Rome, Italy. 1 May. Manfred Wӧrner had one. George Robertson had one. NATO needs a Stoltenberg Doctrine – a galvanising and clarifying statement of intent that would define Secretary-General Stoltenberg’s tenure. The need is pressing in the face of the new threats the Alliance is facing. A Stoltenberg Doctrine would be thus: the re-forging of a true political-military alliance via the regeneration of strategic and political unity of effort and purpose to combat the wars being waged against the seams of Allied societies and polities by the likes of Russia and Islamic State. Critically, a Stoltenberg Doctrine would help close perhaps the most dangerous of NATO’s many seams – the growing gap between Alliance political and military leaders. Russia’s use of so-called hybrid warfare; the planned and skilled mix of disinformation, destabilisation and intimidation is a dangerous gambit to force Eastern European states back into Moscow’s sphere of influence.
My reason for being in Rome was to act as Rapporteur for a high-level conference at Major-General Bojarski’s excellent NATO Defence College entitled NATO and New Ways of Warfare: Defeating Hybrid Threats. It was an outstanding conference as testified by the twenty-six pages of notes I must now forge into a coherent and concise report. However, excellent though the conference was I was struck by the absence of any politician from any of NATO’s twenty-eight nations, and not for the first time.
The gap between political leaders and those charged with military leadership is an ever-more apparent and dangerous phenomenon. The result is what I call “summititis.” No, it is not some form of urinary tract infection, but it can be even more painful. Rather, “summititis” is where political leaders agree to Sherpa- drafted declarations that they neither understand nor own. The 2014 Wales Summit Declaration saw a particularly painful dose of “summititis” contracted. David Cameron’s ‘do as I say, not what I do’ exhortation to other NATO leaders to spend a 2% of GDP on defence which he had no intention of fulfilling was particularly painful.
Stoltenberg I would see the re-invigoration of the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept at the 2016 Warsaw Summit through the realignment of collective defence, crisis management and co-operative security (although why the Warsaw Summit is being held just before the 2016 US presidential elections strikes me as both bad strategy and even worse politics). Both Russia and IS are exploiting the implied division between the three pillars of the Strategic Concept by destabilising the home political base of Alliance nations upon which NATO defence solidarity is founded.
Stoltenberg II would realign ill-thought through Alliance initiatives/sound-bites that have dripped into Alliance planning since 2010, more often to fill a political void that galvanise action. These include Smart Defence, NATO Forces 2020 and the Connected Forces Initiative none of which have any real planning traction. The focus for Stoltenberg must be the full spectrum implementation of the Readiness Action Plan agreed at the Wales Summit to provide credible forward deterrence and implied forward defence for Eastern European allies. My sense at the moment is that the Alliance has simply created yet more acronyms but no more forces. Indeed, as someone said at the conference, “when in doubt form a committee”.
Stoltenberg III would offer something genuinely new; the creation of an Alliance concept of hybrid warfare. Ironically, ‘hybridity’ is itself nothing new. To paraphrase Clausewitz, hybrid warfare is simply the continuation of naughty politics by nefarious means via a defection from the rules and norms that render international relations peaceful. Thus, the best way to counter hybrid warfare is hybrid warfare, i.e. the exploitation of the political and societal seams of an adversary. Take Russia. If Moscow continues to intimidate NATO’s Baltic allies with snap exercises then NATO should devote at some exercises that imply the swift removal of Kaliningrad from the Russian strategic and political orb, even if that means calling Russia’s bluff over its implied use of tactical nuclear weapons.
Above all, a Stoltenberg Doctrine would provide a coherent strategic ‘message’ demonstrating NATO’s comparative advantages to political masters. In effect, a Stoltenberg Doctrine would offer a compelling vision for a new balance between strategy, military capability and capacity, and all-important value-for-money affordability. The reason NATO leaders are paying only lip-service to the Alliance is that NATO is NOT a political priority. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its destabilisation of “NATO Strategic Direction East” is seen as politically inconvenient for the main thrust of debt-ridding austerity in Europe. The raging scourge of IS in “NATO Strategic Direction South” is seen as politically inconvenient because politicians would rather not face the seams that have opened up in many Alliance societies by a failure to integrate minority communities. Both threats must be confronted and whilst NATO could not prevail alone NATO still has a vital role to play is Europe’s borders are again to be stabilised.
Winston Churchill once said: “True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous and conflicting information”. That is the essence of the hybrid warfare challenge which will dominate Secretary-General Stoltenberg’s tenure at NATO’s political helm. Since his October 2014 appointment Stoltenberg has rightly taken time to consider NATO’s position in the changing geopolitics of Europe and the world. However, the honeymoon period is now over. NATO needs a Stoltenberg Doctrine and fast.
And, I suppose, I had better get on and write that report.