Full transcript from a Commanders Series public event with General Stéphane Abrial, Commander, Allied Command Transformation, NATO.
- Frederick Kempe, President and CEO, Atlantic Council
- Brent Scowcroft, Chairman, International Advisory Board, Atlantic Council; former National Security Advisor
- General Stéphane Abrial, Commander, Allied Command Transformation, NATO
Transcript by Federal News Service, Washington, DC
March 10, 2010
FREDERICK KEMPE: Welcome to the Atlantic Council. I’m Fred Kempe, president and CEO. Thank you for joining us this evening for this event in the Commanders Series with Gen. Stéphane Abrial, NATO’s supreme allied commander transformation. And Gen. Abrial, welcome back to the Atlantic Council; it’s always good to have you here.
Gen. Abrial, Gen. Scowcroft will introduce you tonight. We thought we should keep it in the Air Force family. Let me just say that it’s a particular pleasure for me in that tonight is something of a very meaty advertiser and appetizer for the Atlantic Council’s annual awards dinner on April 28th.
This has become one of the most important events of its kind where we honor each year individuals who represent the four pillars of the Atlantic relationship: the policymaker, the military leader, the business leader and the artistic leader. And this year the awardees will be present: Bill Clinton; Bono; the CEO of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann; and then the military award, very appropriately this year, is going to be shared by a great French military leader and American military leader – so Gen. Abrial, the first French supreme allied commander of NATO and his predecessor in the job, Gen. Mattis, now the commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command.
As such, this evening will in many respects be a celebration of U.S-French ties both historically and currently. As for this commander series tonight, it has become a go-to platform in Washington for military commanders to deliver important remarks.
As part of this series we have hosted, among others: the vice chair of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Giambastiani, now a member of our board; then the supreme allied commander-Europe and council chairman – thereafter council chairman Gen. Jim Jones; then supreme allied commander-Europe, Gen. Craddock; and then the commanders of the Northern Command, the African Command, the Pacific Command, two ISAF commanders and the Army chief of staff. And we’re just getting started.
This really has been a place where this discussion has taken place and it’s very rich because we have found that military commanders very often have a very real feeling of how policy – what policy can drive on the ground.
But as we are the Atlantic Council, we have used this platform to feature leading military commanders also outside of America, including the French Chief of Defense Georgelin, Dutch Gen. van Loon, former commander of NATO forces in South Afghanistan today. We’re of course continuing this tradition with you.
None of this would have been possible without our corporate supporter, Saab, and our dedicated board member, Ambassador Henrik Liljegren. Thank you, Henrik. Pass our thanks also, please, to the new CEO of Saab USA, Dan-Ake Enstedt. Sadly he can’t be with us tonight because of a business trip to Sweden but we’ll get him back here soon.
Gen. Abrial, as you know, the council has been a strong supporter of France’s reintegration into NATO’s military command structure and we think it is so important what you’re doing at ACT to transform NATO for the 21st-century challenge. And it’s a mission that’s not only close to our hearts, but right at the core of our own mission.
Tonight the honor of introducing Gen. Abrial goes to Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the chairman of the Atlantic Council’s international advisory board and former chairman of the board. He has been a driving force behind the Atlantic Council for many years and a personal inspiration to me and to many others with his wise, principled and consistent leadership.
He embodies our Atlanticist, nonpartisan global mission. Some of us have taken to calling it radically centrist. Gen. Scowcroft of course served as national security advisor to President Ford and George H.W. Bush. Gen. Scowcroft, the podium is yours. (Applause.)
LT. GEN. (RET.) BRENT SCOWCROFT: Thank you, Fred, for your usual tour de force. It’s really a great pleasure for me to be here both for the Commanders Series and to introduce to you Gen. Stéphane Abrial.
This is a very unusual time for all of us in the sense that Gen. Abrial is the first non-American NATO strategic commander. Since September, last September, he has served as commander of NATO’s Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia. And as was remarked at his change-of-command ceremony, not since Lafayette in 1781 have we had a French officer in command down in the tidewater of Virginia. (Laughter.)
We’re delighted, Gen. Abrial, that you’ve chosen the council as a venue for your first major speech in Washington. Gen. Abrial has assumed command at a very significant time for the alliance.
While he’s very much a NATO commander, he nonetheless is the embodiment of France’s full return to the alliance’s integrated military structure. And this is a signal change in the alliance. Your success, Gen. Abrial, will underscore the success of President Sarkozy’s determination to normalize France’s relation within the Atlantic alliance.
And, secondly, you’ve taken command of ACT at a time when it’s important to demonstrate the value of that particular command and a U.S.-based NATO command to NATO’s mission. Your mandate is a very daunting one, how to ensure transformation and modernization of allied military forces and doctrine.
And, third, you’ve stepped into this historic role at a time when the alliance has launched a process to develop a new Strategic Concept. So you’re doing the military side of what NATO itself is embodied; in essence, to answer the question now that all of us more and more have, what is NATO for? And I know the group of experts led by Secretary Albright is helping address this question and I’m sure that the group is profiting by your perspectives on it. And this evening we look forward to what your views are on this sort of epical change that NATO is facing.
Gen. Abrial is no stranger to the United States. As a French air force cadet, he was an exchange cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. And I used to teach there so I welcome that. I didn’t know about that association, General. Following his graduation from the French air force academy, he served as a fighter pilot commanded within the French air force at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. He participated in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq as the commander of France’s fifth fighter wing. He has also served on NATO’s international military staff.
More recently, Gen. Abrial served as special assistant in the private offices of the French prime minister and president. Before taking command of Allied Command Transformation he served as France’s chief of staff of the air force. He was appointed supreme allied commander, transformation, on July 29, 2009. Gen. Abrial, welcome back to the council. It’s an honor to participate in your speech. Thank you. (Applause.)
GEN. STÉPHANE ABRIAL: Well, I thank you very much, Gen. Scowcroft, for your kind introduction. It’s a very distinct honor to be introduced by such an eminent figure – and especially by a fellow airman. Thank you, Fred, for your kind words, the announcement of these awards which, I don’t know if I deserve it, but I appreciate it very much. And I’m also very much – very delighted to take part in this prestigious Commanders Series. You named a few very impressive names. And I’m very thankful to the Atlantic Council for its support for ACT.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by stating, it is not business as usual in NATO. But then the fact that I’m standing here as a supreme allied commander is evidence enough of that. Had anyone told me 10 years ago that I would be in that capacity today, I would have waited patiently for the punch line to a joke. (Laughter.) It seemed so unlikely on so many levels.
But my presence in Norfolk is just one sign among many of how NATO has changed and is still changing. This readiness to adapt bodes well for the Strategic Concept and the process launched last year has already proved bracing. Sec.-Gen. Rasmussen and a group of experts have led the way by setting a tone of openness, inclusiveness and boldness in dealing with the tough questions facing us.
I’m honored that Allied Command Transformation was asked to provide a group of experts with military advice and supporting papers on these critical issues. Although many of us live in societies in which war is not popular, few of us believe that the world we live in presents no threats to our security.
As President Obama said in Oslo, “There will be times when nations acting individually or in concert will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified. That’s why,” he added, “NATO continues to be indispensable.” Two weeks ago Secretary Gates also insisted that NATO had proved that it can be relevant and indeed irreplaceable, but he then forcefully called for the alliance to reform. And Secretary Clinton, in a speech cosponsored by this council, cautioned that NATO cannot operate in a world where threats are evolving, as they are today, with an institutional structure that can’t make timely decisions or uses tax dollars for bureaucratic purposes unrelated to strategic priorities.
These words echo Sec.-Gen. Rasmussen’s repeated call for re-energized transformation. I second all of these appeals for reform and affirm that transformation is essential to preserve the unique qualities that make this alliance indispensable: its political will, its integrated military structure, the interoperability it generates and its proven military effectiveness.
I am therefore determined that Allied Command Transformation live up to its name and be a driver for this necessary change. As a military commander, I take guidance from our political leaders, the Strategic Concept being guidance of the highest order. As a military commander, I ask that it contain the clarity, flexibility and realism necessary to implement in our headquarters and in the operational theaters.
I will look to it to discern and articulate the nature of the threat that confronts us and provide the guidance that will steer us securely through the coming decade. But I already have sufficient political guidance to proceed without delay in driving change critical to making NATO more efficient and better-adapted to the challenges we face.
The role of ACT will be to accelerate transformation by promoting and implementing the changes required to maintain the indispensable aspects of the alliance. As such, we will be a driver of reform and an honest broker among nations – seeking and leveraging the best and most economical ways to adapt. In doing this we must confront the reality of severe resource constraints. With defense budgets under growing competition from other lines of public expenditure it is therefore imperative that we are able to assure our publics that we are wasting nothing, that we have not spared ourselves any necessary reform and ask for nothing that is not essential.
We are networking and consolidating national efforts into a cost-effective way forward for the alliance as a whole. In this sense ACT also serves as a rationalizer of NATO resources, helping all nations prepare to meet future requirements without duplicating capabilities or costs unnecessarily and leading the way by leveraging existing available means and developing new ones in a more rational manner which also takes into consideration the diminishing resources.
ACT is, in essence, facilitating the transformation of the alliance to a smarter and more efficient organization by making the most of innovation, building upon and improving existing capabilities and disseminating them within the nations.
Our security depends upon preserving a continuum in capabilities and a balance between present and future demands. But although we know that we must not allow today’s requirements to blind us to future ones, it is clear that among the strongest of our mandates are those that support the warfighter in current operations.
This support consists mainly in preparing NATO’s operational headquarters for deployment, training the trainers in specialized areas and accelerating the delivery of improved capabilities to the troops in the field.
Let me mention two specific examples to which we dedicate very focused attention: improving multinational medical support and advancing the fight against improvised explosive devices, the infamous IEDs. In medical support, we simply owe our soldiers the best backup we (can field ?) and we know its strategic impact in an age of information warfare. We are working hard to accelerate remedies to multinational medical support shortfalls.
My second example is that of counter-IED. Last year two out of three of the fatalities sustained by our forces in Afghanistan were inflicted by IEDs. ACT has been tasked with taking the lead on this issue for NATO. And we are working to make all NATO members – as well as our partners in Afghanistan – benefit from the breakthrough developments from institutions such as the U.S. Joint IED Defeat Organization, the U.S. Joint Forces Command and the U.K. Joint IED Analysis Center.
At a recent counter-IED conference in Budapest my central message was that sharing capabilities – whether in training, doctrine, lessons learned or hardware – saves lives. I am therefore very encouraged by Secretary Gates’ recent announcement that the U.S. will share its counter-IED capabilities with its allies and with coalition members in Afghanistan. This was a game-changer, a bold move that will save many lives – both military and civilian.
Throughout our support operations and more generally to transformation runs training. We need to change thoroughly our approach to it. The objective is to deliver optimal results that allow commanders to fulfill the challenging operational tasks they face in theater.
This includes improving the quality and quantity of our distributed learning efforts and improving the use of modernized modeling and simulation tools to enable headquarters and units to train together more realistically from their home locations. We are also working closely with the nations to enhance training standardization.
This intent focus on the challenges of today does not, however, detract us from our task of persistently preparing for the uncertainties of tomorrow beginning with capability development. My team is taking the lead in identifying and prioritizing capability shortfalls in areas like command and control, situation awareness and decision-making – and leading efforts to address them.
In so doing, I seek solutions infused with pragmatism and innovation in ensuring that tomorrow we will have the forces we need when and where we need them, forces that are agile, deployable, resilient as well as sustainable and crucially affordable. The key driver through all of this work is interoperability – not only of existing capabilities but of those we develop for tomorrow.
Interoperability is truly a force multiplier, allowing the achievements and advances of all nations to contribute most fully to NATO’s mission. ACT aspires to enhance interoperability both of forces by promoting command procedures and effective training and of data and information, which move among the many command-and-control and weapons systems used throughout the alliance.
NATO has been and continues to be an extraordinary venue for interoperability among its members and with others – our partner nations as well as the organizations we are closest to. I find it, for example, revealing that the forces in Atalanta, the EU counterpiracy operation, naturally take advantage of NATO’s standards and procedures, which have become a gold standard for interoperability.
Similarly, the European Defence Agency is leveraging NATO work in counter-IED doctrine, net enabled capabilities or maritime situational awareness. ACT approaches interoperability in the spirit of pure pragmatism. We do not aspire to institute a strictly homogeneous level of technology among all nations. This would be a pipe dream. We seek to bridge the gaps between the capabilities of allies rather than to fill them.
Our goal is simply to enable this collection of disparate capabilities among variegated stakeholders to work more effectively together. In preparing for the future, my command is also developing a more interactive relationship with industry, one of healthy mutual awareness and greater interaction in the pre-competitive stage of capability development, where we can better understand how industry’s technical solutions can help address alliance priority shortfalls and in what timeframe.
We believe that all parties – industry, NATO and the nations – will benefit from increased dialogue and easier access by our industrial partners to NATO personnel, standards and systems to compress delivery times and to improve interoperability between different NATO and national systems. That is the rationale behind our annual industry day and the framework we have established for collaboration with industry.
One spearheading effort is our Distributed Networked Battle Laboratories project. We are currently setting up its industrial advisory panel and the response from industry partners is very encouraging, with key players from North America and Europe already committed to taking part. We are exploring collaboration on topics ranging from joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, multinational logistics and medical, distributed training to maritime C2 systems designed not only to reduce costs and time of development and delivery of new capabilities but to improve NATO’s effectiveness in operations.
You will notice throughout these examples a continuing pattern of leveraging existing capabilities. And this is especially true of my efforts to network transformational actors throughout NATO. Many of you will remember that ACT was created in Norfolk in part to ensure it would benefit from co-location with perhaps the most prominent of such transformational actors, the U.S. Joint Forces Command.
Let me assure you that I fully intend to continue to exploit this proximity, perhaps more systematically even than when my predecessors were dual-hatted. We are currently collaborating on more than 50 ongoing initiatives. However, Gen. Mattis and I recognize that the ACT-JFCOM cooperation may not always count on future commanders enjoying our close personal relationship. So we have signed a letter formalizing the association.
I intend this partnership to be a template for similar collaboration with corresponding institutions throughout the alliance and I am officially extending this offer to representatives from all nations. ACT will apply this networking to all areas of transformation. When lead and contributing nations develop training capabilities – relating, for example, to counterinsurgency or joint tactical air controllers, my staff can serve as brokers to help make this training available to all allies.
I firmly believe that further developing the network of centers of excellence is an efficient way for ACT to leverage our collective knowhow in critical fields.
We are moving forward in the important area of lessons learned as well. Our dedicated center in Lisbon is the ideal vehicle to foster a true alliance-wide lessons-learned community so that all may benefit from the experience and insights of each.
Globally ACT is making progress in networking many areas such as strategic communications or the already-mentioned medical support. But these are only two of several domains where the issue really boils down to information sharing. And we all know how sensitive, but also how essential that is.
Building on the very successful Multiple Futures Project, ACT is also deepening its capacity to serve as an alliance think tank by engaging more systematically with a rich network of institutes on both sides of the Atlantic that deal with security and defense issues. And it is no coincidence that the Atlantic Council has been my most frequent and in-depth interlocutor.
I believe ACT must exploit its favorable geographical location to better explain and demonstrate to U.S. opinion leaders what NATO is up to. I look forward to the day ACT can use the new Strategic Concept to showcase our alliance’s relevance to sometimes skeptical audiences.
Transformation is not an end in itself. It must be driven by what is required to succeed in today and tomorrow’s engagements. And the key to such success is more and more clearly a comprehensive approach to crisis prevention and management. ACT’s overarching transformative driver is therefore finding ways to make the comprehensive approach more operational.
This is central to my vision. I can indeed no longer imagine any lasting solution to a security crisis through a purely military operation. And I have difficult conceiving of any truly severe crisis that could not benefit from military assistance. We must therefore better coordinate our operations today with a range of other partners – military and civilian – if we are to meet our desired end state in a given operation.
There seem to be competing visions of the role of the military in a comprehensive approach and indeed competing visions to this approach itself. But I think it likely that its application will change considerably from one situation to the next.
I propose, however, to start with the following fundamentals as building blocks: First, a realization that we military have a unique role to play in it, being often the first or even sometimes the only actor in theater, and whose logistics, command and control and ability to deploy people are unrivaled by any other actor.
I believe this gives us a crucial responsibility to help make a comprehensive approach operational. Given our organizational and resource advantages, the military must meet other stakeholders more than halfway – both upstream of operations and on the field.
Secondly, we must acknowledge that our first contribution to a comprehensive approach is to first do our core job, to provide security, and then to be the catalyst and facilitator for others to do theirs. Finally, this depends not only on technical arrangements and policy adjustments, but on an overall mindset that must permeate our forces and our headquarters in everything we do from training to standardization and from information operations to operational planning.
ACT is working to develop specific training dealing with a comprehensive approach as well as mechanisms to facilitate joint planning and interoperability to accelerate this process. We are consulting with various actors – both partners or enablers – ranging from the U.N. to the EU, to nations, to nongovernmental organizations and relevant centers of excellence to assess and develop the best course of action.
In this context, I also believe ACT has a role to play in strengthening our contacts with other institutions. This begins with the relevant U.N. bodies, especially given that we are the only NATO headquarters within driving distance of New York. We can’t foster intensified contacts and sharing of best practices – notably in the field of training, in education, doctrine or lessons learned.
I also wholeheartedly agree with Secretary Clinton, who recognized the European Union as an essential partner for NATO. The common security and defense policy is now a reality, but it is still not properly factored into our calculations. It makes little economic or operational sense for NATO and the European Defence Agency not to better coordinate our efforts.
I am therefore working actively on this front within the framework and procedures agreed by EU and NATO and I enjoy regular and productive meetings with Alexander Weis, the agency’s chief executive, and his team. I am evermore persuaded that both organizations and their member nations have much to gain by better synergizing their resources and complementary fields of expertise like chemical, biological and nuclear detection, unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters and so on and so forth.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have covered a lot of ground this afternoon and you will know that ACT is moving forward on a number of fronts. We are simultaneously excited by the opportunities that lay before us (in the way ?) of obstacles we must overcome. But I know that we can count on the help and advice of many friends: think tanks such as the Atlantic Council, the distinguished audience present today, industry, academia and the general public – and prominently the nations we are dedicated to serve.
I am now anxious to hear your insights and answer your questions in the coming conversation. Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. KEMPE: Gen. Abrial, that was fascinating – lots of interesting new ideas that at least I have not heard before. And you did cover a lot of ground, ranging from your relationship to Joint Forces Command, your offer to other countries to get involved in this as well, touching on the EU relationship, the impact of Afghanistan. There are a lot of areas where I’m sure people will have questions to go a little bit deeper. For a moment we just also have to absorb a little bit that this is an important moment in history and it’s just great to have you here.
GEN. ABRIAL: Thank you.
MR. KEMPE: You’re a commander so you’ll understand that I’m going to take just a minute before we get into the questions just to thank the team that put this together – partly because they do this so seamlessly all of the time. And I don’t do it often enough.
So there are two parts of the Atlantic Council, the International Security Program and External Relations, and their great commander is Damon Wilson and Anna Eliasson Schamis. So I would want to thank them. And then Magnus Nordenman, who runs the Commanders Series, who is just fantastic, and Christine Mahler, who does the same task on Anna’s side.
And then I just want to say quickly, we’re going to be losing someone to another job, a young, smart, talented individual named Pete Cassata. And he has been behind the scenes at all of these events making them work just perfectly. And I really want to thank him publicly.
And then this will be inside for the Atlantic Council: Nik Sekaran, where are you? Welcome back. Great to have you back with us.
So, question: You really did outside how well you’re using limited resources, but I guess my provocative question is, can you really do transformation on the cheap? And we have had some pretty stirring speeches here on NATO recently – Sec. Clinton and former Sec.-Gen. Lord Robertson.
And they’re really calling upon NATO leaders to get their act together. I know, as a military general, that’s not your role and you probably don’t want to do that. But on the other hand, how does ACT succeed when NATO’s cut your budget so significantly and allied nations are facing the tightest budgets in a generation? Or is this really a crucial issue for you in terms of actually bringing about the transformation you’re actually tasked to undertake?
GEN. ABRIAL: Thank you for starting with very easy questions. (Laughter.)
Transformation on the cheap: The easy answer is no, of course. Of course, not, as you mention before, joining NATO I was chief of staff, French air force, and we did transform our own forces at that time and as everybody here in this room knows already, probably, if you want to transform, you first have to spend and then you will spare in the future.
But you have to spend up front to be able to spare in the future. So if you don’t get the resources up front then your transformation is at risk. What can you do in a budget-constrained environment? Well, the first thing is – the point I tried to develop here today is make sure that we take all the advantage we can – we leverage everything we can that the nations have and are ready to share with NATO.
One of the main points in the letter I wrote to the secretary general after a few weeks in the office was that I want to improve the way the nations are networking on the military side to make sure that we do all benefit of what one of the allies may have. Sharing is not always obvious, but most nations are willing to do it and we should take advantage of it.
And if we are good enough at this networking and we take stock of the existing and we share lessons learned, we share best practice, we share training facilities, we share existing capabilities, avoiding redundancy, we can improve the overall effectiveness at a very limited cost. And this is already a good start for transformation.
Then, if you want to continue in depth, then we will need to invest and here comes the little question on budget again. As it is, budget is not high. We are the most costly asset in NATO. But our budget has been cut this year again. Well, not yet because the decision has not been made yet for 2010. I hope it should come soon.
But our budget has not been cut as much as we expected and I also want to say a few words about my staff because what the guys have been doing is a tremendous job of explaining, in all transparency, what we’re doing, why we are willing to engage in this and that issue and why it’s important to the overall effectiveness of the alliance.
So we will suffer some cuts because everybody does, but it will not as severe as it could have been, as we thought it would be only a few months ago. What do we do then? Well, we go up front, again, in all transparency to all the alliance members and we tell them we prioritize the projects we can continue to work on.
I don’t want to continue working on all projects and delivering bad quality on each one of them. I want to make sure that the projects we deliver are high quality, and therefore we will have to reduce the projects we’re working on. These priorities are given to us very easily by the political guidance we get in all NATO documents, all summit declarations and so on and support to current operations.
We went to the nations with them. We established a list which has been consolidated and it has been great. So we will not do everything we wish we could have done, but we will do our maximum if the nations are aware of it.
MR. KEMPE: Do less, better.
GEN. ABRIAL: Yes.
MR. KEMPE: One more question from me and then I’ll turn to the audience. A lot of the enthusiasm in this town and elsewhere about a French general at ACT had to do with the fact that perhaps, this would open the way for strengthening NATO-EU relations on a practical level. And you talked about that in your speech.
And you talked about working more closely with the European Defence Agency. But I wonder if you could talk a little bit more deeply on how the blockage of NATO-EU ties limits your ability and what you do specifically or what you think you can do specifically, perhaps, as a French general, to unlock that, realizing that clearly, bigger political decisions have to be made as well?
GEN. ABRIAL: I don’t like to be seen as a French guy, but a European guy. (Chuckles.) But since you asked the question, I think the first benefit of France coming back to NATO has been to make the relationship easier between the two organizations because in the past, when France, not being in the integrated NATO structure, was pushing something in favor of developing, for example, the then-European security and defense policy, then there was also always the suspicion that France did not want to improve the EU, but wanted to give a hit against NATO. Today France is fully part of it, so this suspicion is gone. And this is the first and immediately positive aspect of it.
Now, we have this political deadlock between the two organizations. Honestly, from my side, I cannot do much to solve it and I have, of course, to stick, as I mentioned to the framework and procedures which the two organizations have agreed upon, which gives me some freedom to maneuver. And I’m trying to explore as much as I can, how we can get closer together – again, within a very constrained framework. What does the fact that a French guy is in command bring to this issue?
Well, I would say probably my personal will to do it. But otherwise, no specific visibility or political weight at all. What I want to try to do is to make sure that we’re not going beyond the limits which the political side are fixing to us. We do exploit as much as possible all the possibilities which are offered to us. You asked for an example?
Well, when there are two organizations, we cannot exchange information freely. It’s something which hampers our cooperation, as you can imagine. So we have to find ways to discuss, to push forward some projects. But as soon as we enter the classified world then we do have a problem.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, General. Please, and please identify yourself for the microphone even though we all know who you are. Harlan and – thank you.
Q: Gen. Abrial, I’m Harlan Ullman. Good to see you again and thank you very much. My question may test your sense of humor or your political insensitivity and you can choose either. The issue is public support. As everyone knows, the majority of NATO publics and politicians are at best skeptical and probably cynical about NATO. Afghanistan looms large.
I’m not asking about a public relations strategy because that will not work. But is there anything the military can do on the ACT side or perhaps elsewhere in NATO that makes a much more convincing case in a matter of ways so that publics can become more engaged and involved and at least be presented a side of the argument that I see as lacking?
As you know, your budget’s not there yet. It’s going to be cut. I suspect that’s going to be increasing in the future as publics become increasingly disinterested. So how do you take on this issue of rallying public support at a time when many of the forces and factors are really opposing in the opposite direction?
GEN. ABRIAL: Well, if you consider that – me to Washington and speaking to such audiences is an effort in this direction, this might be an example. I try to go out as often as I can both on this side and the other side of the Atlantic and talk publicly. I’m not the only one to do it. My good friend, Adm. Jim Stavridis, is doing it a lot too.
And I think we try to contribute to visibility of NATO, to interest of the public and to recognition that NATO is useful. But I’m convinced, as a citizen, that if you want to find good arguments to increase public support, we will have to read again, excellent speech from former Sec.-Gen. Robertson when he was here a few weeks ago. He was very clear and I think –
MR. (?): His name’s George. (Laughter.)
GEN. ABRIAL: I call him “sir.”
MR. KEMPE: Please.
Q: Stuart Johnson from the RAND Corporation. [Speaking in French.] When I look around the room here at my colleagues, most of us think of national security as defending a border and making sure no one with the wrong uniform crosses that border and takes our territory. But of course, increasingly, we are concerned with the access to space, access to information.
And among the smaller number of issues that you will concentrate very hard on, does the security of our information, our cyber access to the cyber world – not only for military operations, but for the interface between military and political operations, does that loom large in your dossier?
GEN. ABRIAL: Again, short answer is, yes, very much. You rightly mentioned the issue of borders and territorial integrity, which was at the origin of the creation of NATO, but we still – the core mission – collective defense is the core mission. But I mention what I was expecting from Strategic Concept in my remarks.
This is something which Strategic Concept will have to define. What is the role of NATO today? What are other missions? The core mission will stay. It has to be reaffirmed; solidarity is the essential part of this alliance. But then how far do we go?
There is one area in which we work quite a lot and which, in my mind, should be reflecting the Strategic Concept is how to deal with what we call, you know, our jargon, the global commons: air, maritime, space and cyber. All of them are vital. All of them are new domains in which all these things we need in the modern world are flowing.
And we cannot accept any disruption in air, in maritime, in cyber or in space. Otherwise, not only the military would be incapacitated, but I think our whole societies would have tremendous difficulties. How do we address them?
In NATO, air has been addressed almost from the beginning, with an integrated air structure. Maritime is not considered today as a permanent mission of NATO, as opposed to air, but NATO is very much involved, and we have just developed a maritime situational awareness concept, a maritime security operations concept.
We just delivered to the nations a – (inaudible) – by Strategic Command a maritime strategy for the alliance for other nations to consider. We are working very much in this domain and everybody understands why. We have piracy on the one end, climate change in the future. We have to address this – all of the aspects of maritime environment.
Space and cyber are more difficult because the club of 28 nations don’t all have the same vision of what could do or what should be allowed to do in these domains. We do work very much in cyber already and we have a center of excellence in Estonia dedicated to cyber and everybody understands why and why this country was so willing to lead the effort in this domain.
But not everybody understands – has the same understanding of even defensive actions in cyber. And when somebody starts of talking possible offensive actions, what should we do? Some nations don’t even want to hear it. And we have the same problem (space ?). So these are domains in which we are working, but in which we encounter obvious difficulties of perception, mainly.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you. Please, right here. Got it, thank you.
Q: Thank you. Robert Hunter at RAND Corporation. Good to see you, General. Three ideas that came together and let me just see if I can’t draw something out of it. One, you’re French. You are the first NATO commander from a country that belongs both to NATO and to the European Union. Secondly, the comprehensive approach and third, people talking about the breaking down the walls between NATO and the EU.
ACT has a fairly limited budget, but has a broad mandate and has a lot that it does that can contribute. Do you see a value in your working as head of ACT, not just for NATO, but also for whichever the EU organizations, CFSP or CSDP? And if you see a value in that, your serving both institutions, how do you think one should go about trying to make that happen?
GEN. ABRIAL: You mean the commander being no more dual-hatted JFCOM-ACT, but the commander of the ACT being dual-hatted for some EU mission?
Q: Absolutely. (Laughter.) That you would serve both NATO and the European Union. It’s the same things that have to be done, often by the same countries, but with two institutions that cross purposes. The EU does not have the value of an ACT that NATO does.
GEN. ABRIAL: Well, I think the more we can work together between situations, the better. How to organize this is a difficult question. I must say, if we want to go into this direction of dual-hatting SACT then we have to ask first the 21 nations who are members of both and then the six others or the seven others on each side.
I suspect it would take some time before we get a consensus there. (Laughter.) But everything we can do to make sure that the two institutions work in good understanding, at least, cooperate as much as possible. An example, we both were – our nations develop capabilities. In each nation, we don’t have two sets of capabilities, two different institutions. We have only one set.
But the capability development processes in both institutions are so different, so cumbersome. Timing is not the same. Vocabulary is not the same. It’s very difficult for each nation to deal with these two processes. On the other hand, they cannot be, in my mind, totally reunited since the missions aren’t the same. But they could be synchronized.
They could put much closer and to make sure that there is no contradiction, that there is no redundancy and that we diminish difficulties for member nations. If I can be instrumental in this, I would love to do it. But before EU accepts to give me mandate of a NATO nation – or NATO accepts to – but EU gives it to me, I think I will be gone a few years before it happens. (Laughter.)
MR. KEMPE: You can write the issue brief for that. (Laughter.) Please.
Q: Bernard Gordon, University of New Hampshire. General, I was very much encouraged when you began your remarks with your reference to the president’s speech in Oslo and along with that, his speech at West Point a few weeks before that. They both made the point that the issues of the first time that NATO’s Article 5 was called upon – I won’t rehearse all those issues. I’m sure you are obviously fully aware.
I want to address Secretary Gates’ remarks two weeks ago at the National Defense University. I suspect you were probably in the audience. It was a remarkable address and he came close to the end when he spoke about the widespread – not his term, but what somebody else has called the “debellicization” of Europe.
Now, I’m not going to ask you to pick up on the suggestion made a moment ago or not seriously, but to undertake a public relations campaign, but are there things that can be done to affect opinion in Europe that will have an impact upon this lessening of recognition that there are threats beyond the traditional NATO area?
As a final point, as you are well aware, even now, the issue of trainers, which you addressed, there’s a 1900 shortfall in Afghanistan – shortfall of 1900. So are there ways in which, as a military man, it is possible to begin to effect changes in Western – in European opinion?
GEN. ABRIAL: How to increase – to improve understanding and how to make sure that the nations provide more trainers in this case, in Afghanistan, for example. I would say we have to make the point that what we do in Afghanistan is the right thing to do and probably, this is not visible enough in the way these issues are covered in Europe or in some parts of Europe.
There is this aspect of political will, political courage, as Lord Robertson developed here. There is also the fact that media don’t always want to put this in a positive tone. What can the military do? Well, do their best, as they always did throughout history. Military have always made their best to accomplish the mission with the means given by the governments and this will continue.
How could we, military, make – help increase the way the nations contribute to the operation? This is a typical national political decision. We military can to the best of our ability explain how we think we have to be organized and be resourced to fulfill the mission which is given to us. But then the means are not in our hands. And we have just to acknowledge the fact that we get what is given to us.
I have no good answer to your question, obviously. (Chuckles.) I wish I had. Being where I am as a military man and as a NATO commander, I can make the case, I can try to be convincing, but others decide.
MR. KEMPE: I have so many more questions than we have time to take. And because we’re running short on time, I’m going to take three in a group and then see what we have left. So please, you’ve had your hand up for a long time, you, in the corner.
Q: Thank you. Raghubir Goyal for India Globe and Asia Today. General, thanks for your overview (and great wit ?). Many Afghans are not very happy as far as security is concerned, so is not the international community. What security authority can you give to Afghanistan – those who are serving in Afghanistan – as far as security is concerned? Do you think NATO can finish the job, bring peace and stability in Afghanistan? And what role do you think the U.N. is playing, or what sort of advice you are getting from the United Nations?
MR. KEMPE: So an Afghan question, and one here, please.
Q: General, good evening. I’m Norman Ray. In one of my former NATO lives, I was deputy chairman of the military committee, and it’s in that life I want to ask this question. By tradition and current practice, I believe, both you and supreme allied commander of operations have a representative who sits with the military committee and does everything but vote, and is very useful to you on things that are focused in a military manner.
It would seem to me that your responsibilities now in the comprehensive approach would make it beneficial, indeed, perhaps, absolutely necessary that you have someone who represents you in a civilian capacity, probably in the rank of a very senior civilian, maybe even ambassadorial rank, who would sit on your behalf in the same manner as your representative sits now with the military committee with the political committee. And I wonder if you’ve considered that or you think you could gain any support for it. Thank you.
MR. KEMPE: And I’m sorry, with your forbearance, I’m going to take two more. Hans and then here, and I apologize.
Q: Hans Binnendijk from NDU. During the past six or seven months, one of the themes that has become dominant, as a group of experts have been going through a series of seminars, is the need for reassurance on Article 5. This comes from our allies to the east; it’s a result of an array of things from Georgia through cyber and energy – cyber attacks, energy cut off, political intimidation. So from a military perspective, what do you think should be done to provide a higher degree of assurance that Article 5 is credible?
MR. KEMPE: And a last question here from our own Damon Wilson. And I apologize for those I didn’t get to; we just have a matter of time.
DAMON WILSON: Thank you. Gen. Abrial, my question picks up on Hans’s about the strategic reassurance in the east. One of the issues that’s been out there as part of this discussion is where NATO is headed on nuclear policy. And at the foreign ministers’ meeting in Estonia next month, this issue is on the agenda in a fairly public way for the first time in quite awhile.
The backdrop of President Obama’s Prague speech, the ongoing nuclear posture review here, the debate within the strategic concept. When the group of experts were here, they obviously had discussions on nuclear policy issues.
How does this – and this is an issue about which France obviously has very strong views, but there are varied views within the alliance – how do changes in NATO nuclear policy and deterrence policy that deemphasize the role of nuclear weapons while putting a greater prioritization on missile defense, how does this mixture of issues against which there are major political decisions – which are not expected to be a part of – but how does this impact your work in terms of a transformation agenda as the nature of deterrence is shifting within the alliance?
MR. KEMPE: So that’s a very simple few questions for the last few minutes. (Laughter.) Let me just say, listening to the nuclear question and also hearing your comments about the EU, I reflect on my friend Roger Cohen’s piece in the New York Times, I think it was today or yesterday, where he said, yes, there is a telephone number now to call in Europe for the U.S. and you get Von Rompuy on the phone and it says, sorry, I’m out of the office; press 1 for the German point of view; press 2 for the French point of view – (laughter) – and so on.
But we have a question on Afghanistan on the civilian capacity that could serve you. On Article 5 and nuclear policy, I obviously don’t expect you to drill down deep on all of these. But why don’t you pick which of these you think you have something you want to say on?
GEN. ABRIAL: Okay, trying to go very quick, on Afghanistan, I will not go into details because I’m not an operations commander. I’m responsible for transformation and support operations. My feeling is that we’re in the right hands. I’m fully confident in what Adm. Stavridis and Gen. McChrystal are doing now, and I’m optimistic in the chances of success.
And if you ask me what to do, what should other do, or what should we do with others, well, this boils down to the question of how do we operationalize the comprehensive approach? Afghanistan is a case in point. We have to work as well as we can with all possible actors, states, organizations, NGOs, groups, whoever. But whoever can help should be welcomed. And should be good interaction and sharing of information, which is not always the easiest part.
A senior civilian representative for a sitting council? Why not, why not. I suspect there could be some resistance. You know NATO HQ as well as I do. What I can tell you is that we are working very closely – even closer and closer – with the international staff – the civilian side of the house – but we are not in council. My best representative in council is chairman military committee because he represents us all.
The need for reassurance, yeah, it’s there. And obviously, we have to satisfy it. At some stage, we have instituted a concept to declare solidarity. And pragmatically, I would say in the last 10 or 15 years, we may not have mentioned it enough. We may have not made enough of a public case of Article 5, demonstrated it. We have not exercised enough in a way that shows these nations that we’re talking seriously about it. And not only them but all walls outside.
But Article 5 is serious. If we maybe just reemphasize a little bit, pragmatic activities. It will be part of a solution, at least from the military side.
MR. KEMPE: Can you imagine a cyber attack being an Article 5 violation?
GEN. ABRIAL: This is a question I asked a group of experts, and they have not answered me yet. (Laughter.) I suspect they will answer the secretary-general before they talk to me, but this is exactly a very fundamental question. How much can it be considered as an Article 5? I would suspect if you launch a very well-thought-through attack and you are successful in destroying, for example, the management of the railway system in a country, causing accidents or maybe some electrical power plants or whatever, you make them closed to this notion. Are the nations in NATO ready to declare it an Article 5, is something else. And again, strategic concept might give us some light on it.
For the nuclear issue, I would not agree totally with what Damon Wilson said. I don’t think that there is a – that we must deemphasize the nuclear part of deterrence because of missile defense. I think there are two aspects of security which are complementary. The competition here would more be in resources, I would say. But to answer more precisely your question. What can we do in ACT, typically in ACT we don’t deal with nuclear matters but we are working on possible defense against ballistic missiles.
MR. KEMPE: And I’m going to take one last question. There’s one person I overlooked earlier, so please, if you would just ask your question. And this will be our last question.
Q: Good evening, General. Lara Marlowe from the Irish Times newspaper. I wondered, all of this talk about closer cooperation between the European Union and NATO, is the main impediment to this the membership of neutral countries like Ireland in the European Union? And if not, what are the political impediments to this cooperation? Thank you.
GEN. ABRIAL: Well, there are political issues between specific members of specific countries, who are one in NATO, one in the EU, which has to be solved politically. Neutrality is not a problem. If Ireland does not oppose being a member of two organizations, so be it.
Joining an organization is not something which can be forced from outside. It’s the totally sovereign choice of a nation to apply, and then it’s up to the organization to agree and decide how. But currently, there are differences in the membership in the two organizations and it is due to these differences that the organizations cannot work together because some nations in NATO on one side, in the EU on the other side, disagree to this cooperation. So they cannot go beyond it. We have to solve this political deadlock.
Q: And those who disagree on – (inaudible) – can hear from their Greece and Turkey. (Laughter.)
MR. KEMPE: What he did was he just did not give the Irish Times a screaming-banner headline. (Laughter.)
Gen. Abrial, I think I can speak for the audience when I say that your speech gave us real sharp idea of what you’re up against, what you’re doing, some of the new things you’re thinking about. And then I think in the Q&A, we really saw the depth of your intellect in dealing with these issues, the breadth of what you have to deal with, the – of course – resource constraints in dealing with it, but I think we all come away reassured that we have the right person in the right place at the right time, irrespective of nationality.
GEN. ALBRIAL: (Chuckles.) Thank you.
MR. KEMPE: So let me thank you so much for taking the time. (Applause.)