The Senior Editors of European Geostrategy have been undertaking a number of interviews with various individuals who are involved in thinking about European foreign, security and military policies. In this interview, Daniel Fiott and Alexander Mattelaer talk with General Sir Richard Shirreff, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR), NATO, about the exercise Steadfast Jazz, Allied interoperability, the NATO Response Force, Afghanistan and Ballistic Missile Defence.
DF: The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) recently conducted its largest joint multinational exercise since the end of the Cold War through Steadfast Jazz 2013. Of the 6,000 personnel involved the United States (US) sent approximately 160 troops and Germany only 55. France sent 1,200 troops and Poland 1,040. Do these numbers tell us anything significant about how the allies now view NATO?
ARDS: I take your point about the relatively low numbers of troops involved in Steadfast Jazz. However, this exercise was about much more than a tactical demonstration involving large numbers of troops. More important, it was about developing the command and control required should a larger deployment be required and it was an important demonstration of NATO’s commitment to the Baltic region. It is also important to note that with the enduring commitment to Afghanistan and other NATO operations, it has been some time since the NATO Response Force (NRF) was able to train with troops on the ground. This exercise is a signal that NATO will be doing more of such training in future. Indeed, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) has directed that the NRF live exercise in 2015 be at up to divisional strength or equivalent and you can expect to see a large troop deployment then. Steadfast Jazz was the start of a process.
AM: Can joint exercises such as Steadfast Jazz ever make up for the experience of real-life operations in terms of fostering Allied interoperability and operational proficiency?
ARDS: No exercise can ever replicate the challenge, friction and reality of operations. But that is not the point of exercises. Realistic and demanding training can do much to build interoperability, allow forces to train in those aspects of the science of war which may not have been required on recent operations and are an important transformational tool.
DF: Naval manoeuvres in the Baltic Sea and live fire exercises in the Polish countryside are a far cry from Afghanistan. As ISAF winds down its main duties in Afghanistan and deepens its in-country training of Afghan security forces, what does Steadfast Jazz tell us about future NATO operational needs with regard to the NATO Response Force?
ARDS: Steadfast Jazz tells us that NATO needs to train in order to be capable of generating a credible and capable reserve, the NRF. In common with most others, I see NATO on the edge of a new paradigm in which, in the Secretary General’s words, we move from a force committed to a force prepared. As NATO comes to the end of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) combat mission, the Alliance needs to be clear about what it stands for in terms of both defence (Article V) and security. The latter is not only about up stream capacity building to prevent a problem becoming a crisis, it is also about having a strong, capable and credible reserve in case of crisis – and being prepared to use it. This is the challenge facing NATO’s political leadership.
DF: The recent ‘Iran Nuclear Deal’ has prompted calls by the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, for the United States (US) and NATO to abandon their ballistic missile defence (BMD) plans in Europe. Presuming a lasting deal with the Iranians is agreed, do you foresee NATO abandoning BMD in Europe and if not why?
ARDS: No. BMD is a clear statement of NATO’s strategy of collective defence. It remains a vital shield against any potential adversary threatening the countries of the Alliance.
AM: As DSACEUR one of your main functions is to preside over the force generation process and get reluctant Allies to commit the resources required to execute the missions they have approved. How do you cope with the ‘operational fatigue’ that is plaguing many capitals at present?
ARDS: I cannot comment on what you call ‘operational fatigue’. What I can say is that nations have, with one or two exceptions, been remarkably ready to match political commitment with the means required to conduct NATO strategy. As we have drawn down the ISAF mission nations have remained ready to provide the support required and all the indications are that, assuming the political bridges are crossed, that Resolute Support, the post ISAF mission in Afghanistan, will be equally well supported. The Alliance’s Centre of Gravity, coalition cohesion, has held up remarkably well despite the challenges. One other point on force generation: every nation has its own national strategy and plans for its national forces. It is incumbent on me therefore to tailor my requests to nations so that they match national plans as closely as possible. This not only means making my demands as ‘Chiefs of Defence (CHOD) friendly’ as possible, but also understanding national strategy and building close personal relationships with CHODs.
AM: Do you think the latest round of NATO Command Structure reform (and the increased reliance on NATO Force Structure headquarters in particular) has left the Alliance in a better shape?
ARDS: The new Command Structure has yet to reach full operating capability but all the indications are that, if the nations resource it properly (which means 100%) it will be more effective. However, you are right to highlight increased dependence on the Force Structure and this means that nations will have to step up to the mark to offer Force Structure elements when required. The jury remains out on this.
AM: Unlike its EU counterpart, the NATO Defence Planning Process is guided by an ambitious level of ambition and peer pressure dynamics. Yet can Allied defence planning continue to cope with the present level of dependency on a single Ally?
ARDS: NATO’s dependence on the US in the face of European underfunding of defence is probably the Alliance’s Achilles’ heel – and I see little prospect of the gaps being seriously addressed in the near future. However, the levels of ambition have been agreed by the NAC and it is up to nations to match rhetoric with reality if NATO is to meet the challenges of the future.
DF: In their latest set of conclusions on defence, the Council of the EU talk of their desire to build ‘a true organisation-to-organisation relationship’ with NATO. What would such a relationship look like from your perspective?
ARDS: As both NATO’S strategic coordinator with the EU and the Operational Commander of the EU operation in Bosnia-Herzogovina, I am deeply saddened by the demise of Berlin Plus as a result of the political issues of the Eastern Mediterranean. It seems to me absolutely paramount that NATO and the EU develop a genuinely complementary relationship at the strategic level if the challenges of the future are to be met. In an ideal world I would like to see life breathed back into Berlin Plus together with a reverse Berlin Plus under which NATO could call upon EU ‘soft’ power and development finance to be harnessed with NATO military power.
DF: A lot of attention was given to the December 2013 European Council meeting on defence – the first for five years. Yet the next NATO Summit looms on the horizon and this warrants just as much, if not more, attention from European states; especially in view of the US’ ongoing pivot to Asia. What would you say is the main priority for the 2014 Summit?
ARDS: First, a review of the past two decades of operations. Next, a clear statement of what NATO is for in the future and how it means to adapt strategically and operationally. A resounding commitment to reinvigorating NRF as a credible, capable and above all genuinely usable and deployable reserve together with a commitment to comprehensive capacity building in unstable and strategically vital regions. Finally, I would like to see NATO partnerships adapt: all partnerships to be brought under one roof as ‘NATO partnerships for peace and security.’