Douglas E. Lute, U.S. Ambassador to NATO
Marjanne de Kwaasteniet, Dutch Ambassador to NATO
Karl Heinz Kamp, Federal Academy for Security Policy, Germany
Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Welcome to Friends of Europe and welcome to this evening’s discussion of the NATO spearhead. My name is Giles Merritt. I’m the Secretary General of Friends of Europe and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.
I just I think want to start with a very simple question about the spearhead which I hope our distinguished panel will be able to answer. First of all, is it credible? It’s not the first time we’ve looked at rapid reaction forces not only with a NATO hat but also the battle groups of the European Union. So first of all, is it credible, or is it just NATO reaching for the jargon when it doesn’t have anything else in the locker?
And secondly, is it usable? What is the actual thinking in this day and age where we suddenly find ourselves almost back in the 1970s. I think there’s a lot of skepticism probably amongst public, certainly I’ve seen it in the media, saying yes, we ought to stand up over Ukraine. We ought to stand up against Russian incursions, aggression, whatever you want to call it, but how and under what circumstances? What are the rules of engagement if you like.
So just to get us moving, my questions are credible? Usable? Let’s start with putting the question to Ambassador Douglas Lute, who heads the U.S. Mission to NATO.
I think it’s already on. All the microphones are live.
Ambassador Lute: It’s a great introduction when you say well he heads the U.S. Mission to NATO, but he cannot turn on his microphone.
Look, I think Giles has some good points. Credibility and utility. But I want to rewind the tape a little bit and add a little context. I think after each of us has a chance for some introductory comments then we’ll get to your questions, and we’ll certainly get to Giles’ questions about credibility and utility because those actually were two of the design features of the topic tonight. What we call awkwardly the VJTF, right? The very high readiness. So the V standards for Very High Readiness, if you’re still with me, Joint Task Force. That’s the spearhead force of the Rapid Reaction Force.
But it’s important I think to lay a little context on how we came about this. We didn’t just pick this out of a hat and decide we were going to have one of these. There’s an important context to understand, and really I think the context began with Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea more than a year ago now; his sponsoring the destabilizing of the Donbass just several months later; and ultimately, several months after that, when the 28 leaders of the Alliance met at Wales, at the Wales Summit the first week in September, they were faced with a fundamentally different reality here in Europe on Europe’s periphery, from the reality they had faced for about 25 years, since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Or certainly since a dissolution of the Soviet Union.
So at Wales they talked a lot, actually, President Obama and his 27 colleagues, in private sessions and some not so private sessions, some public sessions, about facing this new reality and how NATO was going to respond.
One of the key features of the response that came out of Wales was the emergence of what we call in NATO headquarters RAP — the Readiness Action Plan. You’re going to get used to these acronyms. I’m still, even as a former military guy, getting used to NATO acronyms.
You’ll be pleased to know that the committee people who manage the RAP on a day-to-day basis of course call themselves RAPsters. So the RAPsters. But in any event, RAP is all about the immediate response to this new security challenge. But also the longer term adaptations to the security challenge. So it’s really two bits.
The immediate part has been going on now for more than a year, and this is the air, sea and land reinforcement measures that are in place today along the eastern plank of the Alliance. So if you start at the Baltic Sea and work your way south along the eastern plank into sort of your mental map of Europe, of NATO anyway, you go through the Baltics — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania — down through Poland and then through Romania, Bulgaria and the Black Sea. Throughout that NATO space today you have not only Americans but all 28 Allies contributing to air, sea and land reinforcement measures.
What does this mean? This means fundamentally for the first time since these states joined the Alliance they have non-stop exercises taking place day to day with Dutch troops, German troops, French troops, British troops, Canadian troops, U.S. troops, operating alongside these Allies. So these reinforcement measures were the first immediate reaction to the new reality in the east.
Longer term, NATO also commissioned at Wales some adaptation measures. So we took immediate steps to reinforce, but then we set upon sort of changing the way our force structure is really postured in NATO. And this is worth a couple of minutes.
During the Cold War the force structure for NATO was very clean-cut. I mean we were pressed right up against the Iron Curtain, confronting a bi-polar standoff struggle that went through the conventional spectrum, up through the tactical nuclear, all the way to strategic nuclear weapons and we lived with that standoff for 40 years. That was the Cold War posture. But after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we fundamentally changed NATO’s posture. I mean we went from 400,000 American troops in Europe, and today we have about 60,000. So we fundamentally changed and we reset our posture for the last 25 years which is really a posture where we went on deployments out of Europe proper, out of Alliance proper to the Balkans first and more recently over the last 12 years in Afghanistan. That’s a very different force structure. And now with this new reality where we have challenges immediately on our door step — yes, in the east, but also in the southeast with ISIS to the south with Libya — we’ve got to change again. So what adaptations are underway?
The shiny object, the one that catches all the attention is the one that is the title of this session tonight which is the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. But it is really just the shiny object. There’s a whole set of adaptation measures below and supporting, connected to the VJTF that are equally important. Let me just outline a couple, then we’ll pass the mike.
The other one I would highlight is that for the first time in Alliance history we’re going to plant six NATO flags in the eastern-most Allies. So starting in Estonia and in the south, extending all the way in the south to Bulgaria, we’re going to place small, modest NATO command and control headquarters in each of these countries. Why? Because we’re not going to forward base large NATO forces in those countries and we need a reception team to receive the VJTF if it were to be deployed to any one of these six countries. So the first thing we’re going to do is plant six NATO flags.
The second thing we’re going to do is create a headquarters, actually expand an existing headquarters that is prepared to command and control all of this. Because now you’ve got six NATO flags, you’ve got this high readiness task force back here in Europe, you’ve got to have somebody to control it. We’re going to stand up in a much more robust way a three-star level headquarters in Stettin, or Szczecin if you’re Polish, a three-star headquarters which is today cosponsored by the Germans, the Norwegians and the — the Danes and then the Poles. So it’s a trilateral headquarters today. We’re going to NATO-ize it and give NATO a new command and control structure in the east.
Then behind that of course we’re going to build this Very High Readiness Task Force, and I think Marjanne is probably best suited here to sort of describe that because the Dutch today are part of a three-Ally team that have sponsored the test bed. So we actually have this in terms of reality, in tangibility, we have this task force today and it’s being stood up and tested this year.
Behind those factors we are adapting NATO planning processes, we’re adapting inside the North Atlantic Council, the political body we’re adapting our crisis management system so that we can be more responsive in the face of crisis and in the face of uncertainty on NATO’s periphery than we were even a couple of years ago.
So as an opening speaker I just want to add that yes, there’s a shiny object here and it’s the Very High Readiness Task Force, but the adaptation in NATO is much broader and deeper than just the task force itself. So let me, with that, pass to Marjanne. We are going to get to your question, but I think a little context is important.
Moderator: Everyone, thank you. Thank you very much Ambassador, for doing my job of introducing so well. I think everyone here knows Marjanne de Kwaasteniet, the Dutch Ambassador to NATO who previously was Ambassador to European Union Political and Security Committee so sees European security from the EU perspective as well.
I have just one question to plant at least in the back of your mind Marjanne, and it’s this. For years, for nearly ten years now we’ve had the NATO Rapid Reaction Force. It hasn’t really been used and some people said it was because it was too expensive to use. The Netherlands I think has suffered as much if not more from defense cutbacks. What’s your view on the cost of the spearhead? Just to add to what else you were going to tell us.
Ambassador Kwaasteniet: Thank you, Giles, and I will come to that question at the end, but let me pick up where — no, no, I’m not going to skip it — where Doug stopped and focus on this VJTF, this shiny object.
The VJTF is built upon the NATO Response Force. Yes, that is true. But there are considerable differences between the NRF, the NATO Response Force that we had in the past and the VJTF that we are building right now. Let me mention a few differences.
First of all, it’s much bigger.
Secondly, it’s going to exercise, do live exercises. The NRF, and I don’t want to belittle it, but the NRF existed on paper. The NRF, I mean you signed up to the NRF, you did the year before you were in the NRF some exercises that were to certify you that you were ready to, up to the job, but there was no live exercise involved. The VJTF is going to do also live exercises.
When the VJTF took shape in the run-up to Wales we realized that the Netherlands would be in the land component force of the NRF this year together with Norway and Germany, and we developed the idea to use that year to test the VJTF, to make a pilot. This was actually already mentioned by my Prime Minister in Wales, that he was willing to make an offer to use the Dutch contribution together with the German and the Norwegian contribution to the NRF as a test bed for VJTF.
We have developed that in more detail after the Wales Summit. At that time it was still just a big idea but not worked out in detail. And indeed this year we have been working together with the two other countries to make this VJTF to come alive.
We went through a very first exercise tabletop in February. In April we did a so-called alert exercise, troops going to the airport, being ready to be transported. And somewhere in the coming months we will do also a deployment exercise and troops will be deployed to a fictitious hot spot somewhere in Europe. So that is already a very big different with what we had in the past.
Now as Doug pointed out, the VJTF is not the only thing. There are indeed the six small headquarters that we are building in the eastern Allies. Just to give you another acronym NFIUs, NATO Force Integration Units, but we call them NFIUs to make it easier, so we have six NFIUs in the eastern part of the alliance. And indeed, we have to improve our responsiveness at the political level. We need to shorten the decision-making processes. We have to exercise situations in which you have to take decisions under high pressure with always, according to your taste, too little information and become more familiar with these kind of situations.
So all in all I think I answered already a bit your questions about usability and credibility. Now on the financing. Yes, it is costly and we all realize that, and the costs will fall on the nations participating in the VJTF mostly. Small parts will be common funded, but it’s the Allies themselves that have to pay most of the bill for the VJTF. And I think this is also being discussed by the Chiefs of Staff. So our Ministries of Defense realize this.
In the Dutch debate, for example, we discussed that if we are able to increase the defense budget what then comes first. That’s always the question. What for? I mean if you get half a billion euros more, what are you going to do? Then part of the answer is well, we need a considerable sum for readiness. You can’t just immediately start buying helicopters or whatever. Readiness is one of the first things that you have to do.
Moderator: Thank you very much indeed for that, Marjanne.
I’d like to at some point if we can come back to this question of whether or not the spearhead might be the catalyst for revisiting costs lying where they fall, something that we’ve all been scratching our heads about and complaining about for ages, and everybody says it’s impossible.
Our third speaker, Karl Heinz Kamp, I think a lot of people here will know him certainly by reputation. He’s been a friend of Friends of Europe for a long time. He has a very good article on spearhead in the current issue of Europe’s World, Friends of Europe’s policy journal and I warmly recommend it to you. But Karl Heinz, as well as probably reflecting some of the things you say in your article I wonder if at some point we can also talk about the political dimension of spearhead and of the whole security relationship or lack of relationship with the Russian Federation. Because the thing we constantly hear from Russian commentators and representatives is that it was NATO encirclement that started the whole problem.
So my question to you is, how, at some point once we’ve got the spearhead up and ready to run, how do we prevent it from being a negative, provocative force? How do we turn NATO’s reaction to the Ukraine crisis into something more sustainable and more long term?
Mr. Kamp: Thank you, I’m happy to do so.
Giles gave us all five minutes for a short introductory remark, and I was shocked. I asked him, Giles, how shall I manage to say everything I know about NATO in five minutes? Giles said well, you can speak very very slowly. So that’s what I’m doing now.
I have five quick points which also will cover your question, five quick points on the political side of the spearhead force.
The first one is quite simple, that those were wrong who believed that NATO and EU Would not react decisively on Russia’s blatant aggression. We all know the comments after the summit in Wales when people were saying NATO will not be able to keep up the momentum of Wales. They argued that the spearhead force is a pie in the sky simply because there would not be the money, you mentioned this already, for this. And many people were saying that the RAP is actually crap, and they were all wrong. They were all wrong.
Point number two, why were they wrong? They were wrong because all NATO Allies including those who for geographic or political reasons look more to the south, they all understood that Russia’s crisis or the Russia-Ukraine crisis is not a bad weather period. It’s a climate change. It’s a fundamental climate change and we are back in the Article 5 world and that requires certain action. So regardless whether Allies see the problems lying more in the south or more in the east, they all understand and agree that the Article 5 world requires deterrence measures, and deterrence means to send visible signals to your opponent, potential opponent, that you are able and willing to defend yourself. And the spearhead force is particularly suited to do such a thing because it’s small enough not to be aggressive in the sense of encircling, but it sends a double signal, which is important. One signal of decisiveness to Russia, and the signal of resolve to Russia; and the signal of reassurance to those who feel under threat.
A third point. What is the special benefit of the spearhead force in addition to the military effect? And Ambassador Lute said it already, it is its multi-nationality which means that any aggressor, it has a tremendous political effect because a small but agile response force that can be deployed quickly means that any aggressor, let’s say against the Baltics let’s say, will not only fight against Estonia or Latvia but also fight against Dutch forces, Germany forces and American forces because American forces in addition do a number of measures by predispositioning material in Norway and other things. So that means it’s basically those who still recall the old layer cake in Germany. The number of troops stationed on German soil to confront any aggressor with a huge number of casualties, so to speak, and this raises the risk for any attacker significantly, as the old layer cake did.
A third point, point number four actually, it has been raised already. Is all this easy? No, it’s not easy, and it’s damn costly. So we have two major problems. One is certainly the resources, and it has been mentioned already. However, we have the positive trend that in NATO the cutting trend is being reversed. Some might say carefully, homeopathically, yes, because NATO is a homeopathical institution. Nothing works revolutionary. It goes in very small — Even Germany is now increasing its defense budget. You might say not enough, but still it’s a significant shift which is happening there. “Fortunately”, quote/unquote, Russia helps. Russia helps with its aggressive signal. We would be in much more trouble in NATO if Russia would be the nice guy tomorrow. Then the Germans might say oh, reset, and the Poles would say don’t believe them, and so on and so forth.
Point number five, and I think this is a very crucial question and you also answered this already. What about the political decision-making in NATO? Which means what if we have a spearhead force which is agile, visible, trained, and everything is fine, but if the Allies don’t agree to deploy it if let’s say the little green men are showing up in [Navar], what then?
So what if we have a high readiness force for low readiness politicians? This is a chance which might happen. On that point I would argue that we never know. We don’t know whether NATO will be able to act rapidly in a crisis or is politically willing to act rapidly in an immediate crisis, whether or not NATO would really be willing to activate the spearhead.
The point is that we did not know this in the Cold War either. We were not sure, and we were happy not to find out. We Germans could not be sure that NATO would be ready to start the 3rd World War if the Soviet Union had taken 30 square meters of West German territory.
The key point is though, that an opponent or an aggressor cannot exclude that NATO acts decisively. Which means if a proven spearhead force exists which has shown its capacity, a potential aggressor cannot be sure that it will not be used. It might be used. He cannot say so. And if this is the case, then he is confronted with a risk that NATO might agree and it might give the marching order for the spearhead force much quicker than he expected. And if this happens, then he is in serious trouble.
Which means such a spearhead force which has proven its efficiency raises or changes the cost benefit analysis of any aggressor and he might likely decide not to attack, and that’s all we want.
On that happy note, I thank you very much.
Moderator: Thank you very much, Karl Heinz, and thank you to all three of our speakers.
I’m going to throw the debate open and would welcome comments or questions. I hope at some point though to return to this whole question of the politics of the spearhead and decision-making because perhaps I’m alone in this, but following the Libya operation I’m very unclear about the relationship between European members of NATO and the United States. And Karl Heinz referred to the Cold War when American leadership was absolutely not only essential, unavoidable and unquestionable, and I wonder to what extent that remains the case when we’re confronted with a sort of slow-burning, very European crisis.
With that thought, perhaps we can come back to that, but right now let me — Could I actually see a show of hands to get an idea of how many people would like to come in with a question? Or is it possible that our speakers have either answered all the questions you might have or stunned you into silence? Five, okay.
Audience: Good evening, my name is Serges Tobins (ph) and I’m a professor at the Military Academy in Brussels. I have a couple of questions if I may.
The first one, you spoke about deterrence and of course it’s a strategic level, political level, but our deterrence can literal be facing a realist. So my question is, to come to a decision we need consensus and we need this international organization facing one person holding all the reins on the other side. So how decisive and how deterrent can we be?
The second question is this VJTF or the RAP. Is it aiming at the sense of unease of the eastern member states or is it aimed at the aggression coming from the east? Thank you very much.
Ambassador Lute: In reverse order, both. First of all it’s meant to solidify in the political space of those six eastern Allies that Article 5 means what it says. And if we have the means to enforce Article 5 and to respond in collective defense to the eastern Allies, then I think politically there’s evidence that in fact being a member of NATO means something and Article 5 counts.
But there’s also a deterrent value. I think to go back to the comments across the panel, I mean this is as much a deterrent tool as it is a useful military tool by way of deployment. And the thing that I think varies there is the ability of the North Atlantic Council, so for the two of us, I see our Hungarian colleague somewhere here in the audience as well, so the 28 of us have to vote 28 to 0 to deploy this thing. Right?
But what we in the American delegation and in the American government understand very clearly is that Article 5 doesn’t wait for a 28 to 0 vote. Article 5 of the Atlantic Treaty reads that if one member is attacked, it suffers an armed attack, it is the obligation individually and collectively of the other members to respond.
So the United States of America has a treaty obligation to respond one on one, bilaterally, no matter what the vote is in the big round room in the North Atlantic Council across town. This is very important. And it’s especially important when today we have American troops already deployed. So that political decision has been taken. They’re there on the eastern frontier and they’re going to stay there in President Obama’s words, as long as necessary. So there’s no sunset clause on the American military presence — air, sea and land — on the eastern flank.
So while we’re back here in Brussels debating the shiny object, A, we’re already there; and B, American appreciates that it’s got a bilateral, a national obligation to respond even while debates may be going on in the Council.
Audience: Pauline Massota (ph) from Friends of Europe.
We’ve been talking a lot about almost the worst case scenario here. I’m wondering how much the spearhead force has been, or rather has it helped or has it hindered diplomatic efforts with Russia.
Moderator: What’s been the Russian reaction?
Ambassador Kwaasteniet: Let me first, after Doug’s answer to the other question, point out to you, Giles, that clearly the crisis that we are facing in Europe is not a sort of European conflict simmering and not being taken seriously at the other side of the ocean. I think the United States has made very very clear by its immediate presence after the crisis broke out and its persistent presence over the last year that they take this crisis very seriously. And that they also take the solidarity of the Alliance very seriously. So that is just to answer your question. Although this is a European crisis and the Europeans are in the forefront of the VJTF, this is definitely not something that the United States is disregarding.
VJTF and diplomacy. No, I don’t think it has hindered the diplomatic efforts. I hope it has helped diplomatic efforts, that that is always very difficult to determine. While we were building this deterrent force and it is correct, this is a force to deter a potential enemy, hopefully it has made clear that we are serious about defending NATO territory and therefore put more weight behind our diplomatic efforts. So I would see it that way.
Mr. Kamp: Just to add one point because it goes in the direction of the question of Giles earlier. Are all these measures fueling Russia’s concerns or Russia’s paranoia? Yes, but the point is that Russian propaganda will blame NATO for everything it’s doing. NATO is a defense organization so its task is to prepare for defense. If you would listen to Russian propaganda, you don’t do anything. And that cannot be the basic logic. And the sheer fact that Russia is blaming not only the spearhead force but also NATO enlargement but also missile defense. There is no system more defensive than missile defense because you have to attack first to make it work. So that means, if this is the logic to calm down the Russians then we better, would more or less completely close NATO.
Ambassador Lute: Just to follow up on one of the earlier questions, I think maybe from Giles, and it’s the question of is this politically sustainable? So there’s an affordability question, and for now the answer is for those countries that sign up to be part of the spearhead force, the costs fall to those nations. Okay? So you might say well wow, that is likely to make it difficult for nations to step up. Actually I worried about that and I was surprised, because within 90 days of Wales we set up, we asked, we polled the Alliance, who will step up to lead this spearhead force in successive years? We have six lead nations. So we have six years of the spearhead force lined up, volunteered. Germany is leading this year along with the Dutch and the Norwegians, so they took the first test bed year. We have five years beyond that lined up. And all of these lead nations and all the countries that are contributing know that costs fall where they lay.
So actually, that was a huge message to Washington, my capitol, that the Europeans here, the European Allies are in. That they get it, that this has their attention and they’re willing to vote with their euros, and that’s very impressive. It has made a big difference in Washington. And as a result, Washington’s in a position to say okay, this is not an instance where the U.S. has to do everything and we’re in a position to contribute sort of the high end enablers that maybe some others don’t have that really enrich the spearhead force and give it punch.
So it’s really, this is a really good example — I think it’s gotten far too little attention — of European leadership and American support.
Moderator: I think that’s a very good point. And Marjanne to come back to what you were saying, I accept everything you say but I would add that this whole Ukraine imprevio (ph) that then led to the annexation of Crimea, illegal as it was, was actually partly in reaction to European Union policies, the whole issue of the association agreement, which we couldn’t know what produced a split in Ukraine that basically has created a civil war. So it’s very much a European problem. It’s not really comparable I suspect, I would submit, to the old Cold War scenarios that we’re all very familiar with.
Let’s go to the next question.
Ambassador Lute: I can’t let that stand. We have a different read. And it is not that Russia was provoked into seizing Crimea and then destabilizing the Donbass because of the EU association agreement. The reality is that the Ukrainian government, quite broadly, supported the agreement and the move towards the EU. And our read is that this has much more to do with the internal domestic insecurity of Putin in his regime in Moscow and their need to inflame Russian nationalism to distract the Russian people from the fundamental weakness of the Russian economy, from the demographics, the health care, the education, the repression of political oppositions and the media than it does fundamentally about Ukraine. Now there’s a Ukraine dimension to this, but I don’t think he was provoked in any way to take this.
Now that’s the story line. If you listen to Russian Today Television, I mean that’s the line. You’re going to get that loud and clear night after night after night. But I actually think that’s a bit of a media campaign.
Moderator: Thanks very much. Let’s move on.
Audience: Thank you. My name is Visia Patezeau (ph), I work for the French Institute of International Relations here in Brussels. I have two questions.
One is on readiness. I think all of you mentioned the cost of the VJTF but there is one thing that is probably more important, it’s the level of readiness of the troops, because my understanding is that the VJTF originally was supposed to be deployable within 48 hours which is something that very very few Allies are able to do. Now we’ve come to about five days, if I’m not mistaken. I don’t know if we’re going to come to seven days soon, but even five days is extremely difficult for most Allies. So I wonder exactly whether all Allies are gearing up for a five day deployable VJTF. Because the thing is that it’s good you lead for a year, but then you have to sustain this for after your year of tour within the VJTF. I’m worried that this will not always be the case. That’s one thing.
The second is in terms of geographical priorities. The VJTF was, well, publicly largely designed for an eastern reaction. The thing is that, and here I would probably be disagreeing with Karl Heinz Kamp on the fact that I’m not sure that all Allies understand the challenges that Russia poses for the European security. The countries that have the south as their major priority still have the south as their major priority. And that will not change. And you will not convince them that Russia is more worrying for them than southern challenges.
That leads me to the question, and maybe there’s an answer in that I don’t know who the other leading nations are, but I would be curious who those leading nations are because I’m not sure how many southern European — Two of the six, okay. So two of the six, that’s good. But then the question is could the VJTF be used for a southern challenge as well. Because it’s very different than an eastern reaction. So I’d be curious if that’s in the pipelines. Thank you.
Ambassador Kwaasteniet: Let me first answer your question on the readiness. It is the idea that the spearhead or the VJTF can move in 48 or 72 hours. That is the ambition and that is what we will train and that’s what we’re aiming at. That’s the spearhead.
Then there is of course more in the VJTF which has a brigade-sized force. That takes five to seven days. And then beyond that there are other elements that take longer to move. But we are definitely aiming at a very short notice and we have to if we want to be present quickly in the Baltics the moment a threat develops.
I do not agree with you when you say that the southern countries do not understand the threat from the east. I think they understand it very very well. What President Putin has done is he has violated international agreements that have protected us for the last 25 years, that were the basis of the European security architecture. And I think all countries, even those in the south, and even if they are not directly affected by it, understand that this is a fundamental thing to do and a fundamental thing to defend.
It also actually, it says a bit that they do not feel the solidarity that the Alliance implies. And I also tend to differ with you on that. I think the solidarity is there. The Portuguese F-16s are flying over the Baltic states; the Italian F-16s are flying over Romania. So I think the last year has shown that the southern Allies are in as much as the others.
But then on the threat from the south, I think we have said from the very beginning the VJTF, they are not just for the problems in the east. It should be able to move in all directions. We say 360 degrees. Whether that means that we easily foresee a situation developing in the south where the crisis are evident but not necessarily responsive in how you do that militarily, that is a different question. But we definitely do not want to see the VJTF as an instrument only for deterrence towards any threats from the east.
Mr. Kamp: I’ll add one thing on the readiness question. Five days, two days, seven days, and so on. Don’t forget that we are at the beginning of an effort which is huge because the entire reinforcement business, the huge reinforcement industry we had during the Cold War has been completely scrapped so we don’t have this anymore. Containers, trains and so on. Even the formalities, the formal requirements to bring a force from here to there is not given. NATO didn’t exercise or NATO calculated that it needs two weeks to transport a brigade from Portugal to Estonia, only to get all the Customs clearance and all these formal things. Because you just don’t drive a tank through other countries.
So we have not to start to negotiate all the things we had in the Cold War. We had pre-negotiated agreements, we had shortcuts. All this has to be done. So give NATO a little time to do all this because we don’t do this from scratch.
Ambassador Lute: If I may, there’s another element of this that’s been scrapped since the Cold War, and that is the intelligence networks that were in place for 40 years, focused like a laser beam on the group of Soviet forces Germany. When I was a young officer I used to know the order of battle, the 8th Guard’s Army, and all this. It’s because we were right there and we were focused.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union we took a huge dividend on all that. So the signals intelligence sites, the HUMINT networks, and I’m not talking just U.S., I’m talking Alliance intelligence networks which were designed to give us early warning of a Russian attack, of a Soviet attack, right? Those don’t exist today.
We should all ask ourselves why is it that we know so little, really, about what’s going on in the Donbass. Frankly, I read more on social media about what’s going on in the Donbass than I get from formal intelligence networks. It’s because the networks don’t exist today.
So a real question here, which I think Giles implied and maybe someone else referred to early on, was how is NATO going to get the intelligence and the warning required to set this machine in motion so that the two days of the most ready element means something. When does the flag drop and the clock begin? And if the intelligence warning is not there, it will always be ambiguous.
So there are steps that we can take to remove some of that ambiguity and to improve our intelligence and warning. But just like the train systems that used to move tanks around Germany in the Cold War, in and out of exercise areas, have atrophied, so has our intelligence network. So there’s work to be done here.
This is why early on I sort of somewhat facetiously called this the shiny object. It’s what everyone focuses on, but there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make this object in Giles’ first question, useful.
Moderator: Thank you very much. I’m probably going to start grouping up the questions because time is beginning to press.
Audience: Breno Lete (ph), German Marshal Fund. Two quick questions.
I’m just back from Bucharest where officials there are already preparing to host a Summit of the Flank next November where basically NATO’s most eastern Allies will come together in a separate format. Should we welcome such initiative? Or are we worried that this might undermine unity?
The second question would be about the definition of an attack. It seems to me that we’re defining attack in a conventional way. What about an unconventional like terrorism, cyber, little green men? Are we ready for this as well? And is it actually NATO’s job to deal with non-military threats? Thank you.
Audience: Hi, Michael Cornea from Fleischmann Hillard.
As we talk about deterrence and solidarity, if I could hear the panelists’ thoughts about expanding the Alliance. Have recent events had any impact on the speed with which other countries are added to NATO? Are there any plans to make changes to that process?
Ambassador Kwaasteniet: The first one I didn’t get so I’ll start with the second one. I did not really get the first question. I couldn’t hear it properly.
So let me start with expanding NATO. You know the four countries on the entry lane — Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Georgia. They all have their specific positions in this path towards possible NATO membership. We encourage them to continue to work but the countries clearly need to be ready and to fulfill all the criteria before we can decide to issue an invitation. There is no speeding up of that.
So basically, no. They have to do the same as they had to do last year. I’ll leave it at that.
Ambassador Lute: I think I took the question about the conference that may be hosted by one or more of the eastern Allies to sort of bring together in a regional context. Look across the Alliance there are a whole number of sub-alliance regional structures that are useful. There are some up in the Nordic area, and the Baltics are tight, and some in the south and so forth. So I think it’s probably natural that the Allies who feel most stressed by the events over the last year in the east would come together.
We don’t really fear regionalization, if you will, of the Alliance and the reason for that is that at the political level it’s always 28 for 28. We don’t meet formally and decide on anything that’s not 28 for 28. In fact that’s embedded in the Washington Treaty, in the treaty that holds NATO together.
So I think these regional discussions make sense, but it’s not really I think a major concern for the alliance because ultimately nothing happens unless we’re back at 28 for 28.
There’s been a series of questions that address this matter of what you might call the little green men. We have a more sophisticated name which is hybrid warfare, but this is the notion that look, Putin’s real tactic is not a conventional invasion, although he’s actually nudged kind of close to that standard in the Donbass on occasion. But it’s rather a sophisticated blend of conventional and unconventional and intelligence operatives combined with political and economic intimidation. Sometimes cyber is in this mix, right? And the blend here, it’s actually part of Russian military doctrine. It’s published. This is the Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff’s doctrine. He talks about it. He makes speeches about the military doctrine. The notion here is that on a case by case basis these tools will be blended in a very sophisticated way to avoid the kind of reaction that you might fear from NATO. So in a way, hybrid warfare is designed to tuck in beneath the collective defense clause of NATO, so it complicates the decision-making because you can imagine in the decision-making circle there are those who say well, is this this or is this something else? And you know, it’s confusing, it’s ambiguous. It’s uncertain.
NATO also as part of the Readiness Action Plan is taking on this question because there are Allies today who because of geography and because of demographics and so forth might feel more susceptible to this hybrid approach than others. The United States, quite frankly, given distance and so forth, doesn’t worry about it that much. We don’t think America’s going to be attacked like this. But there are Allies who are rightly concerned about this.
And as the Alliance takes on this question, we actually move to another discussion topic. So maybe the next time the Friends of Europe host us we can talk about hybrid warfare. But it’s probably not a good fit for the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. It’s probably a better fit for things that are done early to build the resistance against this kind of attack and that has to do with things that frankly aren’t NATO business. It has a lot to do with EU business. Things like rule of law, political and economic assimilation of minority populations, border controls, voting rights. That sort of thing. These are the sorts of social and political steps that can harden any nation from this kind of hybrid attack. And if you imagine some of the things that Ukraine might have done over the last 20 years, it might today be more resistant to this kind of attack.
So we’re learning from this. We’re not sitting idly by. And we’re asking what if this comes to NATO territory? There’s a whole series of steps that the Alliance can take, mostly in team with the EU and led by the nation, the Ally itself, that can improve the resilience or the resistance to that kind of attack. But it’s not really this discussion. It’s not really, I don’t think we’re going to commit a brigade against a very ambiguous attack. And the real trick there is to get in front of it and do preventive steps so that you don’t have to commit the brigade.
Mr. Kamp: Just one sentence on this attack thing. What is an attack? Yes? To follow on what the Ambassador said. You cannot try to define what an attack is. You might not succeed now because it is ambiguous. But NATO at the end of the day, if push comes to shove, has a very good sense of what an attack is.
When we have 9/11, we call 9/11. 9/11 was not a classical attack, it was not even an attack as stipulated in the Washington Treaty. Because the Washington Treaty says armed attack, and that was not an armed attack. Still NATO Allies had a feeling that this was an attack on all, a threat on all, and they agreed within a day basically that this works. So I’m quite confident that it’s going to work if it’s really a threatening force on Allies.
Ambassador Lute: Which by the way, that’s historically the only time in the 66 year history of the Alliance that Article 5 has been invoked. So just think about that. Not an armed attack in classic sense, nothing to do with the Russians, and not even on Europe, but in Washington and New York by a terrorist group not using conventional weapons at all, but airliners.
So I think the Alliance, as you say, it’s pretty attuned here to what looks like — If it looks like an armed attack it probably is and we’re smart enough to figure that out.
Audience: I’m from the Russian delegation to NATO. My name is Elena Donovan and I’ve got two questions and one brief comment.
So when the RAP started to get implemented and when NATO started to create the VJTF, actually we’ve heard a lot about NATO’s commitment to the Russia-NATO Founding Act and its obligations under Russia-NATO Founding Act. Now we hear that quite seldom. So could we come to a point that NATO would say, and would denounce its obligations under the Russia-NATO Founding Act officially so to say?
And another question about VJTF. As far as I understand you try to stress that actually it can be used in the southern flank as well, but could you think or could you envisage using it say in Afghanistan or in Yemen? But for that you would need different kind of scenarios because this would not be a conventional attack, this would be a scenario to counteract against terrorist groups, against extremists, and this is a different scenario and this is a different type of training and we all understand that.
And just a quick comment about the events in Donbass. Actually, Ambassador, I was quite impressed that you got the information from media about what is happening in Donbass. It’s quite questionable how NATO can actually rely on information from the media while saying that it is relying on intelligence sources. And you are actually admitting that there is a deficit of the sources. And we can question what are the proofs of Russian presence in Ukraine are and what their viability is. Thank you.
Ambassador Lute: I didn’t say that we ignored our intelligence sources. I just said that compared to the Cold War the systems that we once had 20 years ago have atrophied because of course during that 20 year period we imagined we were in cooperation with your country and not in competition. So things have fundamentally changed and that’s why we’re up here talking about high readiness forces and so forth.
Now on the NATO-Russia Founding Act. Look, the Alliance has been explicit about this. We are not walking away from our international obligations. Others can walk away from the UN Charter. Others can walk away from the Helsinki Final Accords. Others can walk away from the NATO-Russia Founding Act. NATO won’t be among those. NATO is a mature, predictable, responsible international player that abides by its international commitments, and you can take that to the bank.
With regard to the VJTF, it’s not solely designed, it’s not a one purpose, one directional force. In fact it is designed to be light and flexible so that it can go as Marjanne said, in 360 degrees. But also, not only focused on Article 5. Not only focused on collective defense. But also available for crisis management operations. So it’s a bit of a multipurpose force that is not simply targeted for example to the east.
Audience: Brooks Singer Janes, Defense Weekly.
One quick question to each speaker, which the first one comes back to what she asked, you skipped it, Ambassador Lute, is it clearly within NATO’s planning that the spearhead could be deployed outside NATO’s territory? Yes/no?
To our Dutch Ambassador, what impact do you think the spearhead will have on the EU’s laborious debate to make the BGs deployable? You’ve worn both hats so you’re in a position to comment on that. I’m wondering, could the spearhead drain away some of the rationale for the BGs? Particularly if the spearhead can go out of area.
To Mr. Kamp, you’ve heard the other two say NATO needs much faster decision-making which is driven by the spearhead. What if Russian aggression was to diminish? And that’s within the realm of possibility. What happens to the decision-making? Does it fade away or do you think that will permanently make the NAC a more efficient and faster machine? Thank you.
Ambassador Lute: I didn’t mean to skip the part about out of area, if you will, but that’s what I meant by crisis management. So it’s designed to respond inside NATO’s territory in a collective defense purpose or in a collective defense mission, but also be light enough and flexible enough to go out of area if required. So it’s multipurpose in that way.
Ambassador Kwaasteniet: I haven’t seen a relationship so far between what we’re doing in NATO with the VJTF and the issue of the battle groups, which I indeed know from nearby. The battle group is a much smaller force. It’s a battalion. And it will definitely benefit from the fact that we are training parts of our forces to become much more ready and faster and much more flexible. So in the end, the BGs can benefit from that. But the BGs are there just for out of area. The EU operates only out of area, as you know. The treaty delegates the defense of the European territory to NATO. And that will always be a different sort of decision-making process than defending the territory of Europe. The NATO territory or European territory.
So whether it will help to make the BGs more usable, technically yes. Politically in decision-making, I think it will not make much difference.
Moderator: — lost opportunity anyway, isn’t it?
Mr. Kamp: The decision-making, of course in a crisis you will have a debate in NATO on how serious it is. The point is that this debate does not start in the middle of a crisis, it starts early. And of course you will have different assessments on how to judge certain movements on the eastern side assuming it comes from the east. However, at the end of the day you will have a decision and the parliament, since I think you are also referring to the parliaments which might also delay the processes, at least in Germany the parliament did not delay a single decision. So all political decisions taken by the government have been supported on Afghanistan by the parliament.
And be careful, because there are some Allies who are perceived as the usual suspects to sneak away in such a case. Germany was for a while. In the meantime, Chancellor Merkel is the most outspoken and I think the most pushing person with regard to Russia. At the same time, not as the question was there, breaking any rules because we are not an institution that breaks rules.
Moderator: Thank you very much indeed. We’re more or less coming towards the end of our time. I can squeeze in maybe one person providing it’s pretty quick.
Audience: [Inaudible], NTP Brussels.
I just would like to know how you combine this Rapid Reaction Force with the forces that are being made in Ukraine to solve the conflict. And recreating a feeling of Fortress Europe by acting to say well, we will act only if you come to the territory of the NATO Allies.
My second question is, when you talk about the Rapid Reaction Force, of course you are talking about military interventions and human casualties probably. So is there also a decision-making about human rights when you come to the decision-making of using the spearhead? Thank you.
Ambassador Kwaasteniet: I think very early on in this crisis European politicians have made clear that they see a dissolution coming from political and economic pressure. The choice not to go for a military operation I think was a very wise one. It could have led to a major disaster in Europe.
The economic sanctions I think were a very important decision. I don’t see them as just EU sanctions. They were the sanctions of the West to make clear to President Putin that what he had done in Crimea and what he is doing in eastern Ukraine is unacceptable. They put pressure on the Russian economy and that is what we were aiming at. So that is good.
In the meanwhile the diplomatic instruments are used to try to come to a solution to this problem, to the crisis. But I think the fact that Europe decided not to opt for the military instrument to deal with Ukraine was broadly shared, was a unanimous decision by all European leaders supported by the United States, and it was a wise one.
Mr. Kamp: On the question of humanitarian issues and casualties, if you recall Kosovo or if you recall Libya, that we had a huge debate in NATO that in many cases missions which were regarded as suitable militarily has not been done to avoid casualties, and if you see the debate in Kosovo which we had with the then spokesman Jamie Shea, had a daily struggle to explain that sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. And NATO rapidly, quickly displayed all this made clear what happened to make sure, because this is something which erodes your support at home. So you can be sure, and if you see the procedures U.S. pilots or any pilots has for targeting, how to choose a target, this takes ages to make sure that nothing goes wrong with regard to casualties, but you cannot avoid it at the end of the day.
Moderator: Thank you very much indeed.
I’m going to bring the debate to a temporary close with just a couple of thoughts.
The first is, of course, that we owe President Putin a debt of gratitude. He has actually woken up NATO and the European Union and has actually got them working together much more closely on the Ukraine crisis and how to handle it than those who are familiar with Brussels know that they’re not used to working together at all. So there’s a plus side. And it’s clear that the Ukraine crisis and the Russian, the breakdown of the Russian relationship is actually giving NATO a jolly good shake and the spearhead is a symptom of that.
On the not so plus side, indeed I suspect on the minus side, I can’t help wondering, listening to what I’ve heard this evening, whether the spearhead wasn’t actually a soft option for NATO heads of government when they met in Wales last September. I say that because I kept on thinking as I listened to what we were talking about, the old saying if what you’ve got is a hammer every problem looks like a nail. It seems to me that the Ukraine problem isn’t a classic nail. It’s a much more complicated geopolitical shift and I think it was you, Karl Heinz, who said we’re not looking at a weather change, we’re looking at climate change.
It seems to me that we mustn’t rely on the spearhead as the solution to the Russian problem. It’s a short term thing. It’s an important political signal. But it isn’t going to fix, I suspect, the new relationship we have to build with Russia.
It’s clear that we’re talking about a spearhead far too early, and listening to everybody I thought, I think we better come back to this in about a year’s time. I hope you’ll all join us for that, and that we can get our three speakers back then as well.
Thank you very much, everybody.