Military strategy, the art of using military force to achieve foreign policy objectives, is growing in importance. Russian action against Ukraine has revived deterrence as the centrepiece of NATO strategy in Europe, while in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, European states are attempting to use military force to stabilise Europe's unruly periphery, deter regional powers, and combat groups that pose a direct threat.
The seminar brought together international experts to discuss the challenges facing NATO today, and how the Alliance is responding. Topics included maritime strategy – with special emphasis on European involvement in the Persian Gulf – as well as contemporary Turkish, French and Danish military strategy.
Colonel Atle Gerhard Stai, commandant of the Command and Staff College at the
Atle Gerhard StaiNorwegian Defence University College (NDUC), welcomed with his opening remarks. He emphasised a desired change of focus after the educational reform at NDUC; to put more emphasis on military strategy. This is the first conference in this effort.
Professor Janne Haaland Matlary, University of Oslo and NDUC, gave a short introduction to the programme, pointing out the paradox; the conference is about something we lack – military strategy. The conference is part of the on-going book project 'Military Strategy for the 21st Century – NATO's Challenges and Options', co-edited with Dr Robert Johnson from University of Oxford, The Changing Character of War Centre. The speakers of the day are contributors to the book.
Dr Robert Johnson provided an overview of the strategic environment for NATO with the title 'New strategic challenges for NATO: military strategy in an age of realism'.
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He pointed out that this century so far has seen a remarkable and rapid change for NATO. From counter terrorism to stabilisation and COIN in Afghanistan in the 2000s to focusing on 'near peer adversaries' after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. He emphasised the challenges of the Russian information war after the US presidential election in 2016, where Russia intends to project war in depth through information and cyberwarfare. Further pointing out that 'If you are not literate within these topics you are not military literate!'
Johnson asked the rhetoric question: 'What should be our priorities?' The answer was 'Warfare in all domains!' He raised concern about 'hybrid warfare' and argued that warfare is changing. Today we are not trying to break the enemy's will, but to deny the enemy their fair will. We need to deter our opponents and force them to make a choice, by signify that there is a considerable cost to be paid if they pursue malicious activities. Finally he asked the open question 'How many surprises do we have to experience before we get strategic about it?'
Captain (N) Steinar Torset, NDUC, then spoke about the 'The relevance of maritime strategy'.
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He started claiming that there is possible an even bigger challenge to define a maritime strategy than a military strategy. Going through the traditional Corbettian view linking maritime strategy to security and economic prosperity, he then used the case of the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Indian Ocean and how different navies have exploited naval flexibility to 'tick off' strategic obligations to different allies and partners by chopping between different commands in the same area.
He went through the key attributes of US, UK, EU and NATO's maritime strategies and concluded that the maritime environment and naval capabilities are low-hanging fruits for the politicians to use. However, he also reminded the audience, the naval volume limits what you can do – your cannot do 'gunboat diplomacy without gunboats'.
Dr Metin Gürcan, an Istanbul-based independent security analyst with previous experience from the Turkish Armed Forces, addressed the topic 'Turkish military strategy: challenging NATO'.
He argued that Turkish military strategy making was inspired by the Prussian model from 1920s – land power centred and inward centric. He argued that there were an internal debate between reformists and the pro-status quo camp, and that the military could be grouped into four camps:
- Atlanticists (NATO supporters)
- Conservatives, and
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Among the primary factors shaping Turkish military strategy making, he focused on contemporary history, geopolitics, conflictual nature of Turkish civil-military relations, internal security, technology, and Turkish security bureaucracy's auto-piloting of conventional war.
He pointed out the current challenges with NATO, that has had no meaningful intervention in Turkey's region the last four years, and Russia's increasingly visible profile and its emerging as the new functionally effective and practically security and stability provider relevant for some states in the region. However, he still believes the relationship with NATO will improve, given improved communication about Turkey's challenges.
Dr Samuel Faure, Sciences Po Saint-Germaine-en-Laye (University of Paris-Seine), spoke about 'French military strategy: How military force supports foreign policy'.
Dr Samuel Faure
Outlining the French strategic context with more threats, jihadists and Russia on one side and less support based on the UK Brexit and recent US politics, he claimed that France still want to maintain its global position. He explained that nuclear strategy is the keystone of Frances defence strategy, since nuclear deterrence by its NATO allies is regarded as insufficient. However, he pointed out, this is not suitable for a wide range of threats and crises, and therefore France also needs to maintain its own military action capacity while strengthening its relationship to the EU.
He said that France and the EU have an 'unidentified shared strategic objective' about autonomy that may lead to differentiated European governance; multilateral, minilateral and bilateral.
Emphasising the military industry role in French strategic thinking, he also pointed out the French initiative to build a shared European strategic culture through 'The European Intervention Initiative' (EI2). As an example of possible future differentiated solutions he asked the question; 'Could FRA put its nuclear capacity to the benefit of the EU?'
The final speaker of the day, Dr Peter Viggo Jakobsen, Royal Danish Defence College, presented the topic 'Danish Military Strategy: Always the Closest US Ally?'
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He gave an historical overview of how Denmark after the end of the Cold War has downsized the military while having been among the most willing to contribute to US-led coalition warfare. Expeditionary capabilities have been a priority, while capabilities only needed at home, such as submarines and air defence forces, were disbanded.
He claimed that Danish priorities are based on a cost-effect calculation, and that Denmark tries to keep the defence budget as small as possible. Denmark is willing to accept risk in operations in order to gain goodwill and standing with the US – their ultimate security guarantee. Jakobsen claimed that this is still the case, even though is seems like Denmark also will have to step up and increase their defence budget in order to 'move towards' spending 2 per cent of it's gross domestic product.
The presentations were followed by a panel discussion and Q&A, moderated by Associate Professor Håkon Lunde Saxi, NDUC.
Summary written by Eystein Meyer and Håkon L. Saxi