Center for Strategic Decision Research



NATO’s Transformation for the 21st Century

General James L. Jones, USMC
Supreme Allied Commander Europe

With three and a half years of this wonderful assignment under my belt, I would like to reflect on how far we have come in the last few years. I will use the Prague Summit in 2002 as a benchmark, since it was just after that Summit that I started to really focus on this job, which Secretary Rumsfeld asked me to take on.


We all know about transformation—what it means or what we think it means—and we know it is a good thing. But in NATO, transformation is something that is done to somebody else. While that may be a little sarcastic, I think most of us would agree that change is easy only when you are telling other people to do the changing. To date, most of the transformation in NATO has been done to the military, to SHAPE. I accept that, and in fact, think it is a fantastic thing. I am very proud of what Allied Command Operation and Allied Command Transformation, in other words the military, have been able to accomplish since 2002 to bring to reality the vision of the Prague Summit. And in many respects, the Prague Summit made my task to transform easier. Whenever I encountered obstacles along the path to creating change, I was able to say “We are just doing what we were told to do and if you don’t like it, change it. This is the guidance we received from the 19 sovereign nations, which had the wisdom to expand NATO to include seven more nations.” As I look back over the past several years, I think we have done everything the Prague Summit directed us to do and I think we have done it quite well.

But transformation, in an organization such as NATO, must be done in total. Change is important for every organization, but not just for a portion of it. We must understand that transformation of just the military component of NATO is not a complete transformation. With the Prague capability commitments, we know what our shortfalls are throughout the Alliance. We have already reformed the NATO command structure by closing many unneeded headquarters. We have worked hard to establish the NATO Response Force and we hope that it will reach full operational capability by October 1, 2006. We witnessed, in 2004, the fantastic addition of seven new member-nations to the Alliance. We replaced the Supreme Allied Command Atlantic with the Allied Command Transformation. And we embarked on a very, very painful mandated 30% reduction in our personnel. Although we did not achieve it, we have reduced our manning to the point which I believe is the minimum we can accept without damaging our capabilities at a time when our operational commitments are increasing exponentially throughout the world.

All of these changes are not only part of a physical transformation, they are also the beginnings of what I think of as a cultural transformation of the Alliance—what it is, what it does, where it does it, and why it does it. This transformation will continue as NATO goes from its 20th century charter, which was to be a capable and reactive alliance, to its 21st century requirement, which is to be a more proactive alliance at great strategic distances. The term “out of area,” which we used not too many years ago, is no longer relevant—not when NATO is involved in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Balkans, the Mediterranean, and Iraq. There is no such thing as being out of area in the new NATO because the new NATO has the political will to do more. However, we also have the political will to resource less, a point I hit upon when I appeared before this group two years ago. Since then, for all the good things we have done, I can tell you that on this score we have lost ground. There are now only seven members of the Alliance that have chosen to invest 2% or more of their gross domestic product in national security, and that is certainly worrisome at a time when the number of our operations is multiplying.

Despite the challenges that face us—and there are many—we are making the transition from the 20th to the 21st century, and that is to be celebrated. And the Riga Summit, which will take place in November 2006, will, I believe, tell us much about ourselves. Not to over hype it, I believe it will be at least as important as the Prague Summit of 2002 in answering the questions that are fundamental to the future health and vitality of the Alliance and to our raison d’être. That includes finding those things that will keep us focused as an alliance of 26, or 28, or 30 or 35 or 37. Who knows? Despite the challenges we face, I think there is much to be optimistic about concerning the future of the Alliance.


One of the most significant characteristics of a healthy organization is that more people are trying to join it than are trying to leave it. I know of no nation that is thinking of leaving the Alliance and I know of quite a few that are seeking to become members. Additionally, there are several nations that are seeking to have a non-traditional relationship—nations that may surprise you as they have previous SACEURs. For example, Australia, South Korea, Japan, and New Zealand all wish to have a security relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. So, we have no one wishing to leave, we have candidates for new membership, and we have candidates who wish to have a special relationship with the Alliance.

Right now a very exciting dialogue is taking place among these many countries that can best be described as a convergence of common ideas relating to the collective security of our friends, our allies, our members, and our partners—not just regionally or just in Europe but throughout the world. This dialogue is covering topics such as the role of the Alliance regarding energy security, our critical infrastructures, and weapons of mass destruction. Particularly, WMDs that might fall into the hands of asymmetric actors, including the radical fundamentalists and narco-terrorists, on whom much of Afghanistan’s GDP depends and 90% of whose products are sold in European capitals, financing God knows what kinds of terrorist activities around the world. Such subjects are geostrategic in nature and affect our collective ` security, as do uncontrolled immigration and its impact on our societies.

The Iranian question and nuclear weapons also affect our collective security and they also remind us that while we focus on the asymmetric nature of the world, we should never, never forget that conventional wars are still possible and that wars certainly have been started over issues such as energy. During the Cold War, when I was coming up through the ranks, we used to talk a lot about sea lines of communications and choke points for the Navy. We fixated on those ideas and became convinced that a critical part of our naval strategy was to make sure that those sea lines and choke points were always open for our fleets—open for both commerce and military movement. Interestingly, in today’s asymmetric world revolving around energy, in a strategic sense, it is equally important that our sea lines of communications and our choke points remain open.

Today, after three and a half years in this wonderful assignment, I think NATO is not only alive but well, and it is poised to do things in the future that we can only imagine today. Presently, nearly 30,000 NATO troops are deployed on three different continents. They are about to take on one of the most ambitious challenges in the history of the Alliance—Afghanistan. We are also about to complete NATO’s most transformational objective, the creation of the NATO Response Force. But for all these good things that are happening, things that were unimaginable and unattainable just three or four years ago, several key pieces are not yet in place, pieces that are essential not only to an understanding but to an agreement of what NATO’s 21stst-century potential really is. This is why I think the road to Riga is both a challenge and a great opportunity.


What key transformation pieces are not yet in place? I think the first is that NATO—and I do not mean this critically but more as a fact—does not do a good job of talking to our publics on either side of the Atlantic. I think there is a very worrisome void in our publics’ understanding of what NATO is in this21st century or even why it exists. Most people can tell you, with great clarity, why it existed in the 20th century, but I think very few people can tell you what NATO is today. It seems to me that we need to collectively do something about that. We need to think about how we put the word NATO into the public consciousness again. Our citizens deserve to have the answer to the questions: “What is NATO? Why does it exist? What does it do? And why should I care as a taxpayer or as a member of society?” We have not gotten very clear answers to these questions out there, but we must. Every time I give a briefing to visiting officials from different countries on what NATO is doing, they are amazed and always say the same thing: “We had no idea. Why is it that we never hear about this? What is it that we can do to help get the message out?” At the Riga Summit, if the 26 heads of state desire to do so, we could make a strong statement about what NATO is in the 21st century as well as what it does and why people should care about it.

The second missing piece is that we do not yet really understand that our transformation is incomplete. Transformation cannot stop; by definition it is an everlasting process and if you avoid some of the real issues you cannot call it transformation. You cannot say to a significant element of an organization that “everybody else is changing but you don’t have to, you are okay.” That is the worst of all worlds.

So we cannot simply focus on the military; there is much more that needs to be done. Our 20th century support structures, created with such familiar phrases as “costs fall where they lie,” were built to support a defensive alliance that was to absorb the first blow and then counter-attack with mutually assured destruction. These structures were created when NATO armies were static, moving at most several hundred kilometers for annual operations. This approach worked fantastically, it was a great success. But, the underpinnings of the support structure for a static, linear, massive, reactive, defensive force do not lend themselves well, in my view, to expeditionary, rapid, agile operations conducted at strategic distances in different parts of the globe. So the second part of our transformation must involve changing the underpinnings of our support structures to enable the new NATO as it accepts more and more operations, in Africa, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and other parts of the world. We must also be ready to take on such responsibilities as acting as the executive agent for the United Nations in Darfur, something that is now being talked about. If we are serious about staying relevant and being successful, we must support the mechanisms that allow us to be successful and dedicate ourselves to supporting the new types of operations.

The Secretary General has bravely challenged us to look at some of our structures not only in the military but in other parts of NATO. It is not surprising that he has found that getting consensus to change even the slightest thing is very difficult. Is this acceptable? Are we going to tiptoe into the 21st century in this way or are we going to swing into it full speed ahead with a full wind behind our sails? I find our NATO financial system to be opaque, incomprehensible, and certainly not agile enough to support NATO operations of the 21st century. I believe a complete overhaul of our financial system, with renewed transparency, is appropriate and I think it should be done before we ask any country to increase its fair share of financial support to the Alliance. The members of the Alliance must be able to see what we are doing, how we are doing it, and where the money is being spent. And if anyone can tell me how those things are being done right now, I would like to have 10 minutes of your time because I will learn what I have been unable to learn in three and a half years of trying!

Another issue is that our acquisition methods are much too slow and not responsive to the operational needs of our commanders in the field. If you want examples of this, they abound—I will cite just one now. In 2004, in the aftermath of the riots in Kosovo, an emergency request was made from our commander in the field to obtain a friendly force tracking system, estimated to cost 5 million Euros. Rather than meet the urgent need of our forces in the field, the request resulted in a 26-nation industrial-based competition between North America and Europe which took two years to deliver the product. This is simply unacceptable in this day and age. When commanders need things in Afghanistan and other areas of risk, we cannot subject them to a 26-nation industrial-based debate that may result in an emergency acquisition authorization two or three years later. Whether it is for a 5-million-Euro friendly force tracking system or something else, there needs to be more clarity, more honesty, and more responsiveness in our acquisition methods. These methods need to appreciate that we have people at risk, people doing very dangerous things in places such as Afghanistan, the most dangerous operation NATO has taken on. Our commanders need the items they request and they need an acquisition system that is agile enough to provide it to them. The matter of who wins the industrial-based competition must be secondary to the commanders’ needs.

Military advice has got to be pure and unencumbered by political influence for as long as it can be. Too often debates that take place in NATO military committees come already infused with national political guidance so the resulting military advice is sometimes not free of political influence. I think this is something we should watch very carefully in the future. The Comprehensive Political Guidance (CPG) is a step in the right direction but it does not take into account the significant paradox that exists between NATO’s ambition to be able to conduct three major joint operations plus a number of lesser operations nearly simultaneously versus the reality that this is probably not the threat we will face. So we have the dichotomy of being told to build what is necessary to meet a threat that we do not think we will ever face and a guidance document that orients us in the other direction. Clearly there is tension there that must be resolved and I believe it can be resolved in the coming year. We need to affirm whether we are principally a reactive alliance or whether we are really willing to bite the bullet to take on a proactive engagement strategy, especially with regard to the most probable threats to our collective security. I believe that Riga can answer a lot of these questions and show us the way ahead.

Everyone knew that the anchor point of the Alliance in the 20th century was the Soviet Union. It was clear: we had a border, we had an opposing army, we had a very understandable construct that we could put on a slide and show everybody what we were doing and why we were doing it. But what is the anchor point that binds the transatlantic community in this century? I suggest that there is more than one and that we should announce them to our citizens and stimulate discussions through such workshops as this one. Furthermore, we should task our military authorities to develop concepts for ways in which NATO can add value by addressing the security threats on both sides of the Atlantic—including energy security, the defense of critical infrastructure, weapons of mass destruction, narco-trafficking, stability, security and reconstruction missions, and terrorism. I think we should explore possibilities with other international agencies with which we have relationships, from the U.N. to the EU to the African Union to the Red Cross, and with national agencies in countries including Pakistan, Australia, South Korea, and Japan.

Transformation must continue and it must continue in depth, with no rock—not a stone—left unturned. Concepts and common funding approaches are well worth discussing, particularly if one wishes to have a NATO Response Force that means anything. When you create a NATO Response Force, you are also hanging a sign under it that says “use it or lose it.” To use it, you have to enable it to be successful, and part of that is having agile funding. Today, there are too many disincentives in the Alliance for countries to step forward willingly and offer forces for the NATO Response Force. The primary disincentive, in my view, is not capacity—the capacity is there—but economics. Some nations fear that if they offer forces to the NRF, by God, NATO might actually use them and then they would have to pay for it. This is a legitimate concern. So we need to build agility into our system to empower the NATO Response Force in order to realize the full potential of our transformational response.

Strategic lift is another critical shortfall in the Prague capability commitments. Happily, discussions are ongoing about how to remedy this. I really could care less about which solution is found as long as NATO finally gets some organic capability to transport troops to the great strategic distances we face.

We should also celebrate the arrival of the NATO Response Force, NATO’s single most visible example of operational transformation. We should also celebrate the arrival of new enablers such as strategic lift and AGS, which are essential to our success, especially in a country the size of Afghanistan. Additionally, we should endorse NATO’s willingness to be more proactive by taking on new training missions and expanded security sector reform programs. We should announce NATO’s willingness and intent to establish a Special Operations capability within the operational world of NATO. Finally, we should endorse the creation of the Intelligence Fusion Center that recently was opened in Molesworth in the United Kingdom, a center that will for the first time provide organic intelligence to such concepts as the NRF and to our commanders in the field.


All of this is to say that 2006 is a big year in NATO. We have the opportunity to explain who we are, what we do, and why it is important to our people. We have the opportunity to take the Prague Summit’s direction on transformation and enlargement to levels that may not even have been visualized by the conferees in 2002. We have the opportunity to consider NATO’s potential roles in a world of asymmetric threats without taking our eye off the ball regarding conventional threat realities. And for all of us who care deeply about the Alliance’s brilliant past and challenging present, we have the opportunity to make NATO’s most important contributions to global collective peace and security in the times ahead.

Questions and Answers following General Jones’s Address

Question (unidentified ): First, within NATO, is there a sort of conceptual boundary for the application of the new NATO? Where do you stop or where do you go? What if something were to happen in Burma? What about if Al Qaeda relocated its headquarters to Indonesia? What about the Falkland Islands? A NATO boundary may be obvious to you but looking from our side it is not so clear.

Second, transformation is of course mission driven. But while we are transforming there are lots of complaints from the locals who harbor American bases—for example, 75% of the military bases are clustered in Okinawa. How can the burden of transformation on local communities be reduced?

General Jones: The answer to your first question is rooted in the politics of the Alliance, in what it is that the Alliance wishes to do. From an operational command viewpoint, as the one who takes the assets that nations provide to the Alliance and employs them at increasingly greater distances, I believe we will come to a point at which we simply cannot do more without taking on risk that is unacceptable. While we are expanding in terms of missions and political will, we are also facing diminished resources and I do not see that changing. I must tell you that I am not an optimist here and you cannot do everything with increasingly fewer resources. So there will be a moment in time when, if political guidance asks NATO and SHAPE to provide military advice on how we would handle a certain operation somewhere in the world, we might say, or my successor might say, “We cannot do this; we don’t have enough people, they are not trained, or we don’t have the resources.” There definitely are limits, but what they are I will leave up to my political masters and to the realities of physics. My sense is that we are approaching the wall very quickly.

To answer your second point, I am very sensitive to local issues by virtue of my own career in the Marine Corps and my many visits to Okinawa. I understand that problem very well. As far as NATO goes, the Alliance probably will not go anywhere it is not invited by local authorities and representatives of the local community. NATO will always look for a broad international agreement that says we would like NATO to go here. The Alliance will not impose itself on anyone without some dialogue that says there is a will for NATO to come. That is generally the way the Alliance works—it takes 26 nations to agree on any one operation or any one movement toward international activity. From a national viewpoint, I would say that part of U.S. transformation is to reduce the massive Cold War buildup and to make our forces acceptable to the countries in which that buildup took place. We are fortunate in Europe to have a welcoming environment in Germany, Italy, the U.K., and other places, but we are dramatically downsizing those forces to the tune of about 35%. However, I believe the way we are reducing our forces will make us strategically more agile to do the things that should be done in the area of operation in which we are privileged to work.

Question from Ambassador Adamia, Georgian Ambassador to the U.N.: The previous question put my thoughts in a little bit different light. I would say that the expansion of NATO is not geographical. It is not the Falkland Islands or Thailand or whatever that is key. The expansion of NATO is for security, security of the nation-states and the values shared by them. You touched on that question, General, when you said that some nations are willing to enter NATO and that no nations want to leave NATO. But there are nations that do not want to enter NATO because they have slightly different security values. The key is who is willing to enter the camp of nations that share the common values of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights and share common security values. This is the main issue to me and I want to hear your opinion on that. It may be a little exaggerated but the situation we face is like that in the co-ops in Manhattan—space is limited, so admittance is on a first-come, first-served basis. I do not think that this is wise. And I can see that there are some countries that express their aspirations but have a lot of conditions, similar to my wanting to enter a university and having to pass exams and meet other requirements. Yes, exams are needed but they should not be the key. The key should be the values, but if the values are there you said the capability is limited. Do you see some changes in the rules of transformation that will allow nation-states that are willing to enter the Alliance to actually enter the Alliance?

General Jones: On the question of common values, I could not agree with you more. I think that the global community is being constructed by virtue of the approaches of the countries that are great distances apart, including Australia, South Korea, and Japan. Real overtures are being made to the Alliance as a result of common values and because of common security concerns. So it seems to me that the global community is coming together based on common threats to our futures, and that’s a good thing.

With regard to future membership and future expansion, those are really political questions and good ones. But if I may refer to the recent NATO enlargement, I can tell you that one of the things that impressed me about the seven new members is not only their enthusiasm for being in the Alliance but the value they add to the Alliance. So as somebody who deeply cares about NATO, I answer the question “What do you think about the future members of NATO?” by saying that future members will have to bring value to the Alliance and that we should not go too fast to appease political expediency. Countries that wish to be members must meet the test and the Alliance must wish to expand.

In NATO we have what we call the Mediterranean Dialogue. It has existed for a number of years. Its defining characteristic until about two years ago was that it was a political dialogue and to say that it was surviving would be a stretch. Then NATO agreed to infuse the Mediterranean Dialogue with a military context and the Dialogue immediately changed. Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, the seven members of the Mediterranean Dialogue, now regularly come to Brussels and to SHAPE and are considering new ways in which they can add to the security of the Mediterranean, both on the issue of collective security and what is going on at their borders. This is just one example of what I mean when I say that NATO is moving in directions that we could only have imagined just a few years ago. And it is healthy, it is good. It is great to see the enthusiasm of these seven countries as they sit with and talk to the 26 members of NATO and discuss the issues that are of concern to us all.

When and how NATO expands in the future is certainly beyond my purview—that is for the Alliance to discuss. But I can say that I think the future value of members is important. Future members must bring value to the Alliance, and that will happen.

Question from Dr. Fasslabend, former Austrian Defense Minister: General, I agree with everything you said, one point being that there must be clarity. But this is an area in which we need to work quite a bit. For example, regarding the war against terrorism, we do not even define our enemy and you cannot defeat an enemy if you don’t define it. So what I want to ask you is, “What can we do in order to better define the military world for the future?” We need to define not only the enemy but also the tasks for the military—who is a prisoner, who is not. Soldiers need clarity and without it we will have problems.

I also want to ask a second question. Right now we have a worldwide intelligence crisis, not only in the United States but in France, Germany, and many other states. As we think about the future, what can we do about this?

General Jones: On the issue of clarity, I completely agree. I think that there are several aspects of clarity. One, of course, is that we must be clear with our people as to what it is NATO does, why it does it, and why we think it is important to them. But we also need clarity in terms of NATO’s mission. What is NATO’s level of ambition? And how are we organizing ourselves, and against what family of threats? Do we follow clear values that service the anchor points of the transatlantic community and that say we are determined, we are united, and that we can do this? I don’t think we do yet, though I think we are getting there if you look at Afghanistan, Iraq, and Darfur and at some of the things we are doing. You can see that the institution is capable of moving in the right direction, which is something to be celebrated but something we must articulate to give us clarity.

Question from Ambassador Novotny, Czech Ambassador to Japan: You gave us a very impressive list of transformation activities on the military side of NATO, but I have a very strong feeling that the political decision-making process has not changed. I believe you can send NATO forces within 72 hours or even 48 hours, but is NATO capable of making decisions within 48 hours? I am afraid that NATO’s political decision-making process is the same as it was in the Cold War but that the military side is in the 21stcentury. Am I right or am I wrong?

General Jones: This is a very interesting question. What I can tell you is that there have been demonstrations of rapid decision making in the Alliance in the near past. For example, the decision to embark on a humanitarian mission in Pakistan was made very quickly by the North Atlantic Council. So it is not quite a black and white scenario. However, the decision to go to Iraq was a very agonizing one: the Alliance was split and it took a number of months to arrive at a consensus through which NATO would start a three-phased mission in Iraq. But it is hard to say in general that NATO’s decision making is too slow; that is unfair to the process and it is not always true. But neither can you say that it is always too fast. I think your point is correct, that as you transform the operational arm you gain the ability to react to external stimuli and do things quickly. The NATO Response Force, for example, was conceived as a force that can move its elements within five days after receipt of its mission. But the question is, “Why do you have a force like that if the decision to use it takes six months?” However, my point was not to criticize the decision making process but to say that one of NATO’s most cherished values is the principle of consensus.

So my question to reformers is, “Why is it that at the committee level—I think at the last count there were 350 committees in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—that we can’t move issues through the system faster? If you have to have consensus, why can’t you do it in the one place that you really need it, perhaps the Military Committee or the North Atlantic Council? While I haven’t been particularly victimized by slow political decisions once they got to the North Atlantic Council—though getting them there, especially if they are financial in nature, can be very painful—I do think you can make some reforms that would generally speed up the process.

Question from Ambassador Nowak, Polish Ambassador to NATO: I agree with your argument that we must be proactive, not reactive, because doing so goes with the challenges we face in the 21stcentury. However, I would argue that we should not completely leave out the reactive attitude as well. What do I have in mind? In Poland, when I meet with the Polish electorate or when our defense or foreign ministers have to explain to the population, “Why NATO?”, the main question that people have is, “Will NATO protect us?” There is no danger to us at the moment but we are a historically minded nation and we know that things can change in seven or ten years. What is ten years? It is not much. So my question is, “With the expeditionary character of missions evolving, will we continue to have capability?”

General Jones: I very much appreciate the ambassador’s intervention and I would say that he has a very legitimate question. I tried to address it in my presentation by saying that we must be careful—that while we are pushing to respond to the asymmetric nature of the present world we cannot forget that the future may also require conventional reactive capabilities that we must have in order to execute Article 5 of our NATO charter. I also postulated that wars have been started over the issue of energy, and while I am not predicting it, I am saying that if you look at whose hands are on the tiller of the world’s energy now, there is reason for concern because nations are starting to use energy and their ability to produce energy as an instrument of national power. Where that leads, I have no idea, but I do absolutely insist that the Alliance has to be true to its nature, which means that, reactively or proactively, we have to be ready to go in either direction.

Clearly no one can predict with accuracy a humanitarian catastrophe, an earthquake, or the like. So we need to be able to react to certain stimuli, and that has to be built into our system. We also need to be reactive to unforeseen events that cause some nations to fear for their internal security or their security overall, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has to be true to its fundamental charter. I do think we are doing that, but at the same time it is fair to say that we cannot only be a reactive alliance. In the 21stcentury, we may need to be reactive only a small part of the time but we should always be able to react.

Question from General Joulwan, former SACEUR: Because you have in the audience not only ambassadors and politicians but also Chiefs of Defense, defense contractors from both Europe and the United States, as you get ready to deploy, I would like to ask what is it this group can help you with in terms of what you need for what I would call conditions for success. What do you need in the way of capability that you don’t have? What do you need that perhaps the political, the military, and the defense community here can help you with? What do you need as you get ready to deploy?

General Jones: This is a very important question that lends itself both to lists of things and to reform. If I had my druthers I think complete reform would be the most beneficial. We need to better understand that the systems we created were very successful in the last century against a static, unformed enemy operating on a clear boundary, but that at least in the short term we now face an enemy that transcends nation-state actors and borders. So we need to have instruments and abilities to respond quickly to these challenges.

First, though, we need to accept the fact that we wish to take these challenges on, and that has not been done. We are talking about it. In fact, we just had an interesting breakfast with the permanent representatives on the subject of energy and security and the role that NATO could play in energy and security issues in the defense of critical infrastructures. We have many vulnerabilities there, and we don’t know if it is a national issue. So we need more agile instruments of support for our expeditionary and rapid capabilities, common logistics, common intelligence, deployable CIS, AGS, all of those things that are very important but that cost money and generally are slow in arriving. I also think we have to figure out better and more agile ways in which to account for the money that we get and ask ourselves, “Are we really spending our money wisely? Because only 10% of NATO’s budget actually goes to operations.”

General Joulwan: In the light of what you just said, what risks do you incur in deploying 25,000 troops to Afghanistan?

General Jones: The risks depend on where you are in the country, because it is a big country. But I would say in general that the hardest thing to generate in the Alliance is helicopters. If I could solve the military problems of the Alliance using jet fighters, we would have no problem. Everybody is very happy to give us fighters—I think we have 2,700 fighters. If you want to deploy fighters to defend the Baltics, no problem. If you want to send fighters to do air shows, no problem. If you want to send fighters to Afghanistan, no problem. But if you want to get helicopters to send to Afghanistan, big problem. The fact is, the environment in Afghanistan is very tough on helicopters and maintaining helicopters is expensive. If nations don’t have the money, they are going to sit on their hands when you say we need helicopters. So to answer your question, in Afghanistan the most critical problem is a lack of helicopters.

Slightly behind that but not quite as bad is fixed-wing transportation, which along with helicopters is very important to our ability to move a 25,000-man force in a very big country and enable that force to get to where you need them when you need them. I must say that we have been lucky in Afghanistan. Even though NATO has been in the northern half of Afghanistan, from July on we will be in the southern region and I think, very quickly after that, NATO will have the entire country. Then the metrics will change. We will have to be able to reinforce our 23 Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), which are 100-man teams that are all over the country. We will also have to be able to satisfy our nations that we can come to their rescue quickly if they need it. Right now the PRT is the most visible symbol of international commitment to the people of Afghanistan, and we have never had a PRT overrun. If that happens it will be a serious psychological blow not only to the reconstruction of Afghanistan but to our own mission. So to make sure that doesn’t happen, we need to have rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft that can deploy to reinforce any of our PRTs in time of need. Right now we don’t have that, and it’s one of the things that keeps me awake at night.


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