By General Wolf Langheld, former Commander of Allied Joint Force Command

GLOBSEC 2017 Bratislava Forum

Currently, NATO is arguably undergoing the most profound adaptation processes since the end of the East-West conflict.

It took the Alliance more than two decades to evolve from a Cold-War defence organization with credible military capabilities and directed against a clearly defined threat into a security and crisis management actor.

It replaced most of the old territorial-defence structures with new capabilities for expeditionary operations and nation-building efforts far beyond its own borders.

In this process, most NATO members reaped the “peace dividend”, believing that immediate threats to their territorial integrity belonged to the past.

The consequence was a lasting reduction of defence budgets, military forces, equipment and therefore the reduction or better the loss of classical military capabilities.

In general, the military core task for the forthcoming years will be to change the role of the European military from a mere stabilization and nation-building force with an insufficient warfighting capability to a force which

  • is verifiably trained and able to fight brigade- or division-size units inside and outside of NATO territory;
  • is capable of fighting battles of high intensity with robustness and endurance;
  • has the ability to effectively counter and withstand large-scale conventional attacks and will even be able to operate in a nuclear environment;
  • is capable of taking on the new and currently nearly unknown threats arising from cyber activities.

The conventional part of the story

NATO Force Structure (NFS) and Force Generation

From 2015 on NATO increased its training activities and step by step included realistic conflict scenarios – still, it seems miles away from the authentic set-ups trained in the old days of the WINTEX exercises (Winter Exercise) in the Cold War.

Re-establishment of Maneuver Capability

In order to swiftly achieve compatible forces in all member states, NATO should re-establish a system of “tactical evaluation” – i.e. a mutual assessment of capabilities among the Allied militaries.

In principle, this should exist on all levels, however, priorities need to be developed and enforced.

This implies, though, that the old problems of lacking standardized equipment must be seriously tackled by all NATO members.

Common Armament Procurement

For instance, if Europe could agree on reducing the variety of major equipment (main battle tanks, aircraft, ships and even hand weapons), it could even think about a European Fleet Concept for Air, Land, and Sea equipment.

This would include overlaps in logistics and fleet service and moderate costs for procurement and operation. And it could help to overcome the horrible challenge of standardization.

The Nuclear part of the story

Nuclear deterrence is no longer primarily bilateral (US-Soviet Union) but multilateral with a number of nuclear players. The most concerning one is North Korea, which has developed into an additional factor of instability and irrationality

Despite the tensions with Russia and the North Korean ruler, nuclear weapons will not regain the significance they had as a currency of power in the Cold War.

Their numbers have been dramatically reduced in the past decades, at least in the relations between Russia and the United States, and as today it is rather unlikely that there will be a new nuclear arms race.

Nuclear deterrence was and remains an important but small part of the overall spectrum of military security provision.

Effective and deployable conventional armed forces are arguably more important for the stability of Europe and beyond.

But, the nuclear question is back on the agenda.

The impact on adaptation by national interests

NATO has to change from a crisis management institution to a “Go to War” Union with an adequate Mindset of political leaders and soldiers and it must overcome the diverging national interests of its member states which, as today still prevent the alliance from developing a common understanding of future tasks, threats and resulting capabilities.

2% does not mean anything if we do not translate it into real capabilities.