Center for Strategic Decision Research

Admiral Luciano Zappata, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander (T)


Admiral Luciano Zappata

Admiral Luciano Zappata
NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander (SACT)

Overview of Future Challenges

I come from ACT (Allied Command Transformation). Our mission is to lead the military transformation of the armed forces of the NATO nations based on the comprehensive political guidance received from our nations. In this respect, I think it is very important to highlight how we developed our organization on three pillars. The first pillar is strategic thinking; the second pillar is capabilities development; the third pillar is training and education. We also have a fourth pillar, which is an internal one: To be an effective organization. If we are not internally effective and efficient, it is very difficult to sell the idea to our nations that we are capable of proposing new ways of working.


I will start with the first pillar, strategic thinking. Karl-Heinz Lather mentioned that a couple of years ago we started the Multiple Futures Project (MFP), so I would like to share with you the internal reasons within ACT that we decided to start working on this project. Together with my former boss, General Jim Mathis, my goal was to raise a strategic debate inside the Alliance in order to give our nations the “reasons why” for our military forces and for NATO.
From the comments and speeches that we heard earlier, I think it is quite clear that we are witnessing at least two major changes in our world. The first is a global change—including globalization, the current financial turmoil, and a shift in the relative assets of both the economic and technological powers. I very much agree with Louis Gallois’s observation that China is not simply a factory; it can also develop new technologies. That is our experience: I live in the United States, and whenever I buy something it is made in China. It does not matter whether it is a simple drinking glass or a highly technical product. Yet, building things, making them with your own hands and machines, also means that you are learning how to create them, and even how to improve them.

The second change is more specific to the militaries, and when we talk about the comprehensive approach, this change seems very, very clear to me. We all say, and it is true, that we cannot face the multiple threats and challenges with military means alone, which implies that we need complementary means. But, in this respect, I see that the very definition or the very understanding of the military role is changing. I very much agreed with Mark Fitzgerald when he said that the friction between defense and security is considerable, and that in some way we will have to find the proper balance. The example he gave about the supported commander is also consistent with my own experience in NATO. This is a very nice idea, but there are also many problems: Sometimes there are overlaps, sometimes there are gaps, and sometimes there is friction. It is easy to say that we are phasing in this mix of defense and security, but where is the balance? This is the problem. And so the basic idea of the Multiple Futures Project was to raise the debate. It is important to do so in order to understand why we need things and what we need—militaries, defense, and security.

The results for us in ACT were very important, not because of what we achieved but because the strategic debate was very useful. We are also convinced that the work done by the 12 experts in support of the new Strategic Concept, and in support of the Secretary General, was very helpful. I would like to highlight one page of their report, which in my view is very important. It is a page on which the experts say that the nations should spend at least 2% of their future GDP on defense. I am not going to tell you my own ideas about this, but I will just ask a question: I wonder, is it realistic? Is it practical? I leave the question to you. I think, anyway, that it is important to have this debate, to open up the debate to our populations, because, as our populations face very difficult times, we have to be very clear about why we need specific things, both in defense and in security. This is a very important activity inside our first pillar: Raising the strategic debate and participating by offering different views.


Now I would like to discuss the second pillar: Capabilities. I would like to go back to one of the comments made by Mr. Gallois and the question raised by General Wolf about industry’s approach. Of course, we develop capabilities every day. Capabilities are a combination of means—tanks, ships, aircraft, people, and procedures. So it is a very complex issue. In ACT, we work a great deal to improve the relationship with industry; the relationship between the military side and the industry side is through contracts and formal agreements, but we are convinced that there is also a question of culture. The more we work together, the more we understand each other, the better—because we can start at the beginning to develop things in the proper way. It is very bad to discover after many years of development that a piece of equipment is not very well suited for military use. Of course there are some contractual points, but what is important is that we are not getting the proper equipment and the proper capabilities at the proper time. This is particularly important in this evolving environment, because we need to speed up our processes. We need to be able to field the needed capabilities in the shortest possible time.

Karl-Heinz Lather was very clear about Afghanistan: We are changing our strategies. Changing strategies also means changing capabilities, i.e. the way you apply your force. So this means that we need flexibility, we need the ability to react in a very timely way, and we cannot waste time. We also need to think about culture, because the more we work with industry, the better it will be—because working in this way will help both sides develop capabilities in a timely and an efficient way. To do this in ACT, we are developing ways in which we can talk about real problems. We have also developed a legal framework that allows us under the auspices of our nations to work with the companies more effectively.


There is one more point I would like to highlight, and that is interoperability. We are all convinced that interoperability is something that we have in NATO; in the 60 years of its existence, NATO has achieved important results in that area. Interoperability means the ability to work together, to operate together, but it is something that you develop day by day. It is very difficult to build and very easy to lose, and it is also a very important question to discuss when you work with partners, by which I mean the European Union, with whom we are sometimes unable to even exchange documents or papers. Interoperability is the glue of our forces, and without it even decisions made by our political masters to work together and to go together in operations would not be feasible.
Let me give you some specific, very painful, examples. If we are not interoperable in the air, on land, or in air-sea cooperation, there can be some very unfortunate effects: For example, I call for support from an aircraft supporting me but the aircraft drops the bomb in the wrong position. You cannot ask for support from friends close to you if you cannot speak with them because your radios are incompatible, and not interoperable. So interoperability is a very important issue and not just a technical issue. Interoperability is first a question of mindset and a question of decisions made by the political masters, because interoperability is expensive and requires work involving industries, contracts, education, and training.


We see that we are facing challenges from all over the world, and some of these challenges come from places very far from our borders. In these cases, our approach at ACT has always been to try to build trust, which is absolutely vital in many situations. I am speaking from my experience as a flag officer who spent years in real operations, during which I supported many different flags at various times—the Italian flag, the NATO flag, the WEU flag, the European Union flag under the mandate of the United Nations, but the assets were always the same: Me, my crew, and my ships. In many instances I had to be a kind of ambassador on behalf of these organizations, trying to convince these organizations that we were friendly people. We worked together with them to try to build trust, and, believe me, trust is something that you must develop day by day. It is a continuous effort that you cannot give up on; otherwise, if you make just one mistake, you give up years of development. So I want to conclude by reemphasizing the importance of building trust and keeping alive dialogue with our partners in order to improve the situation.

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