Lieutenant General David Bill

Lieutenant General David Bill
United Kingdom Military Representative to NATO and the EU

Resources and the Comprehensive/Hybrid Approach

I have two topics—the Comprehensive Approach and resources—to discuss in a very short time. Let me start by putting my remarks into context. The context is that we face complex hybrid security challenges in what continues to be an increasingly constrained world as far as security resources are concerned. I want to talk about what we should be doing about this issue now.


As far as the Comprehensive Approach is concerned, we have had a good deal of talk and some action, but certainly that action is insufficient as far as this critical subject is concerned. One of the three areas in which we are currently failing to take appropriate action is in NATO, where there remain legitimate concerns that the organization is in danger of expanding into areas outside its traditional security domain. Second, the EU, which should be in a place to take real action regarding the Comprehensive Approach, with the many levers at its disposal, has been impeded by intra-institutional rivalries. And third, as far as the United Nations and other international organizations are concerned, there is a degree of reluctance to embrace this concept wholeheartedly, perhaps for fear of a military takeover, which we in the military need to be very conscious of.

So what is it that we in NATO and the EU should do about these issues from a military perspective? I think we need to consider what our key messages should be and then start promoting them.

Key Messages

The first key message is that the Comprehensive Approach is not actually that complex. It is a simple philosophy about taking a holistic approach to a crisis and then bringing the levers to bear in an appropriate way. The approach needs to be underpinned by a simple doctrine: Proactive engagement, shared understanding, outcome-based thinking, and collaborative working to provide long-term solutions to crises. The approach is not about the military taking over civil responsibility.

It is inevitably true, however, that where there is insufficient security, the military may well have to take on additional tasks. This, though, must be seen as a temporary arrangement and must always be presented with a clear migration path to the more appropriate civilian leadership and indeed to execution of these tasks.

The second key message is that, as far as NATO is concerned, it needs to be said loudly, clearly, and regularly that NATO’s task is to contribute to the Comprehensive Approach; it is not to lead it nor can it be the only player involved. As far as the European Union is concerned, it needs to take advantage of the levers it has at its disposal through better communication and a more effective external service. For the EU, this means communicating more effectively.

The third and final message is that the Comprehensive Approach provides value for money. By bringing the right levers to bear in the right way at the right time, it will ultimately cost us less. Certainly it will ensure that scarce military assets are employed more effectively and for a shorter time.

Calling for Wider Action and Highlighting Selling Points

So what do we need to do about this? First of all, as I have said, we need to promote these key messages rather more actively than we have. And we need to demand wider action. We need to demand that the U.N., the EU, NATO, and others actually talk in practicalities as opposed to merely play around with definitions. In particular we need to develop much closer and more focused understanding across the EU–NATO divide as far as the Comprehensive Approach is concerned, both in terms of principles but, more importantly, in terms of practical implications. To an extent here we can learn real lessons in Afghanistan, where slowly but surely we are applying the Comprehensive Approach better and better.

We should also promote education and training in this critical area. And we should emphasize that the Comprehensive Approach provides value for money, which I believe is an important selling point, particularly if resources continue to be as tight as we all think they will be.


As far as international organizations are concerned, I think we all have to acknowledge that they are institutionally inefficient; they are going to waste money by definition. We all know that nations waste money on security, but international organizations waste money even more. They do, of course, bring about collective political will, a vital ingredient we should not underestimate. This is not about knocking international organizations, but we do need to take action if we are to make better use of our extremely scarce resources.

Achieving More Value for the Money

The first thing I think we should focus on is ensuring that international organizations actually achieve better value for the collective money they have at their disposal; if that does not happen, national treasuries at the very least will not support these organizations. I am talking particularly here about NATO and, to a lesser extent, the EU. We cannot continue to defend outdated and unnecessarily large structures, not just because they waste money but because they do us damage in presentational terms in our countries’ capitals.

We also need to deal with the fact that defence spending will never achieve what our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines would like it to. Continually beating the drum for 2% is laudable, but it is not necessarily going to make much difference in the short term. We need to recognize that transformation of forces is expensive, and that we not only need to spend money on that but that we also need to give up military assets we perhaps would rather not. Therefore we need forces in the future that are genuinely adaptable and genuinely agile. As far as NATO is concerned, these forces are going to have to attend both to Article 5 and expeditionary operations, and we need to explain in reassuring terms that we have thought it through and that these forces can do both tasks.

Increasing Interoperability

We also need to work on interoperability. We have been saying this all through my military career, and we must continue to work on it. In some ways, we are doing considerably better than we have in the past. But we must work on multilateral solutions, on sharing capabilities; the C17 model is just the sort of model we should look to, but I do not think we should go for more grandiose multinational projects, because our experience is that they do not seem to provide value for money in a timely way. Often they grow superstructure as opposed to capability.

Detailing Requirements and Surpluses

Another thing we need to do is to highlight not only our requirements but our surpluses. From a NATO perspective, we need to empower Allied Command Transformation to do this for us, because do not expect nations to own up to what are surpluses as far as NATO is concerned. What do we have that are surpluses? We have submarines, tanks, fast jets, and, most important of all, too high a tail to tooth ratio across our western forces, and somehow we have got to resolve that.

Investing in C4ISR

Finally, the one thing we must invest in in the future is what I call “electric string.” C4ISR, i.e., Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, is the one thing that we as international organizations, whether NATO or the EU, must invest in.

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