Center for Strategic Decision Research



NATO Operations and Capabilities:

Where We Stand And Where We Are Heading

General Rainer Schuwirth
Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE)


I would like to begin by mentioning a particular document that is relevant to today’s NATO as well as the NATO of the future that was not yet available during the 2005 International Workshop. This document, the Comprehensive Political Guidance, while not replacing the Strategic Concept, which remains valid, is a very important political document that provides guidance for future NATO development. The document was approved by the North Atlantic Council in November 2005 and is expected to be endorsed at the Riga summit by heads of state and government.

What is important about this document is that it recognizes that crisis response operations are NATO’s main effort although the Alliance is not giving up collective defense. It points to the current multiplicity of operations, which may increase further, and talks about the requirements of an effects-based approach: better coordination and cooperation of all instruments of power to achieve the desired effects. It also talks about the capabilities that are necessary: the ability to launch and conduct joint and multinational expeditionary operations rapidly and effectively; to deter, disrupt, defend, or protect against terrorism; to contribute to the protection of Alliance territory and its members’ populations; to protect against critical infrastructure, a point that was expanded on by SACEUR; and to support consequence management, stabilization, and all forms of reconstruction effort.

The top priority, however, is the necessity for joint expeditionary forces to be ready to be deployed, be sustained, and be able to deal with all kinds of asymmetric threats—forces that have clear information superiority and that draw together both military and civilian instruments. A fundamental tool for achieving this capability is the NATO Response Force, particularly its transformational dimension, which can assist member-states to improve their own capabilities.


Against the backdrop of the Comprehensive Political Guidance, I would now like to talk about operations and capabilities—where we stand and where we are heading.

Firstly ISAF is our most important and demanding operation. General Back will address it after my presentation.

In the Balkans

Regarding the Balkans, the status talks are in a very decisive period at present and it is difficult to foresee the outcome. So far, however, the situation is stable and calm, but we know that in this part of Europe strange and even evil spirits exist that could create uproar—not war but turbulence—if they do not like the outcome of the status talks. So KFOR is being vigilant and prudent.

In order to be more capable of coping with whatever the future may bring in Kosovo, however, we are completing the restructuring of KFOR, making it a leaner task force by cutting out one level of command. In that way, and by turning the former multinational brigades into multinational task forces, KFOR will be sufficiently flexible to be employed everywhere in Kosovo. We are confident that we will have the capability and the flexibility to cope with whatever the future brings.

You already know that we are cooperating with and also supporting the European Union-led operation Althea in Bosnia Herzegovina very successfully, and you will hear more about this from the representatives of this organization. This support has recourse to NATO assets and capabilities, particularly the operational headquarters at SHAPE and the Deputy SACEUR, who is the operational commander. NATO also remains engaged in Tirana, Sarajevo, and Skopje to assist those countries in their ongoing defense review efforts, and the small advisory teams have been quite successful so far. Close to the Balkans, we run Operation Active Endeavor, the only Article 5 operation in the Mediterranean, the aim of which is to deter and disrupt the abuse of the Mediterranean sea area by terrorist groups. This operation has been very successful and we see merit in expanding it, from the military point of view at least, into other areas such as the Black Sea. Surveilling these ungoverned spaces outside our nations’ territories, both on the sea and in the air, will add to the security of all, over time.

In Iraq

We continue to support the Iraqi authorities by training officers in Baghdad. In September of 2005, NATO, together with the Iraqis, opened the National Defense University where courses are now being conducted. Whether or not to further expand this support will be decided this year or early next year, and also whether or not to include training of noncommissioned officers. Iraq is also being supported directly by equipment donations from a variety of NATO nations and by out-of country training both at NATO and national training facilities. A significant number of Iraqi officers have been trained so far and we have also assisted in rebuilding organic security forces for Iraq, which we hope in a couple of years will allow NATO to disengage from this particular theater.

In Africa

In Africa, we have been working with the European Union to assist the African Union in training staff members—an effort which we refer to as “capacity building”—to help them be better at military planning and in their military operations in Darfur. We have facilitated, and continue to facilitate, the troop rotations of African Union peacekeeping battalions to Darfur, and discussions are now being held at NATO headquarters about the proper way, should the African Union wish it, to expand this kind of support. In particular they may benefit from capacity building as considerable shortfalls have been identified in such things as organic working capabilities and knowledge concerning procedures. NATO and the EU certainly could provide additional value in these areas, including monitoring or embedding training teams down to the level of African Union peacekeeping battalions.

In Pakistan

I think it is well known that NATO is supporting the Baltic States in air policing. Recently we also assisted Pakistan after the tremendous earthquake there with elements of the NATO Response Force. The support comprised a considerable number of airlifts to transport United Nations humanitarian goods from their depots in Europe, in particular in Turkey, to Pakistan, and to distribute this humanitarian assistance; three engineering battalions conducted operations there to clear roads and rebuild schools, medical facilities, and other infrastructure; and considerable medical support was given to the people who suffered, as we all know, quite considerably in this tragic catastrophe. While we never wanted to have the earthquake in Pakistan occur, it did happen, and through deployment of elements of the NATO Response Force we learned a considerable number of lessons that will assist us in reaching Alliance goals.

With High-Visibility Events

NATO has and will continue to support host nations in all kinds of so-called high-visibility events. This started, as you may recall, with our support to the Olympic Games in Greece. Since then, our AWACS fleet flies above many other important events, including the 2006 Winter Olympic Games and the World Soccer Championship. The Latvian authorities have also asked NATO for assistance providing security for the Riga summit, which is a mission the Brunssum headquarters will have to shoulder.


Regarding the NATO Response Force, which SACEUR talked about, there has been progress since the decision was made to establish the NRF in 2002. Initial operational capability was declared in 2004 and an entire set of procedures, training, and doctrines has been developed. The force and headquarters packages, which rotate every six months, have been continuously trained and certified, making the NATO Response Force quite a success story. Soon we will hold a life exercise on the Cape Verde Islands to validate the concept. Because the islands are at a strategic distance from Europe, about 5,000 km, we will be able to demonstrate the NRF’s capability in terms of planning and conducting long-range deployments of considerable joint force packages and to train and exercise the NATO Response Force at such a distance. The endeavor has so far been given tremendous support by the Cape Verde authorities.

Still, there remain shortfalls in the NATO Response Force packages. While additional offers were made during the recent Military Committee meeting in a Chief of Staff session, the package for the second half of 2006 is still only 86% filled and the package for the first half of 2007 is still only around 65% filled. It remains to be seen if we will be able to declare the NATO Response Force at full operational capability by the fall of 2006.

There is also a question mark over the area of the permanent NATO integrated command structure—our 10 integrated headquarters in Europe. We had expected that in the summer of 2006 the revised command structure, which we have been implementing for about two years, would become fully operational. However, nations of this great Alliance have been able or willing to man those headquarters at only about 80% of capacity and we are still missing some decisive infrastructure projects to give our headquarters the proper working facilities; the same is true in a couple of CIS-related areas. You should however, not take this to mean that we are unable to do what we have to do; it just means that there are shortfalls and that, as it stands right now, we will be very hesitant, to put it mildly, to report that the NATO command structure is at full operational capability this year.


Cooperating widely, I believe, is the best kind of crisis prevention that international organizations can do. This area, which has expanded considerably, no longer only encompasses Partnership for Peace or cooperation between NATO and Russia or Ukraine but engagement with the Mediterranean Dialogue countries and increasingly with the countries of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. From the military point of view, we are continuing to focus on interoperability issues that allow forces of these respective countries to join us if they decide to.

Considerable progress has been made on the military side on interoperability cooperation with Russia. Several NATO-led or NATO/Russia-led exercises are being sponsored in 2006 in the areas of communications, special forces, and air transport and during the year Russia will also join us in Operation Active Endeavor. This is quite a significant development—Russia is joining a collective defense operation with naval warships to assist NATO nations in deterring and disrupting any misuse by terrorist organizations.

All the things I have talked about will be of continuing importance at the Riga summit. We can also certainly expect additional direction on the future purpose of the Alliance. One point in this regard, that General Jones mentioned in his presentation, is the future contribution to energy security. We need to discuss surveillance and if necessary protection of ungoverned spaces and assistance to countries with consequence management should anything happen.


I would like to conclude by reiterating that quite a lot has been achieved by NATO. There continues to be progress although we are not yet where we would like to be in the development of capabilities. Some promising points are that several member-states recently concluded the so-called Strategic Airlift Interim Solution Agreement, arrangements that give those nations the ability to use airlift capability on a leasing basis. There is also discussion underway concerning whether a number of NATO members may wish to lease or procure several wide-body aircraft so that strategic deployment will be better facilitated. General Wolf, the director of NCSA, will talk about where we stand in terms of communication means. We are also working to improve Special Forces capabilities in NATO and, though there has not been a breakthrough in terms of better common funding, there has been progress. We now have wider possibilities for common funding for crisis response operations and, as an experiment, the deployment of the NATO Response Force for the LIVEX will be subsidized from common funds. In both today’s and tomorrow’s world, we will have to rely on NATO and thus it must be in our interest to further develop its capabilities.


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