Center for Strategic Decision Research


Security: How Shall We Respond To the Present Challenges?

Vice Admiral Tarmo Kõuts
Commander of the Defense Forces of Estonia

In democratic societies, the employment of military force is always a matter of political decision. Hence, before tackling the question about how we should respond to today’s challenges, the military should look for available political guidance and limitations set by our political leaders, expanding understanding of what constitutes a security challenge. 

To do this, let me begin by examining two primary guiding documents: the NATO Strategic Concept of 1999 and the European Security Strategy of 2003.  


According to the NATO Strategic Concept, the security of the Alliance remains subject to a wide variety of military and nonmilitary risks, which are multidirectional and often difficult to predict. These risks include uncertainty and instability in and around the Euro-Atlantic area and the possibility of regional crises that could evolve rapidly at the periphery of Alliance territory. 

Some countries in and around the Euro-Atlantic area face serious economic, social, and political difficulties, including ethnic and religious rivalries, territorial disputes, inadequate or failed efforts at reform, the abuse of human rights, and the dissolution of states, all of which can lead to local and even regional instability. The resulting tensions could lead to crises affecting Euro-Atlantic stability, to human suffering, and to armed conflicts that could affect the security of the Alliance by spilling over into or otherwise affecting neighboring countries, including NATO countries, or by affecting the security of other states. The Alliance has committed itself to a broad approach to security, which recognizes the importance of political, economic, social, and environmental factors in addition to the indispensable defense dimension. 


A similar approach has been adopted by the European Union. The European Security Strategy outlines a number of security threats to its member-states. This document also draws a baseline, stating that large-scale aggression against any member-state is now improbable. Instead, Europe faces new threats, which are more diverse, less visible, and less predictable. The strategy specifies the key threats as terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, state failure, and organized crime, and concludes that together these different elements confront us with a very radical threat indeed. 


What is the political guidance for finding the ways and means to address these challenges? 

The NATO Strategic Concept underscores the importance of maintaining the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area. An important aim of the Alliance and its forces is to keep risks at a distance by dealing with potential crises at an early stage. The concept also tasks the Alliance’s military forces, in the event of a crisis, to be ready to conduct crisis-response operations; it also tasks them with being ready to contribute to the preservation of international peace and security by conducting operations in support of other international organizations, complementing and reinforcing political actions within a broad approach to security. 

The European Security Strategy mirrors this approach by stating that, with the new threats, the first line of defense will often be abroad. Because the new threats are dynamic, we must be ready to act before a crisis occurs. Conflict prevention and threat prevention cannot start too early. The essence of both NATO and EU guidance is to understand that preventive engagement can avoid more serious problems in the future. 

Force-Planning Guidance 

The political leaders of both NATO and the EU have also provided the military with force-planning guidance. That guidance outlines a vast array of new mission requirements. The European Security Strategy states that, in contrast to the massive threat visible during the Cold War, none of the new threats is purely military nor can any be tackled by purely military means. Each threat, the strategy states, requires a mixture of instruments: intelligence, police, judicial, military, and other means. In failed states, military instruments may be needed to restore order. Regional conflicts need political solutions but military assets and effective policing may be required in the post-conflict phase. Forces assigned to these tasks must be able to respond with rapid and decisive action, applying a fully coherent approach to the whole spectrum of crisis-management operations. From the European Union perspective, this includes humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks, and tasks for combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking.  

In military language, this guidance tasks the military to prepare for combined joint operations, with a strong civil-military cooperation dimension. The latter task brings forward at least two supporting tasks: to ensure that the police component is procedurally interoperable with the military and, perhaps even more important, that national legislation allows putting the civilian component—police officers, rescuers, civil administrators, and the like—temporarily under military responsibility. (I will address the issue of civil-military interoperability in greater detail later.) 

In addition, joint contingency planning must accommodate early, rapid, and robust military intervention as a means of preventive engagement. The latter requires maintaining earmarked troops in high readiness with pre-identified strategic lift and logistics support capabilities. This in turn underscores the need to establish and exercise on a routine basis appropriate multinational cooperation and coordination mechanisms. 


When we look at the continuum of modern security challenges and the potential available response options, several hard questions arise. 

Political Intervention 

The first line of questions is associated with the political will to intervene. The guidance has indicated that preventive engagement in the early stages of an evolving crisis could avoid spillover effects and overall worsening of the situation. Our record of decisiveness, however, is not convincingly long. Every time we see the deterioration of a situation in some seemingly remote place, the decisions to intervene are not made very eagerly. Our societies quite often have second thoughts about the situation: “Perhaps it will sort itself out somehow” or, as a last resort, “Perhaps somebody else will take the lead so we don’t have to do anything about it.” I believe wholeheartedly that it is important to have the policy of preventive interventions clearly established. But to actually implement this policy often takes a much higher degree of public support than the political leaders can muster.  

Out of the scope of problems and challenges currently facing the Euro-Atlantic community, the international dimension of national security is, to put it mildly, not always fully understood and accepted by the general public. As a result, the public’s immediate worries, mostly economic and social, tend to prevail over the more subtle and far-reaching concerns of international security on a global scale. Just remember the dynamics of the crisis in the Balkans about a decade ago. And think of the recent blows the European Constitutional Agreement had to take, largely on economic grounds. These setbacks, however, have outlined for us a long-term objective: to educate our societies on the very complex nature of modern security in order to ensure better understanding and public support of hard decisions, including sending our boys into harm’s way. 

Another point closely linked with public support for preventive engagement deals with the national and international legal framework within which these operations should be launched and conducted. As I said earlier, the military has been given a task to prepare for combined joint operations with a strong civil-military cooperation dimension. One of the associated requirements is the legal basis and procedural framework that will allow the establishment of clear and efficient command and control arrangements—arrangements that actually enable the on-scene commander to direct and coordinate activities of a multinational task force that has both military and non-military components. (I say “on-scene commander” and “task force” because I am convinced that in most situations there is a phase in which the military should bear the responsibility for the front-line coordination of an international crisis-management effort.) Establishing a legal basis will require the review and amending of a number of existing legal acts as well as considerable effort by our parliaments, and I believe this will be impossible without wide public support. 

Military Intervention 

The next set of questions looks for more precise political guidance and decisions on how to organize the military for crisis management. Political guidelines have tasked the military to prepare for a wide spectrum of operations, from low-intensity humanitarian and rescue tasks to peacekeeping tasks to combating terrorism to making forcible entry in support of peacemaking efforts. This scope of military operations sets high requirements for training, equipment, command and control arrangements, and sustainment, including logistics support. Within existing resource constraints it is very difficult, if not impossible, to develop a single force structure that will be capable of meeting every imaginable contingency across the entire spectrum of potential missions. Within the increasingly multinational context of assembling a Combined Joint Task Force, it seems plausible to ask: Shouldn’t our nations take one step further and agree upon the division of tasks? With regard to ISAF and the composition of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, we can see this trend already in place. 

As part of this issue, some keywords come to my mind: niche capabilities, usability, and deployability. Within NATO, we have struggled to fill these concepts with substance. But I think it is time to broaden this approach in order to embrace the developments within the European Security and Defense Policy as well. Changing times and evolving challenges call for handy and capable military instruments in both NATO and the EU. 


There is yet another aspect of the Combined Joint Task Force that actually encompasses its entire lifespan, from contingency planning to recovery after successful completion of the mission—the aspect of interoperability. Within the Alliance, interoperability has been a focal point of doctrine development and training for quite some time. But interoperability, or lack of it, becomes even more important in the future composition of a task force, when not only military units from many countries are working shoulder to shoulder but so are law enforcers, rescuers, paramedics, and many other specialists. From long and sometimes bitter experience we know that in any operation there are zillions of details that can either contribute to or undermine the overall success of the mission. So I believe it’s time for the doctrine developers and planners in our national research establishments, as well as those working for the NATO Transformation Command, to come up with a fresh way of looking at how we do business in order to accommodate our friends and colleagues from non-military sectors. 


Last but not the least I would like to say some words about how I see the focal point of future crisis-management operations. In this discussion there are two considerations to bear in mind: one relates to the operational planning domain and the other to the “grand strategy.” 

Let me address the operational planning aspect first. Here I see a critical requirement to minimize the number of civilian casualties. From the perspective of the politically desired end-state, it is pointless to bring peace and stability to a graveyard. Our force-employment doctrines for crisis-management operations need to be refined to better accommodate new intelligence resources, precision-guided ammunition, and other high-tech solutions developed and offered to us by our colleagues and partners in the defense industry. We also need to reconsider how we operate; we need to apply more creativity and out-of-the-box thinking in order to attain mission objectives with fewer losses among civilian populations and less damage to civilian infrastructure while staying within acceptable levels of risk and avoiding casualties on the side of the peace-bringers. We saw convincing applications of these principles in the first phase of the Iraqi campaign, and lessons learned there should now be reflected in our doctrines, particularly those dealing with broad, nation-building contingencies. 

With regard to the grand strategy, as it has been rightfully outlined in both strategic concepts, we face a great deal of complexity. But as our time in Iraq and the evolving circumstances in Afghanistan have proven, we must focus on ensuring the functioning of the society. As I said in Berlin at the 21st Workshop: “...the operation should be focused on the restoration of local political processes and economic life...The state can operate only under the condition of a viable economy, for otherwise there will be no means to sustain the statehood. From disappointed and warlike environments emerge only drugs and terror.” 

We must also understand that, no matter how brilliant our plan is to remove a dictator, if we do not also have a brilliant plan to help the people to establish a new life the first plan is insufficient. It is not enough to disarm paramilitary gangs of local warlords if we are unable to provide these men with other means to earn their living with dignity. It is also not enough to destroy poppy fields if we do not give the peasants a chance to grow decent food and, more important, the chance to sell their products to other people who may need food desperately. In short, if we are going to take the responsibility to intervene, we must also accept the responsibility for helping people to survive under their newly gained freedom. Our task is to bring people new hope for the future, not simply to stand on street corners with a rifle in hand. 


Many challenges face us in our contemporary world. While only some of these are known to us and some are yet to be unveiled, there are things we can do today in order to be better prepared to meet the unexpected. We can: 

  • Talk to our people, explaining and explaining again why we need to go overseas when there is so much to do at home 
  • Prepare a good inventory of our capabilities—both military and civilian—to ensure that our common response to new challenges is timely and adequate at any given time 
  • Further develop the planning and execution of standard operating procedures to ensure that all components of a task force or reconstruction team have a common lexicon and common doctrinal basis for facing the new challenges that every new day brings 

Then, enjoying wide public support and having the right mix of instruments from all like-minded and willing nations—a mix that enables us to plan and work together—we will truly be able to respond to the present challenges of global security. 





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