NATO after Cardiff: A practical agenda for European defence reform

15 January 2015. This was the first of an annual conference series, and it marked the inauguration of the new research programme on defence reform at the IFS.
​​​​​After brief introductions by director Sven Holtsmark of IFS and Kjell Inge Bjerga, dean of the Norwegian Defence University College, Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, Norwegian Chief of Defence, delivered the keynote address. He outlined the implications of the post-Ukraine security environment and left the 90 person strong audience in no doubt that NATO’s ongoing reform measures are vitally important to the Alliance, but also very difficult.

With the Admiral remaining to offer his comments during the day, Dr Per Martin Norheim-Martinsen of IFS started the first session. Addressing the session’s topic, new insights and perspectives on defence reforms, he asked the thought provoking question “Can Mckinsey save NATO?” and remarked upon several major trends: Defence organisations no longer operate in a separate sphere from their civilian counterparts. They are subject to the same constraints and management structures as civilian government agencies and, increasingly, private enterprises. He used the near ubiquitous use of civilian consulting firms and methods to underline his argument. This was, in turn, elaborated by the next speaker, partner Anne Grette of EY (formerly Ernst &Young). She drew on her extensive experience with the Armed forces to offer insights and a few practical tips for defence reformers on how to get the best use out of their civilian consultants.

The discussion then turned to some of the concrete challenges facing defence reformers. Professor Trevor Taylor of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) outlined the main challenges facing the European NATO countries when attempting large scale reforms with dwindling resources. 

The plight of European militaries in the post- financial crisis Europe were elaborated by Professor David Galbreath and Dr Simon Smith of the University of Bath They gave a preview of the findings in their ongoing research, which compares the experience of defence reforms in selected countries.

After an efficient intermission, the audience reconvened for the second session, which concentrated on what has proved to work, and not work, in previous reform processes.

Frank Boland, director of force planning in NATO, established the long historical background of the current debate, reaching back to the birth of “transformation” in the late 1980s. He remarked upon the inherent challenges of streamlining a large, diverse and multinational organisation as compared to single countries and private companies. 

Professor and senior advisor Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen of the Danish Ministry of Defence then shared the experiences of Denmark, one of the countries that has implemented “Mckinseyfication” most extensively. 

Another perspective was offered by Brigadier General Grzegorz Sodolski , budget director of the Polish Ministry of Defence. Poland is one of the few NATO countries within reach of the two percent GDP goal reiterated at the Cardiff summit, and the only one to make such a fulfilment mandatory by law. Sodolski outlined how the Polish budgeting process works to operationalise and implement this goal. 

The final speaker was Rear Admiral Arne Røksund, formerly of the Norwegian Ministry of Defence, who highlighted the timelessness of the topic at hand with the historical example of the French navy’s failure to adapt to the changing security environment of the late 19th century. He also introduced a cross-sectoral perspective by touching upon the ongoing measures to reform the Norwegian police.

Report by Magnus Håkenstad​
Publisert 15. januar 2015 00:00.. Sist oppdatert 28. juni 2016 11:07.