Center for Strategic Decision Research


Prague to Istanbul: Ambition versus Reality

General General James L. Jones, USMC
Supreme Allied Commander Europe

SACEUR General James Jones
"...We must change from being static to being expeditionary, from having a regional outlook to being global, from engaging in warefare based on the principal of 'mass' to warfare based on precision, from a force based on quantity to one based on quality."


My goal here is not to repeat what General Kujat said—although we agree completely on these matters—but to outline what I see as the operational challenges the Alliance must confront as it continues its transformation. 

The impetus for transforming the Alliance emerged with the groundbreaking guidance provided by the Prague Summit in November 2002. With this guidance—the clearest political guidance I have seen in my career—the Alliance set the stage for its success. I used to tell people that NATO stood at a crossroads and faced a choice about which path it might take. Today, I can say without hesitation that the Alliance has moved beyond that crossroads and has made tremendous progress on the path toward the end-state of transformation. We have begun streamlining the NATO command structure by establishing the Allied Command for Transformation and the Allied Command for Operations as well as deactivating 12 subregional headquarters—a process that will be completed later in 2004. NATO also made tremendous progress in creating and developing the NATO Response Force (NRF), the concept that will, more than anything else, be a path for transforming the Alliance’s force structure. I am pleased to say that the Alliance has moved the NRF from concept to reality in less than a year, activating it in October 2003 at Joint Force Command Brunssum. 

While taking these steps, NATO has been simultaneously engaged in three major operations: in the Balkans, with SFOR in Bosnia and KFOR in Kosovo; in the Mediterranean, with Operation Active Endeavor; and in Afghanistan, with the International Security Assistance Force. Just as important, NATO is also validating its strong military relationship with the European Union. In December 2003, the EU completed Operation Concordia in Macedonia, its first mission with recourse to NATO assets and capabilities. Initial planning also began in January 2004 for the possible handover of the SFOR mission in Bosnia to the EU, which would come under the auspices of the Berlin Plus Framework. 


While 2003 marked an impressive start to transformation, we must recognize that additional challenges must be confronted if NATO is to achieve the full promise of the Prague Summit’s vision. Transformation is not simply making changes in the Alliance’s military forces. In my view, one must look at transformation more holistically across what I call the “four pillars of transformation.” 

The first pillar is the one people most readily recognize—technology. Improvements in capability through technology are allowing today’s infantry battalions to have the same capability as yesterday’s infantry regiments while at the same time placing fewer people at risk on the battlefield.  

But you cannot take full advantage of technological gains unless you tie them to the second pillar—new operational concepts, such as the NRF, that allow you to maximize the gains in technology. 

The third pillar of transformation is adopting institutional reforms. One challenge confronting the Alliance today is its strategic decision-making process, a point that was brought to the forefront at the informal Defense Ministerial in Colorado Springs in October 2003. It is logical, for example, that the Alliance might want to re-examine the way it makes decisions in light of the NRF’s expeditionary capability. 

The last pillar of transformation is the adoption of better business practices. We need to do a better job of managing the resources we have and the process through which we acquire capabilities. Until we can honestly say that we have been good stewards of the resources we have been given, it will be difficult to go back to the nations and ask for more. 


In light of this holistic view of transformation, it has become clear to me that in the time I have had the privilege to serve at Mons, six challenges have threatened to ultimately derail our common efforts at transformation. 

The Capability-Usability Gap

The first challenge is the disparity between capability and usability that exists in NATO. While NATO members in theory have an enormous military capability available for use by the Alliance, we have problems converting this capability into usable forces. This is in some ways representative of the challenge we face using a twentieth-century force in the twenty-first-century security environment. We must change from being static to being expeditionary, from having a regional outlook to being global, from engaging in warfare based on the principle of “mass” to a new warfare based on precision, from a force based on quantity to one based on quality. 

One way the Alliance can help member-nations is to better define NATO’s military requirements: what is NATO’s minimum military requirement for the twenty-first century? Such a statement of requirements would assist nations in defining their own national requirements, and give the smaller nations the opportunity to develop the small but essential niche capabilities such as command and control; communications; combat service support; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense; CIMIC; and special forces. Former Secretary General Lord Robertson used to say that only 3% of the Alliance’s military is actually deployable. Our goal is to improve that number and to improve it significantly, generating greater usability from the forces we currently possess. 

Lack of Military Resources

A second challenge facing the Alliance is the growing gap between member-nations’ stated political ambition—as defined by operations currently underway or poised to commence—and their willingness to provide proper resources for these operations. We must find a way to fix this gap. Currently, not one NATO operation is fully resourced to the militarily-necessary minimum levels. Usually we receive contributions in the 70% to 80% range, but we consistently experience shortfalls in the strategic enablers so vital to ensuring mission success. The force-generation process is in urgent need of reform. 

One solution might be to present the nations with the military requirements needed for an operation before they decide to execute it. Another solution could be the development of a sustainable rotation scheme based on the Defense Planning Questionnaire and equity. With the implementation of such a concept, nations would no longer be concerned that a commitment of troops might become open ended if a replacement unit was not deployed in a timely manner. Bridging the resource gap is not an issue of capacity—these forces exist and have been declared to NATO—but one of usability. 

National Caveats

After forces have been deployed to an operation, a third challenge often ensues that further limits their usability. This problem is known as “national caveats,” a cancer that eats away at our operational capability and our ability to accomplish our missions. 

A national caveat is generally a formal written restriction that most nations place on the use of their forces. There are also unofficial “unwritten” caveats imposed by military superiors at home. NATO tactical commanders usually know nothing of these unwritten caveats until they ask a deployed subordinate commander to take an action and the commander says, “I cannot do this.” Collectively, these restrictions limit the tactical commanders’ operational flexibility. However, I am pleased to report that several nations have made progress in modifying and eliminating written caveats, but we must do much more if we are to succeed. 

Tooth-to-Tail Ratios

The issue of usability is also a problem in the “tooth-to-tail ratios” facing all of our operations, the fourth challenge. While NATO is striving to create a twenty-first-century military force, we are still deploying logistics in a twentieth-century manner. The tactical commander cannot employ 30% to 40% of all the forces deployed to his operation because they belong to “national support elements” that are in fact not “transferred” to NATO command. What is particularly frustrating is that in some cases capabilities actually exist within national support elements that would fill some of the critical shortfalls in NATO’s military requirements. While nations are generous in offering these capabilities to NATO on a case-by-case basis, unless these units are under the NATO commander’s operational control they cannot always be available for use when we need them. 

By simply transferring these capabilities to NATO authority, nations could in some instances fill shortfalls in critical capabilities. In the future, we must build and begin to use a multinational logistics concept; if we provide logistical support more efficiently, tactical commanders will be able to use a greater percentage of the overall deployed force to accomplish their primary military objectives. 

I would like to illustrate the insidious nature of caveats and our low tooth-to-tail ratios by examining our military mission in Kosovo, where approximately 19,000 troops are currently deployed. While this may appear to be a large force, national caveats restrict almost half of these troops in some way, either from conducting crowd/riot control tasks or conducting inter-sector movement within the KFOR area of operations or protecting property. When we also consider the troops deployed to Kosovo within national support elements who are not transferred to NATO authority, we see that the KFOR commander in reality has only between 5,000 and 6,000 soldiers fully available to him to conduct his mission. 

Lack of Intelligence

A fifth challenge is in the area of intelligence. Quite frankly, NATO intelligence is at the mercy of national intelligence—whatever information nations decide to share with the Alliance is what we get. Part of the challenge we face in Kosovo is that we do not have sufficient intelligence, either provided directly by the nations or transferred to the NATO commander in theater to allow him to collect, assess, and process it. SHAPE will soon be presenting a proposal to the nations for the establishment of a NATO Analysis Center, which would function similarly to the United States European Command’s Joint Analysis Center. A NATO Analysis Center would be responsible for analyzing and producing both strategic and regional intelligence that would then be available for use by the Alliance. 

Inefficient Use of Resources

The sixth and last challenge is a more general one that confronts all nations: using resources more efficiently. In recognition of the reality that most if not all member-nations will not be able to raise defense spending, I have been recommending that nations maintain a floor for defense spending of no less than 2% of GDP. Such a floor would give nations the opportunity to make cuts in their force structure, eliminate outdated weapons from their arsenals, close unneeded bases, and reinvest resulting savings into remaining forces, thereby increasing overall capability and deployability. If nations make these painful cuts and do not reinvest the savings, a smaller, less capable force will result. True transformation means becoming more efficient with the resources we have. 


The six challenges I have outlined threaten to impede NATO's efforts at transformation. While these challenges may not have been apparent even a year ago, it has become clear that they must be confronted and fixed if transformation is to be fully realized. Failing to do so will only delay the Alliance from completing its transformation. I believe it is better to be 80% correct and make things happen today than to be 100% correct tomorrow after the opportunity has passed. 

NATO's goals are ambitious and exciting and I remain optimistic that we will find the right path. The Alliance has had a glorious and successful history and I remain convinced that its best days still lie ahead.


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