to civilization, not to let a clash emerge between us. Every year makes us part of a more interdependent world. Both in NATO—and outside it. We need to create more effective partnerships that bring civilizations and faiths together. We need to learn, share, and adapt to provide coordinated NATO country support of outside states in train and assist missions, and to help outside states deal with new asymmetric threats and succeed in counterterrorism. Such efforts may often occur at a national rather than an alliance level, but NATO should do as much to assist, inform, and coordinate as possible, and the land component is the critical component of such efforts.
A Concluding Note
Let me close with one common theme. All of the challenges I have listed required a common focus on military force planning at the national, regional, and alliance level. All require a focus on shaping real world deterrent and warfighting capabilities, and developing positive goals for each member country in the alliance. All require public, transparent military advice, force goals, and explanation of the threat. All require each member of the alliance to focus on how to use their budgets and resources over time to do a better job of developing common capabilities—rather than focus the cost and “burden” of defense.
We need to act upon one key underlying principle: NATO is just as relevant in meeting such challenges today as during the height of the Cold War. So is the need for a strong military voice. We need to revive the kind of military leadership that shaped the best moments in the alliance when it was most under threat. The military must always be subordinate to political leadership in a democratic alliance, but this should never mean it should be silent or ineffective.
The views reflected in this speech are the speaker's personal views and do not represent the official views of NATO.