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Joining forces to improve NATO's readiness

Summary from the SNE conference 26 May 2016 on the NATO adaptation and multinational response forces.

​​​​​​​​​​​The keynote address

​Mr Øystein Bø, State Secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Defence gave the keynote address outlining the main priorities for the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw. 

Mr Bø emphasised the need to maintain and strengthen allied unity, and argued for a revitalised notion of collective defence. In a changed and changing strategic environment it is important to acknowledge that allies perceive threats and challenges to their security differently. 

From a Norwegian perspective there is a particular need to reconsider what NATO should do to secure the transatlantic sea lanes of communication. The North Atlantic, Norway's key strategic area, is subject to well-established maritime cooperation, but also one that sees a more self-assertive Russia with a more comprehensive maritime posture.

NATO and Russia in the North Atlantic​
Russia is not a military threat to NATO today, but in the future, it may challenge transatlantic security. In the High North, its posture includes greater strategic capabilities and a new Arctic Command, with extended submarine patrol areas and an expanded infrastructure used for daily policing, which is also useful for military purposes. Russia's capability of denial in the North Atlantic has increased, while NATO's ability to provide assistance across the North Atlantic has decreased. 

While there is stable maritime cooperation in the High North that fosters a high level of predictability, Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea has led Norway to suspend its military cooperation with Russia. Cooperation on search and rescue, between border guards and coast guards, and the direct lines between the Norwegian and Russian North Fleet headquarters continue to underpin security in the region.

NATO and Norway in the North
Norway maintains its policy of deterrence and reassurance towards Russia. Reassurance depends on a predictable and recognisable posture, while deterrence is supported by reliable allies with a comprehensive commitment to Norwegian security, and by unambiguous openness about Norway's interests. Norway maintains its presence in the North. Potential threats to the Nordic and Baltic regions are interlinked, emphasising the need for an increased allied presence, situational awareness among allies, and deterrence. 

To achieve lasting structural change in NATO and strengthen its maritime flank, NATO allies need to invest in high-end maritime capabilities, and the Alliance as a whole needs a command and control structure that can lead the operations we need. Furthermore, updated and timely contingency plans for Norway and the maritime flank will signal operational readiness and have a deterring effect. A robust presence in the North Atlantic is a key element in a sustainable NATO strategy for the long term.

Q&As following the keynote adress
The keynote address was followed by a Q&A session led by Heather Conley, Director of the Europe Program of the Center for Strategic & International Studies. The discussion centred in particular on the topic of how to insert the North Atlantic back into NATO's development ahead of, during, and after the Warsaw summit.

The panel discussion 

The conference continued with a panel discussion, moderated by Robin Allers, Associate Professor at IFS and programme manager for SNE. 

The panel consisted of 

  • Mr Janis Garisons, State Secretary in the Latvian Ministry of Defence 
  • Maj. Gen. Duane A. Gamble, Commanding General of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command (United States Army  Europe) 
  • Dr Kori Schake of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University 
  • Lt. Gen. Jan Broeks, Military Representative of the Netherlands to NATO and the EU
  • Professor Magnus Petersson of IFS

Mr Garisons raised the question of how to turn assurance of NATO allies into adaptation to the changing security environment within NATO. While closer cooperation among allies was important, each nation had to invest more in its own defence capabilities. He emphasised that a rapid response, such as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) established at the Wales summit, is not a complete response.

Maj. Gen. Gamble followed up on this point by underlining how the Wales summit had emphasised speed of recognition, decision, and assembly, while NATO is now moving from assurance to deterrence. He then provided the audience with a short tour of the capabilities and readiness level of the US forces in Europe. Gamble insisted that the United States is not an outsider to European security. The U.S. Army Europe does not just support NATO but is an integrated part of the Alliance. He also emphasised that integration and interoperability are easier to achieve in some type of military units (e.g. support units) than others.

Dr Schake made a political plea for multinational forces as a means to show a common face to an aggressive Russia. She pointed out that the argument over burden sharing between the United States and Europe within NATO is far from new, but that the willingness of the US to carry out the security obligations it has undertaken also changes with its domestic politics and changing administrations. Schake also argued that the focus on European NATO members' failure to spend enough on defence plays to NATO's weakness, and not to its strengths.

Lt. Gen. Broeks reminded the audience that NATO's focus on cohesion, deterrence, and the need to signal strength to Russia should not lead allies to mirror the Russian rhetoric. It is now rather a question of developing member states' mindsets and adapt to what is, for European security, not passing weather but a changed climate. With regard to multinational forces Broeks underlined that through cooperation and integration with its neighbours the Netherlands were able to maintain a level of forces that would have been impossible alone.

Professor Petersson used the example of the Nordic states' military forces to make the point that size is important. How can a state produce more forces in a sustainable way, when it is quite small? He then highlighted three paths of producing forces together, by role specialisation; pooling and sharing, or joint force generation. The latter, he argued, is probably most efficient, but it is very demanding.

Q&As following the panel discussion​
The final Q&A session was lively and raised several questions, in particular that of interoperability – where are NATO allies now, and what should be their level of ambition? In conclusion, Dr Allers summarised a few key words from the discussion, including the need for NATO to sustain both speed and muscle in all the 360 degrees of its strategic environment, the attention that member states need to devote to national defences, and sustaining unity and cohesion among allies.

Summary report by Ingerid M. Opdahl


Publisert 11. april 2016 00:00.. Sist oppdatert 31. mai 2017 13:57.