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Special Feature

Russians in Ossetia, 2008

Reuters RTX9CD6

Russians in Ossetia, 2008.

A Presentation to the Atlantic Council of Canada: NATO and Canadian Capabilities – What Do We Have to Do Next?

by Michel Maisonneuve

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4 November 2008

Dear friends, thank you for inviting me. It is a great pleasure to return to Ottawa to take part in this discussion on the future of NATO and Canada’s role within the Alliance in the current global context, especially in light of Russia’s intervention in Ossetia.

Preparing for today, and now listening to today’s discussions reminded me of my own trip to South Ossetia in 1995 with then-Brigadier-General Barry Ashton; our mission was funded by the Military Training Assistance Programme, and the Russians wanted to show us one of their peacekeeping missions along their ‘near abroad.’ So they flew us to Vladikavkaz and we subsequently drove across the Caucasus Mountains in a small bus, in July, in our full Canadian Forces (CF) uniforms, escorted by armoured BMPs. It was eight dreadful hours in hot, dry conditions, stopping every few hours to meet hardy mountain villagers and drink a shot of warm vodka, eventually leading us to one the poorest places to which I have ever been. A few years later, Chechnya was in the news, and now South Ossetia itself. What I remember most about that trip is the conviction of all the players we met; how they believed in their cause – even though we saw only one side of the simmering conflict. The Russian commanders believed they were safeguarding Russian lives, and, as usual, the ordinary people only wanted stability and normalcy. In fact, I was happy to hear Minister Graham refer to “ordinary people” this morning; we may be discussing strategic issues and their influence on a particular political situation, but we must remember that ordinary people – human beings – are the ones being affected by these conflicts. In any case, this belief in the legitimacy of the cause was similar to that which I found in all the missions in which I have been involved.

I propose to address my remarks in three main thrusts; first, I want to briefly discuss the utility of NATO today. Second, I will discuss the future capability needs of the Alliance, not only in light of the Russian intervention, but in the current global context; third, I will address in general terms some of the capability needs of the Canadian Forces from my point of view.

NATO has, over its existence, not been the most efficient of organizations. Accused by many of being a bloated bureaucracy with no operational capability, of doing too much talking that ultimately leads to the lowest common denominator on the ground, NATO has had difficulty shedding its Cold War approach to issues. But those that seek to minimize NATO’s accomplishments and call for its dismemberment forget the positives.

NATO must retain the ability to continue its traditional role of deterrence, as well as retaining the capability to intervene. We need a NATO that is visionary, flexible, and expeditionary. One of our approaches in standing up NATO’s Allied Command Transformation (ACT) in 2003 was to estimate its utility by attempting to answer the question, “What if there was no ACT?” The same approach could be used here; “What if there was no NATO?” At the highest level, of course, there would continue to be trans-Atlantic dialogue; but it would not be institutionalized, it would not be regularized, comprehensive, or necessarily coherent. There would be no regular round table meetings of NATO Nations from both sides of the Atlantic at the Ambassadorial level, and at the very senior military level. If there was no NATO, we would end up creating it; even President Medvedev suggested the creation of a new Euro-Atlantic security treaty to supersede NATO, as opposed to changing NATO to meet today’s requirements. If there were no NATO, Russia would be forced to deal bilaterally with the United States. and other countries, whereas through the NATO-Russia Council – even if not perfect – Russia is able to access regular high-level forums that include the United States. The U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently met with his Russian counterpart in secret in Helsinki; perhaps secrecy would have been less necessary if this had been in the “cadre” of NATO’s regular meetings. I well remember my own meetings while at NATO where I negotiated with the Chief of the Russian Staff, Gen Baluyevsky; this was quite an experience. NATO allows unprecedented outreach opportunities – to wit, the Secretary-General traveling to China, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, along with the Partnership for Peace programme and the Mediterranean Dialogue.

But perhaps it is in the tactical realm that we often forget the utility of NATO over its long life. Just the standardization programme is an incredible accomplishment that would have been impossible without NATO. Armaments, supplies, and organizational structures are what we usually think of, of course. But there is also doctrine, and further down, techniques, tactics, and procedures – what we commonly call TTPs – that have evolved to the point that most militaries of the world usually adopt NATO’s because they have been developed through a long process of finding those that work, and they do work. For all its challenges generating forces for operations, its convoluted operational chain of command, and its confused lines of authority, there are many positive stories of “understanding” NATO procedures.

Military base, Republic of Georgia

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The Georgian flag flies above a military base in Gori, Republic of Georgia, which had been badly damaged by an earlier Russian strategic air strike. 6 September 2008.

So, what must NATO consider in terms of future capabilities generally, but also in light of the challenge of Russia’s incursion into Georgia? Its first and main effort must remain at the diplomatic level. NATO may concern Russia, but its regular institutional forum with the Russians can ensure diplomatic activity is pursued. As mentioned earlier this morning, we should have reinforced our dialogue with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council instead of suspending it. NATO-EU dialogue is also helpful to ensure the EU’s diplomatic efforts are at least understood if not totally coherent with those of NATO. As colleagues have already discussed, it is apparent that Russia wishes to engage further diplomatically throughout the world and especially in its “near abroad,” as we saw with President Medvedev’s recent efforts in bringing together the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss the frozen conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. There is scope for collaboration and reinforcement of efforts that promote stability by Russia, even if its final intentions are sometimes questionable.

We are not talking here of absolving Russia of its behaviour; we are talking about keeping a strenuous dialogue open with an important and influential international partner to include regular meetings and even combined military exercises, such as those described by colleagues today. This is the only way to answer Professor Dutkiewicz’s question; What does Russia want – and what do we want? Similarly, NATO should continue strenuous diplomatic dialogue with Georgia – engage with her before she is offered a seat at the NATO table.

Secondly, there are the often-quoted renewal efforts required by NATO nations in the realm of common funding policies, and improved decision-making. This latter issue includes the requirement for consensus. Nations need to ask themselves whether NATO consensus is required at every level, in every committee, and for every decision the Alliance must take. In my view, it is not. At least, the issue of consensus should be placed on the table and debated; there is no question the inertia-filled decision-making procedures currently used could be improved.

Third, as a required capability, it is my conviction that one of NATO’s greatest future needs lies in the mise en œuvre of what we at Allied Command Transformation used to call the Effects-Based Approach to Operations (EBAO), and what is now called the Comprehensive Approach. In simplistic terms, the Comprehensive Approach entails ensuring the coherence of all means at the disposal of NATO to prevent or resolve a conflict. This includes military means, of course, but also the synchronized application of all other means, be they diplomatic, economic, and so on... This does not mean – as has been clearly stated by NATO – that NATO itself must possess all the levers to accomplish this synchronization. It does mean, in my view, that NATO must be prepared to use its influence, its diplomatic clout, to ensure those organizations that do control those other levers synchronize their application in operations. NATO does require tools to do so. There are currently applications being developed, such as the NATO Strategic Overview, which can help in this strategic-operational level challenge.

As we know, nothing happens in NATO unless it is championed by nations. This, therefore, is my challenge to our country. As we have struggled ourselves to operate in a comprehensive (3D+T or Whole-of-Government or whatever is today’s term du jour), a comprehensive inter-departmental application of operational effort – and we are not there yet – we should take the lead with similar-minded other NATO nations, and pursue the implementation of the comprehensive approach in NATO’s operations. It is a capability that is imperative for today’s operations.

Fourth, NATO must re-energize its involvement with new nations to ensure they meet their obligations as full members. As mentioned, the obligations of nations do not stop after they join as full members. This applies to Georgia as well. The NATO Defence Planning process has been revamped and it should prove useful to that end. As NATO encourages nations to modernize and acquire useful capabilities, the impact is felt across all member-states. Time precludes listing all of them, but the development of these new capabilities must include those useable and necessary to intervene in out of area operations – deployable, employable capabilities. It is easy to deplore the lack of employable and deployable forces in NATO, but we must always remember that NATO’s capabilities are those of the member nations. If national assets are not useable or deployable, those of NATO will not be.

This leads me now to whither Canada’s capability requirements in the current context. This subject does not lend itself to a short panel, so I will address a few areas without delving into the details of re-equipping our naval, land, and air elements. Strategically, improved capabilities will be required to deal with the challenges of today and the future; failing and failed states, terrorism, non-state belligerents, nuclear weapons proliferation, population growth and migration, energy and water security, trade security, and the economic rise of the Asia-Pacific region, to name but a few. For the past few years, Canada has been embroiled in the difficult mission that is Afghanistan, plus another 15 missions throughout the world. In Afghanistan, we have lost nearly 100 soldiers [120 as of 14 June 2009] and one diplomat, my friend and colleague from Kosovo days, Glyn Berry.

What about the future? What will happen once the mission in Afghanistan is over? The transformation of the Canadian Forces initiated by General Hiller focused upon enhancing our capabilities to better deal with the ‘can of worms’ that Canada may have to face in unstable countries or those experiencing growing instability, as is the case with Afghanistan. Since we began our intervention there, we have concentrated our efforts almost exclusively upon this mission, in terms of instruction, rearmament, and doctrine. Today’s discussion on Russia’s intervention in Georgia is a clear indication that maintaining conventional and versatile combat capabilities is more than just a residual need.

Clearly, the combat capabilities demonstrated by Russia throughout the incursion have been less than impressive. Poor missile and air power capabilities have been identified as the main weaknesses, though communications were also problematic. It has been said that not long after the hostilities began, the Russians lost their lines of communication and had to command their troops using cell phones. All this to say that the ‘Bear’ may not be what it used to be. Nonetheless, the re-emergence of a Russian intervention policy is pushing us to re-examine our needs and capabilities, notwithstanding the still-unanswered question: is Russia once again a potential adversary?

For me, the main current capability issue remains, what will be the ability of Canada to undertake limited general-purpose operations after 2011 – after our transition in Afghanistan? I believe we must now seriously plan for that moment and decide how we will proceed from all points of view. My belief is that we should retain our current counter-insurgency capabilities honed through serious operational engagement in the Afghanistan theatre. However, we should also look at improving our general-purpose combat capabilities – what General Hillier called capabilities against the ‘Bear,’ or a conventional adversary. In NATO, for example, there may be useful new ideas. The current thinking is to develop a concept they call “hybrid warfare,” which was described for me as enabling small units to synchronize their actions on the ground as we usually do with large units. This would enable the synchronized conduct of conventional as well as irregular warfare. Canada would do well to examine such cutting-edge concepts and apply its brain trust to fleshing them out, and thereby helping NATO in the process.

In terms of joint combat capability, original transformation plans for the CF included the stand-up of a Standing Contingency Task Force (SCTF). Unfortunately, current operations have precluded the full implementation of this organization. As my colleague Colonel (ret) Gary Rice has pointed out in several recent articles, this capability is still required and should be an item of first priority in the aftermath of the Afghanistan mission in 2011. Essentially, the concept of an SCTF centres around the grouping of naval, army, and air assets, plus special operations forces, under a single commander with sufficient resources to deploy to an expeditionary theatre and engage therein. The implications of this organization and its potential missions are clear; mobility requirements are first and foremost. Now that CC 177 and C 130J aircraft have been purchased, the air mobility requirement is on the way to being met. Current plans do not call for the acquisition of an amphibious capability, and this is an essential requirement for an operational SCTF. There are a number of current examples of ships that could provide this capability; a proper definition of the requirement might yield something like the Danish Absalon Class or the Australian Canberra Class, or even at the top end of the scale, the U.S. Wasp Class of ship.

The planned three Joint Support Vessels should be acquired as soon as possible to ensure the sustainment of joint units while in an expeditionary theatre. Anything less would undermine the capabilities of the SCTF. The SCTF is a reasonable commitment for Canada to undertake; it would reinforce the joint aspect of the CF (a battle not yet won), and it would provide the Canadian government a superb political tool for expeditionary response in light of our engagement in this globalized world. Simply put, the requirement is for a sea-based joint operational capability to enable the government to intervene where it decides.

Another important capability improvement in Canada centres around personnel issues. Thus far, the CF have not managed to attract sufficient numbers to counter attrition, so announced personnel increases have not been met. This trend must be reversed. Ever since I was a young officer, I have always believed the problem of the CF lay in the lack of personnel to man the equipment it fields now. Regiments and battalions are depleted and under strength; one unit is seldom sufficient to fulfil an operational task, so reinforcements must be brought in from other units. The training system is under tremendous pressure, which forces regular units to be tasked to reinforce it by providing instructors from those units, which leads to under strength units, and so on. This issue is compounded by a lack of specialists in all three environments.

We need to continue to improve our support and employment of the reserves – although this seems to be improving. The second most important job of the regular force after operations ought to be support of the reserves to enable them to reinforce operations; this would further help in reducing the pressure on regular forces. We still have not lightened up procedures for transfers from the regular force to the reserves, and here I speak from personal experience. We generally do well in enrolling reserve personnel into the regular force, but the reverse process is less than efficient. The reserves are therefore missing out on a pool of trained and effective personnel who want to continue to be engaged.

Education and training are an important aspect of capability – as I am now especially concerned with one of these two aspects in my current post, I must make the point. The CF must ensure a coherent training and education system is in place for its personnel. The CF of today has not been this operationally experienced since Korea. We must supplement this experience by continuing our efforts to create a well-educated, well-trained force. On the educational side, this includes inter alia production of a sufficient number of officers from its military colleges, the availability of scholarly study programmes in sociology, anthropology, religion and culture, and health sciences, for example, as well as the most efficient use of our scarce resources towards the effective delivery of training and education. I am glad to say efforts in this area already have begun, and we are making progress.

There are other specific capabilities which proved themselves essential during the Russia/Georgia conflict and which are sure to be part of any conventional operation now and into the future. For example, cyber-attacks were reportedly undertaken by Russia against Georgian targets. These included defacing of websites, web-based psychological operations, and distributed denial of service attacks. In fact, just a few days ago, there were reports of government websites being attacked. There is no doubt that Canada must orient some of its future capabilities towards cyber-defence. Here again, NATO has been enhancing the development of these capabilities through its Centre-of-Excellence network.

In short, it is important to remind ourselves of the useful role the Alliance plays as an international institutional forum. If NATO were no more, we would be forced to reinvent it. Its capabilities to deter are just as essential as its reaction and engagement capabilities. Furthermore, the considerable advancements made by NATO in standardizing national doctrines, equipment, and procedures have rendered it a leader in these areas – a leader imitated by nations the world over.

North Atlantic Council visits Georgia

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Visit of the North Atlantic Council to Georgia – Meeting of the North Atlantic Council with members of the Georgian Parliament, 16 September 2008.

In terms of capabilities, NATO must continue to develop its capacity to promote meaningful dialogue with Russia as well as with other nations in the region. It must also ensure that aspirant countries continue to fulfill their engagements. Decision-making procedures and budget regulations must be scrutinized and the Alliance must apply a comprehensive approach to conflict.

With respect to Canada, the big question mark involves the needs of the Canadian Forces once the mission in Afghanistan comes to a close. It is an appropriate time to re-evaluate the Canadian Forces’ need to maintain versatile combat capabilities. Canada has to review its plans to establish a permanent joint contingency combat unit with all of its elements and equipment. Efforts to overhaul its personnel system (pertaining to reserves, education, and training) must continue. In light of the conflict in Georgia, numerous other capabilities, such as cyber-defence, must be developed.

These few arguments offer several building blocks; they form a skeleton to which we must add flesh and muscle. The need for renewed capabilities is immense for both Canada and NATO. For residents of those nations in which we will intervene in the future – as it is for the citizens of Ossetia whom I have met – these capabilities are clear: They must allow us, and NATO, to intervene in order to regain stability and security.

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Lieutenant-General (ret’d) J.O. Michel Maisonneuve, a distinguished Canadian soldier, is currently Academic Director, Royal Military College Saint-Jean.

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