I recently met with Gen. Jim Jones, who serves both as the highest ranking military officer at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), NATO’s HQ, and as the commander of the United States European Command (EUCOM). He is the first Marine Corps officer to serve in these positions. The following is a transcript of our discussion.
In the last few years, especially after the Prague NATO summit in 2002, the Alliance managed to formalise its transformation from Cold War institution into something new. How do you see the process shaping up and what are your expectations for the near future?
GEN. JONES: Our transformation started officially only three years ago. On balance I have to say we have achieved much. But this is a process that is never finished. As such it has two core components:
1) The Physical. Here we concentrate on efforts that will encourage the creation of more efficient military capabilities within NATO, with each government finding the best way for its forces to make a realistic contribution to Alliance capabilities. It is clear to all concerned that the large, linear and defence-based armies of the last century have drastically lost their utility. In the 20th century we were a reactive alliance, in the 21st century, we have to turn ourselves into a proactive one. In the war against asymmetric threats we must place a premium on usability, flexibility, sustainability and deployability of forces. The very fabric of the Alliance, on both the civilian and military sides, is fundamentally changing. Things were much easier during the Cold War. The enemy was static. Jump to our operations in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Dafur and most recently in Pakistan and one cannot but see the need for global capabilities.
Who would ever have thought just a few months ago that we would establish an air-bridge in Pakistan and be sending medical and engineering units to help rebuild disaster-stricken regions? All areas, from logistics to communications, to intelligence and more must be reassessed and this includes obsolete base locations, many of which have already been shut down.
2) The Cultural Transformation: Even more challenging is the need to change fundamental attitudes, to adjust our minds to be proactive also. We must develop a willingness to shape our strategic environment, not just to react to challenges as and when they occur. Threats to critical infrastructure, cyber attack, narco-terrorism, radicalisation–are buzz words that are linked not only in their effect upon the security of our nations, but in their simultaneity. This demands we build flexibility into our capabilities and our Alliance structures. We can no longer equate military mass with capability.
One of the perennial NATO issues is the question of burden-sharing and the capabilities gap between the US and its allies. Even before Prague we witnessed several initiatives that were aimed at addressing this gap, to include Washington’s Defense Capabilities Initiative (DCI). How do you judge the success of such attempts to bridge the gap?
GEN. JONES: The process of transformation involves on-going evaluation and there are still problems.
NATO’s political appetite to be more global is much greater than its inherent capability to act globally. At Prague, the then NATO 19 committed themselves to spending at least 2% of their GDPs on defence. Today, less than half of the 26 members of the expanded Alliance spend close to that figure. As a result, I am less than optimistic about near-future Alliance capabilities in key short-falls such as strategic lift and CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) defence. The Prague Capabilities Commitment deals with high-end items that have very long gestation periods before they become true capabilities, and I don’t see them emerging as they should just yet. Maybe the summit in 2006 can reverse this trend.
But if you look at the worrying fact that in the aftermath of serious terrorist attacks on the European soil of NATO most of the responses were national and not Alliance responses, then this is a disturbing trend. More could be done if nations really wanted to. The biggest question remains how advisable is it for the Allies to commonly fund a NATO asset? The last century resulted in the acceptance within NATO of the principle of “costs falling where they lie,” a phrase that is not very compelling grammatically but which meant that a nation paid for all the costs of the forces it contributed to a NATO task. This may no longer be the way to manage out-of-area missions and so we are looking at expanding the model of NATO AWACS (Airborne Early Warning and Control System). This Alliance capability, which is funded by 14 NATO nations, has worked tremendously well despite being truly international not only in funding but also in manning structures. It works because it is funded in advance, just as navies budget ‘steaming time’ up front so as to make an allowance for the future costs of their operations. This is a new concept when applied to land forces. Now the question is whether we can broaden the AWACS model so that small nations will be willing to contribute more frequently in terms of capabilities. To be honest, the reality is that most often the issues are not political but financial.
We need to have a certain sense of perspective on what NATO does and what it will likely be expected to do in the future. On the scale of all possible military operations involving the Alliance — humanitarian operations on the one hand, and forcible entry into a nation at the other extreme — NATO’s future missions predominantly in the first quarter of the scale.
We are not going to be fighting Russia, therefore it would be irresponsible for all our nations to concentrate on high-end warfighting capabilities alone. Just look at the reality on the ground: Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean, assisting in the capacity-building of the battalions of the African Union in Dafur, providing a training capability in Iraq, ensuring for a safe environment in the Balkans and providing earthquake relief in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, NATO is helping to stabilise the nation and our ambition is to have the mission expand to the whole territory of the country sometime next year. We should be realistic. We should focus on our most likely missions.
What are the initial lessons learnt from the restructuring of the architecture of Alliance Command Headquarters?
GEN. JONES: The most telling transformation is that of NATO’s Response Force (NRF), which will be fully operational at the beginning of next year. This formation is in my opinion an instrument of change, with missions that will be shaped by the tasks set and not vice-versa. In fact, we have proof that the new system already functions, since our mission to Pakistan is NRF-based. It works.
The disestablishment of SACLANT (Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic) and the creation of two new strategic commands was an excellent idea as it injected a post-Cold War logic into the structure by unifying operational command. Allied Transformation Command (ATC) is predicated on a reality of constant self-examination and in a way that is visible and not opaque. There are no surprises here in decisionmaking. We are using these changes to give greater definition to our operational commands, to the land, sea and air components, stressing greater efficiency, less superstructure and more capability at every level. When we have to deploy operationally, we do so with joint headquarters which work. If your HQ is given the word to deploy then you go, and except for initial issues with NATO’s mission to Iraq, this is exactly how it has been run in real life. We are no longer at the mercy of ad-hocary.
Naturally the broader audience is less aware of the changes that NATO has undertaken, and will undertake in the future, than it is of the intra-Alliance tensions over Iraq and the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). What are the likely scenarios for future Alliance contributions in this fight and what do you expect ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) will lead to in the future?
GEN. JONES: GWOT is not just about Iraq. Fundamentally, all our societies are being challenged by the new transnational actors. That is why being proactive is so very important. We must prevent the creation of future Iraqs or Afghanistans, since large ungoverned or ungovernable spaces are potential breeding grounds for terrorism of all sorts. I am afraid the potential of regions of Africa to be exploited in just such a way remains great. We must deny sanctuary to those who think it is justifiable to kill innocents in the name of an ideology or a religion they have perverted. We must be vigorously present where we need to be in order to help struggling democracies flourish and prosper. And there are practical as well as idealistic reasons to support such a commitment.
Proactive engagement before a crisis costs much less than reactive defensive measures taken after the fact, measures that must be deployed far closer to one’s national borders. However clichéd it sounds, we truly do live in a new world.
Whilst asymmetric threats have always existed, non-nation-state actors have never declared their intention to use Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and been so close to acquiring WMD capabilities. My biggest nightmare is when our asymmetric enemy ventures into the arena of biological weapons. Therefore we must deny them the places where they can manufacture such weapons for themselves and at the same time make sure that WMD-capable nations do not proliferate to the sub-state level.
With regards to Afghanistan and ISAF, the lessons learnt are clear: a) minimise all national caveats on force commitment. If capitals persist in caveating what their units may or may not do within a NATO mission, then we will incur unforeseen and hard to justify costs in future missions of a similar nature. The greater the number of caveats, the greater the overall number of troops needed since someone else’s units will have to pick up the slack. Kosovo proved this. We have twice the number of troops in Kosovo (16,000) than we do in Afghanistan, a much larger nation. It is my job to direct a spotlight on these caveats, these misguided ‘safety cocoons’ and to demonstrate how paralysing an influence they are in places such as the Balkans. Left unchecked caveats will spread like a cancer undermining the efficacy and morale of our operations.
b) We need to make multinational logistics a reality. Having member states build their own messes, hospitals and gyms every time they deploy, just to dismantle them before the next contingent arrives is excessively expensive. Twenty-eight percent of all assets in Afghanistan are national. Too much redundancy becomes very expensive, very quickly. We can do better! NATO must become agile.
With a little prior consultation and planning, the Alliance could build mission-related infrastructure in theatre, then simply rent it to the nations as they deploy in.
Crystal-ball gazing is always somewhat risky. Nevertheless, could you give us your vision of NATO 2020?
GEN. JONES: In my personal opinion, NATO will most likely expand again. NATO will be more proactive and more involved in multinational joint operations. It will cooperate more with other international institutions, to include the United Nations. It will become involved in supra-interagency cooperation to face the new threats. Operations such as Pakistan have shown that we are not just about classical warfighting. The Alliance will leverage this ability to produce results in the less-than-war spectrum of operations.
To be a success NATO will have to be out there earlier, making things happen by shaping the security environment. This will be the next stage of the debate: how we move to being an Alliance of common security from one of common defence. We have to start the intellectual dialogue on this transformation today.
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter