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NATO Future Force: Facing Michael
James G. Stavridis and Julian Lindley-French
“Interoperability with the Alliance is better now than it’s ever been because NATO forces have been training and operating together, non-stop, over the last 10 years in Afghanistan.”
Admiral James G. Stavridis, November 2012
1 September. The Atlantic Alliance must create a twenty-first century NATO Future Force if NATO is to remain a strategic military hub. This week NATO leaders sit down together in Wales to consider the future of the world’s most powerful democratic military alliance. As they commence their discussions Russian forces are dismembering Ukraine, Afghanistan’s future is again in doubt, Islamic State fanatics threaten the entire Middle Eastern state structure and rapidly developing cyber, missile and nuclear technology is changing the face of NATO’s two critical spaces – the battle space and the security space. September 2014 will thus be remembered as a NATO ‘schwerpunkt’, the decisive moment at which NATO decided to be strategically relevant or irrelevant. If it is to be the former September 2014 must also mark the creation of a truly twenty-first century Alliance framed by a contextually-relevant NATO Strategic Concept with collective defence, crisis management and co-operative security driving the defence and force planning choices of all the Allies.
Alliances are created with two objectives in mind; to prevent wars and if needs be to win wars. Influence and effect are the two key strategic ‘commodities’ in which alliances ‘trade’. As such alliances rise and fall on the level of strategic unity of effort and purpose between members and the level of interoperability between their armed forces. Lose either or both and an alliance is effectively crippled.
On 21 March 1918 strengthened by the collapse of Tsarist Russia the Imperial German Army launched Operation Michael. It was a desperate attempt by Berlin to break the British and win World War One before the Americans arrived in strength. In the early days of the battle the Kaiser's Stormtroopers made stunning gains. The advance was not simply a feat of arms. Britain and France and indeed the British Cabinet under Lloyd George were dangerously split over strategy. One side, the ‘westerners’ believed that the war could only be won by defeating the German Army in the fields of Flanders. However, the so-called ‘easterners’ believed that somehow the Kaiser could be defeated by attacking Germany’s flanks in Turkey and elsewhere. The lack of strategic unity of effort and purpose denuded the British defences in the critical area around the old Somme battlefield. Thankfully, in the years since 1914 the British Army had made truly revolutionary advances in military strategy and tactics. Rather than break the British retreated in reasonably good order and as they did so they steadily reduced the ranks of the elite Stormtroopers until the exhausted Imperial Germany Army could advance no more.
On 8 August, 1918 at the Battle of Amiens, on what General Ludendorff called “the black day of the German Army”, British Commonwealth forces with French and American support launched a massive counter-attack. The British employed an entirely new form of manoeuvre warfare, the All Arms Battle. Aircraft, tanks, artillery and infantry operated closely together in support of each other to smash through the German forces. What subsequently became known as the Hundred Days Offensive effectively ended World War One.
Thankfully, the Alliance is today not at war but NATO is certainly facing the political equivalent of Operation Michael. If nothing else Russia's proxy and not-so-proxy invasion of Eastern Ukraine should be a wake-up call. However, Allied leaders remain strategically uncertain and deeply split about what to do about Russia’s incursions into Ukraine. This split not only reflects a lack of strategic unity of effort and purpose but a NATO deeply-divided between those who simply seek American protection and those Europeans who see military force as merely an adjunct to soft power. NATO needs to re-discover a shared level of ambition that has been notably lacking of late, something which Moscow has been all too happy to exploit.
Only Britain and France make any serious effort to generate the expeditionary military capabilities needed to remain militarily close to an increasingly over-stretched America. However, after a decade of continuous operations and repeated defence cuts the small British and French armed forces are worn out. Therefore, if the Wales Summit is to be NATO’s twenty-first century schwerpunkt the Alliance must take the first steps to re-establish some semblance of the military credibility upon which influence, deterrence and defence depend.
NATO needs a future force at its military core relevant to the challenges ahead. Therefore, the Alliance must go back to its military roots and radically reconsider the utility of force in the pursuit of strategy. To that end, the Wales Summit should take three fundamentally important and essentially military decisions:
· Collective Defence: Article 5 collective defence must be modernised and re-organised around cyber-defence, missile defence and the advanced deployable forces vital to contemporary defence. A twenty-first century All Arms Battle must be forged with NATO forces better configured to operate across the global commons and the six contemporary domains of warfare – air, sea, land, cyber, space and knowledge.
· Crisis Management: Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), the NATO Response Force and the High Readiness Forces (HRF) must be radically re-structured into the NATO Future Force. Such a force would be predicated on the principle of Alliance military unity of effort and purpose. This in turn would enable the Alliance to effectively force generate and efficiently command and control complex coalitions across the mission spectrum from high-end warfare to defence against the kind of hybrid/ambiguous warfare that Moscow is employing in Ukraine.
· Co-operative Security: The Alliance must be better configured to work with all of its strategic partners the world-over, states and institutions, military and civilians, if it is to remain credible in global security as well as European security. Indeed, re-connecting European security to world security could be said to be NATO’s Prime Directive.
The world-capable NATO Future Force must sit at the heart of a new NATO in which the current planning concepts of NATO 2020, Smart Defence and the Connected Forces Initiative are in effect merged with the NATO Response Force and the HRFs into a twenty-first century All Arms Battle. Deep or organic jointness between NATO forces will be the vital interoperability mechanism at the heart of the Force enabling nations to strike a necessary balance between capability and affordability.
Whilst much has rightly been made of the need for NATO members to spend a minimum of 2% GDP on defence not enough has been made of just what future force such expenditures should seek to generate. The 2% benchmark will only be politically credible if national leaders are convinced not just by how much to spend on their respect armed forces, but just what force such expenditure will realise and why. ‘Value for money’ is today’s essential and inescapable defence mantra.
There will need to be a critical new ingredient in NATO’s post-Wales strategic force posture - knowledge. For all the talk of military capability NATO’s critical war-fighting component is shared knowledge and the understanding of environments and practice it generates. Indeed, knowledge is the essential component of interoperability, be it at the directing political level of campaigns or at the military level of operations. Moreover, shared knowledge is also critical because it reinforces all-important trust between members which is today sorely tried. The Alliance must act fast because contemporary interoperability is built on the knowledge gained from over a decade of operations and an enhanced mechanism for sharing intelligence. Indeed, such knowledge could be very quickly lost if steps are not taken to systematically capture it and build it into the NATO Future Force via innovative exercising, education and training.
Above all, NATO must remain a credible strategic military hub. Therefore, the NATO Future Force must be a warfighting force and yet agile and nimble enough to sit at the threshold between US, European and Partner forces and between soft and hard power. German Chancellor Merkel rightly said at this weekend’s EU Summit that a resolution to the Ukraine Crisis will not be military in nature. She is right. Indeed, most crises in what will be a very dangerous century will require first and foremost soft power tools and political solutions. This reality places ever more importance on an effective EU-NATO partnership and civil-military co-operation. However, without the hard underpinning of credible hard military power that is NATO’s essence, soft power is as as Thomas Hobbes once wrote, “covenants without the sword” and as such “mere words”.
This dangerous twenty-first century will be safer if the West is strong together. A strong West means a strong and legitimate NATO built on strong and credible armed forces. Wales is the place and the time to act. It is also the place and the time for NATO to be radical.
NATO Future Force: facing Michael.
James G. Stavridis & Julian Lindley-French
Admiral James G. Stavridis, US Navy (Retired), is NATO’s former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts.