Thank you to everyone who participated in this Q&A with General Stéphane Abrial, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Transformation. We received over 40 questions from participants in 12 different countries on a range of interesting issues.
In this first part, we present answers from General Abrial that specifically concern NATO's new "Smart Defense" initiative. In the second part, we present the general's answers to questions on a variety of other issues including NATO's cultural obstacles, its future naval strategy, and the importance of strategic communications.
You can read more about Allied Command Transformation, Smart Defense, and General Abrial's career in the original article.
Atlantic Community Editorial Team: What exactly is Smart Defense and how does it work? What are NATO's recent accomplishments and current priorities for Smart Defense?
General Abrial: Smart Defense is a response to the increasingly austere economic environment. With more coordination amongst nations and NATO, Smart Defense will help ensure that we are able to have the right capabilities available to meet our objectives as described in the 2010 Strategic Concept.
Let me be clear, Smart Defense is not designed to cut defense spending. It is to compensate for increasing pressure on nations’ defense budgets. It is about spending better, together as an Alliance.
Smart Defense aims to improve coordination within three coherent and interdependent perspectives – Prioritization, Specialization and Cooperation.
Prioritization is to help us, as an Alliance, to focus our investments to yield the greatest returns in defense and security. We must make sure that nations’ and Alliance priorities remain coherent.
Multinational cooperation is not new. What is new is the sense of urgency to cooperate better. We’ve used this opportunity for more than six months to invigorate and generate multinational initiatives, modest in a first step, in order to create momentum, ensure trust, change mind-sets and incorporate partners.
Specialization is probably the most sensitive one. Under financial pressure, Allied nations may abandon key capabilities. Smart Defense's intent is to coordinate nations' choices and facilitate specialization by design, focusing on nations’ specific strengths. This requires trust and finding the right balance between sovereignty and solidarity.
It is too early to speak about substantial accomplishment. We have generated a list of initiatives at which NATO nations agreed to look together. We’re actively working with nations in order to convert these initiatives into tangible results, and all the contacts I have with national capitals are very encouraging. My visits are also an opportunity to exchange views with nations on the complete scope of Smart Defense, and I’m very confident that we will be able to bring something useful and tangible to the table.
But the nations also need guiding principles. Smart Defense should not only be project-driven, but also principle-driven. Only then will the initiative endure and prosper, both at Chicago and beyond.
Ian Davis, Director, NATO Watch, United Kingdom: Why is NATO reluctant to release even basic information about the task force established to promote Smart Defense, such as a list of its members, the terms of reference and a copy of the initial findings discussed by defense ministers at their October meeting? This information would normally be supplied about any task force operating within a defense ministry at the national level, and seems to me to be a basic prerequisite of attempting to achieve cooperation and collaboration across national boundaries.
General Abrial: On Smart Defense and other subjects, the Alliance constantly seeks to balance the requirements to protect the confidentiality of internal discussions among Allies with its desire to engage as openly and transparently as possible. I note with pleasure that your own NATO Watch website acknowledges progress in this area.
In response to your question, the amount of information that has been published by NATO on Smart Defense in open sources, as well as the degree of the Alliance's ongoing openness in engagement (including public activities such as conferences and this webchat), paint a different picture of the situation.
I personally often participate in many open discussions with stakeholders on this issue, especially during keynote addresses, with academia or in meetings with the press – on both sides of the Atlantic.
Information on Smart Defense is available, and more is released regularly. I encourage you to look through the NATO and ACT websites in detail to find all of the public information on smart defense, including that which relates to the Defense Ministers' discussions on the subject in October.
From Atlantic Memo 34: In our memo “Security Despite Austerity: Improving Europe’s Defense,” Atlantic Community members recommend that states should implement pooling and sharing at the earliest stages of project research and development. The first step should be to link national capabilities to the industrial/technological base to enhance cross-border cooperation in equipment development and procurement; for whatever is developed and built jointly can easily be bought, operated and fought with jointly. Is this a good idea? Can NATO facilitate such cooperation at an early stage?
General Abrial: This idea is an important part of the solution, and NATO is already addressing it. But it is only part of the solution. Why? Because pooling and sharing usually refers to capabilities, and NATO considers that capabilities have various aspects: doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities and interoperability. Therefore, the alignment of policies in all of these domains is necessary, not only in that of equipment.
Another point to note is that the linear vision of defense systems development may be deceptive. NATO is not redesigning capabilities from scratch, but rather helping Allied nations to modernize and adapt existing sets of capabilities. Therefore, research and development (R&D) is largely based on analysis and lessons learned from the operation of capabilities. Sharing R&D activities supposes some degree of common operational experience. This is a classic “chicken and egg” problem.
Within NATO, scientists have a forum to exchange views, the Research and Technology Organization. Currently this forum is being reformed, and a brand new Science and Technology Organization will start with a new charter on July 1, 2012. ACT is part of the NATO science and technology community and a proactive member of the Research and Technology Board.
The European Defense Agency also developed a framework for defense R&D that leverages the new regulation that facilitates cross-borders transfers in the European Union. Based on the principle of non-duplication with the European Union, NATO considers that a large part of the job done in this framework is also supporting NATO needs.
Sean Lobo, masters student, University of Oslo, Norway: Thank you first of all for answering questions from the public! I am writing my masters thesis about transformation in NATO and the role of Centers of Excellence in promoting and driving transformation. You have talked about finding the balance between solidarity and sovereignty in transforming NATO. Are the NATO Centers of Excellence configured in such a manner that it actually strikes this right balance, and what factors and eventual measures need more focus in achieving, seen from ACT, the desired effects?
General Abrial: NATO Centers of Excellence (COEs) play a valuable role in Alliance transformation. They are a good example of cost-efficient cooperation amongst nations coordinated by NATO, as promoted by Smart Defense. Further development of COEs as education and training hubs is one of the projects within the Smart Defense initiative. COEs offer much needed multinational solutions for transformation-related issues, as well as support to ongoing operations. They are an additional resource in terms of personnel and, in particular, subject matter experts.
COEs' configuration enables them to respond to relevant and time-critical problems, as well as work on projects for future needs. Requests for support (RFS) are collected through the annual COE Program of Work development process, which is the primary tool for coordination of NATO input to each COE. There is also a process to seek COE support for requirements outside of the annual cycle which are collected on an emergent basis as Emergent RFS. As nations-sponsored entities, COEs offer unique agility for capability development, as well as for support to training and operations.
An additional value of COEs is that they also deliver expertise directly back to their sponsoring nations, as well as to partners such as the United Nations, academia and non-governmental organizations. COEs do an excellent job at seeking and developing relationships, not just for NATO but also outside the NATO command structure. I believe that they not only strike a healthy balance between solidarity and sovereignty, but that they also provide a dynamism that the NATO staffing process doesn’t always allow. NATO COEs are a great credit to the nations, and serve as solid models of multinational solutions.
As far as identifying factors that can enhance the COE role in transformation, our goal at ACT is to help both current and potential customers continue to gain a better understanding of the strengths that COEs bring to the table. This can only be achieved through continued dialogue on the quality of work COEs are producing, and education on how to better utilize them.
Lawrence Efana, former political science professor, Finland: If partnership is thought vital to the budget crunch, how ready is NATO to get tied down by the criteria of “like-minded countries” against the reality of sovereignty and indeed solidarity?
General Abrial: Trust among Allies can only be built based on clear principles and rules to guarantee that the required level of operational effectiveness of shared capabilities is met by nations, as well as clear principles and rules to guarantee the use of each shared capability.
Further, there is the strong concern for sovereignty. All NATO nations are independent and sovereign, and it is normal that no nation is ready to abandon either independence or sovereignty. That is why we have to find the right balance between sovereignty and solidarity.
Sovereignty means that each nation can decide to contribute or not. When a nation spends money on a capability she is entitled to use it for her own purposes. Each nation must be assured that what it contributes will be available for its own needs.
Solidarity means that a capability developed with other nations should be available for the group and guaranteed when the Alliance needs it.
Finding this balance between both is a key condition for lasting success in multinational thinking. We have to make sure that the question is addressed and that each nation is making any conditions or caveat transparent up front.
Finally, even if Smart Defense can’t be branded as a “partnership initiative”, we can envisage that some NATO partner nations can contribute to it, especially those that already have ongoing regional cooperation with NATO members.