NATO Military Chiefs Discuss Strategic Environment’s Challenges

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2018 — Continued change from Afghanistan, confronting Russia, and enhancing 360-degree European security highlighted discussions during the NATO Military Committee Meeting in Brussels these past two days.

Committee Chairman Gen. Petr Pavel of the Czech army said alliance chiefs of defense, joined by partner-nation chiefs, recommended changes to NATO’s command structure, but he did not reveal specifics, noting that alliance defense ministers still must rule on the recommendations.

Pavel spoke at a news conference here today after the committee meeting, along with U.S. Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, and Gen. Denis Mercier of the French air force, the alliance’s supreme allied commander for transformation.

NATO faces changes in Afghanistan and in Iraq, to the east as the alliance deploys troops to deter a resurgent Russia, and to the south, where NATO is working with partner nations to build stability and military capabilities in North Africa and the Middle East.

The chiefs addressed issues of security and stability in Europe’s southern neighborhood. “This is one of the greatest transnational security challenges that we face, and one which impacts every nation around the globe,” Pavel said. “NATO’s network of partners, complemented with international organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations, allows us to work more effectively and in a comprehensive manner.”

Closer Cooperation

The general added that he wants the alliance to cooperate even more closely, sharing experiences and expertise and avoiding duplication of effort.

The chiefs – including partner nations – also received briefings from the commander of the alliance’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, Pavel said. Much has changed in the nation over the past year, he noted – the United States put its South Asia Strategy into place, and the alliance agreed to a larger train-and-assist effort in Afghanistan.

“We discussed the strategic, operational and political context in and around Afghanistan, as well as our main effort to train, assist and advise the Afghan security forces and institutions,” Pavel said, adding that all of the chiefs stressed the enduring nature of the mission in Afghanistan and recognized the progress being made by Afghan security forces.

The chiefs also discussed alliance operations in Iraq and NATO’s participation in the global coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Pavel said the mission is transitioning from combat to stabilization. “We deliberated how NATO could adapt our current activity within our training and capacity-building initiative in Iraq, upon request by the Iraqi authorities and taking into consideration the importance of local ownership and buy-in,” he added.

Georgia and Ukraine

The chiefs also received briefings on the situation in Georgia and Ukraine.

“The chiefs of defense noted the challenge for Ukraine of achieving security and defense reforms alongside re-establishing Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” Pavel said. “They also recognized the progress made in the Ukrainian armed forces reform and stressed their commitment to furthering the capability and interoperability of the Ukrainian armed forces.” He added that the chiefs also gave unqualified support to the NATO-Georgia defense package and welcomed Georgia’s constructive approach to the ongoing security situation.

Scaparrotti described how the security environment in Europe has changed. “Today’s strategic context is different than when we made the last [NATO command structure] change — a resurgence of Russia as a strategic competitor, growing unrest and instability in Africa and the Middle East, as well as terrorism reshaping our strategic environment,” he said. “This security environment is compounded by the rapid growth and proliferation of new technologies — technologies that can be acquired by both state and nonstate actors.”

This requires changes and adaptation by the alliance, the general said.

“Our ability to respond requires different approaches and different capabilities,” he said. “At NATO, and especially in [Allied Command Operations], national, bilateral and collective alliance efforts must be integrated and mutually reinforcing. This is fundamental to our success, because strategic unity keeps us strong.”

Scaparrotti said he is pleased with the way nations have responded. He pointed to the enhanced forward presence initiative in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland as one example and then cited others, including the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, Baltic Air Policing, enhanced air policing and ongoing maritime operations.

The alliance must keep up this effort in order to react “at the speed of relevance,” Scaparrotti said.

Continued Evolution

Mercier noted that the evolution of the strategic environment is one of the main drivers for the Military Committee sessions, “to ensure that our NATO military capacity remains fit for purpose, now and in the foreseeable future.”

The transformation chief emphasized that the alliance must continue to transform or risk becoming irrelevant. “Whether inside or outside the defense community, the organizations that thrive in a complex and rapidly changing environment are those that acknowledge the necessity to simultaneously operate and adapt,” he said. “We cannot afford to address our deficiencies without setting our sights to the longer term, and this is what my mission is about.”

His command focuses on warfare development to ensure that the alliance has the military capacity and posture needed to face any future challenges, he said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)