Center for Strategic Decision Research


Enhancing the Efficiency of Peace Operations

Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts
Chief of Defense, Estonian Armed Forces

I would like to start my remarks by briefly describing, from the perspective of a task force commander, the environment in which an expeditionary operation is likely to be conducted. Then I will move to the strategic level and address the same issues from a different angle. All of my observations are based on experience, through Estonia’s participation in peacekeeping missions in the Balkans since 1994, in Afghanistan since 2003, and in the ongoing Iraq operations, as well as from numerous observer missions over the last decade. In sum, my observations are based on Estonia’s experiences contributing to peace and stability worldwide. 


The most probable operation will be conducted by a multinational task force operating under an unclear or a questionable mandate. This task force will likely be deployed into a failed state or a state on the brink of fragmentation. Opposing forces are likely to be technologically inferior, probably lacking a centralized command, but they will use asymmetric warfare. The mission of the intervening stabilization task force could be anything from securing disaster relief to forcible entry to stop a massacre, as we did in the Balkans. 

Regardless of which auspices the operation is conducted under—the UN, NATO, or a coalition of the willing—there are some key aspects to bear in mind. 

First and foremost, the operation should be focused on restoring the local political process and economic life. We, the military, can stop violence, but we cannot prevent criminal activities from intertwining with people’s daily life. That is what happened in Kosovo, where organized crime is taking control of the country and the people—family by family. 

Without the local political process in place, the military will be forced to stay in the area for a considerably longer period, perhaps 20 years, during which time a generation will grow up without a positive vision of its future, because the people were deprived of the right and obligation to take care of their country. This generation will learn not to play, but to fear, to hate, and to fight —which is what happened in Afghanistan, a country that has been fighting since 1980. More than one generation has grown up in Afghanistan without any peacetime skills, without any positive idea about the future. What, then, will they pass on to their children? 

Without a prudent economy in place, a surrogate shadow economy will bloom. This economy will be based on cultivating and trading drugs within countries and families; and trading drugs across the very same borders that we, the military, are to guard. States can operate only with a viable economy, because otherwise there will be no means of sustaining statehood. Only drugs and terror emerge from a disappointed, warlike environment. 

In order to rebuild a state, therefore, one must first take nearly airtight control of its borders, as we did in Estonia in 1989, and develop the essentials of a state apparatus as well as deal with the primary concerns of the people—public safety and social security. Legitimate power must be credible and useful, or the people will not accept their leaders’ right to govern them. We see the manifestation of this problem in today’s Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. 


I would now like to discuss several lessons learned from numerous failures and some successful peace operations during the last 50 years. 

  • First, the legitimacy of intervention, both in legal and moral terms. The ability of the on-scene force commander is seriously hampered when he and his men have doubts about the legality and justification of their actions. We must continue working on developing a solid political and legal framework to address the issue of humanitarian intervention, because there is difficulty in reconciling respect for sovereignty, the cornerstone of the modern international system, and the moral obligation of democratic states to protect human rights. 
  • Second, the appropriateness of the military instrument. There is a saying in English: “If the hammer is your only tool, every problem looks like a nail.” For all too long the military has been considered the handiest instrument to do everything. While I don’t question the policies of military intervention, I do have to ask how far we can go tasking the military with nation building. Which capabilities can reasonably be developed within the military and which should be handled by another entity? 
  • This leads to my third point, namely, the clearness of mission. The very nature of military planning implies that a clear objective or a clearly defined end state must be set, because it is from that end state that mission-capability requirements are derived and an appropriate force package is compiled. Ambiguity of mission will as a rule be reflected in all sorts of caveats, which nations taking part in the mission must put on their forces. As time for planning dwindles, now and even more in the future, we will see the need for close and coordinated cooperation between political decision-makers and military leaders to provide expertise. Toward that end, the NATO Military Committee is currently working to streamline decision-making processes and to make sure that political and military planning are conducted in parallel, not subsequently, as they have been so far. 


Now let me turn to a couple of suggestions. The idea of establishing a NATO stabilization and reconstruction force was raised by Dr. Binnendijk. I would like to elaborate a bit on this. Earlier I said that the most probable operation would deal with asymmetries and low-intensity, soft-end security risks, such as those we see now in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the response to these risks can not be more high-tech gizmos within the existing paradigm—we need to radically change our thinking and develop a unified conceptual basis for all security-providing agencies that are involved in the very complex process of nation-building. That concept should depart from the capabilities-based approach across the whole spectrum of actors, from, say, paramedics to law enforcement to the military, thus enabling us from the initial planning stage to pull together a task force best suited to address the problem at hand. This approach would also enable us to reconfigure the task force whenever necessary to respond quickly to changes on the ground, thereby avoiding the worst nightmare of any military commander—mission creep, which is what happened in Somalia and Srebrenica. 

Last but not least, there has been a lot of talk about capabilities during the last several years. I am afraid that not all politicians, diplomats, and military personnel always understand the word’s meaning in the same way. From a purely military perspective, I would say that capability can not be separated from the structure that is carrying it. 

Judging from the past, divisions will not always be deployed, but rather battalion-size battle groups with organic support elements far bigger than those for in-line battalions, in order to compensate for a missing brigade or division. Therefore, considering the increasing need for force flexibility, we may need to rethink the traditional way of looking at the force structure: not seeing battalions as pre-structured line units, but rather as an administrative framework for producing and maintaining pockets of competence. If the same approach is applied across all actors involved, we may actually reach the level of flexibility and responsiveness needed to deal with rapidly changing situations on the ground.




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