SHAPE Chief of Staff General Karl-Heinz Lather


Lather Karl-Heinz

The Future Challenges

General Karl-Heinz Lather
Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe (SHAPE)

The agenda of this year’s workshop on global security really addresses most of the issues that we collectively envisage. Apart from the Antarctic and Australia, I think we will cover the world during the workshop, so it is really a globalized effort we are undertaking.


As you can see from my uniform, I am a European, I am a German, and I am a NATO guy at the same time. Looking back on 43 years of service in the German armed forces and in NATO and the EU, I see that a lot has changed. Because I am currently at the strategic level of NATO within SHAPE, where you face the interface between politics and the military, it is pretty clear to me that the changes ahead of us will be more demanding than those of the past. They will require political, economic, social, and military skills to find proper acceptable solutions—solutions that are acceptable to both the people of this world and our alliances and nations.

We call these solutions the comprehensive approach, and we need to fill out that term. Those of us who have a bit of insight into the process of the new NATO Strategic Concept know about the Multiple Futures Project, which Allied Command Transformation (ACT) mainly led. This project was a kind of introduction to the efforts of Madeleine Albright and her group and was very well discussed both in the Military Committee and the NATO Council. It was very much present when the global experts met over the past year and certainly influenced the report that Madeleine Albright sent to the Secretary General. So it will have an effect; what effect remains to be seen. There are some key questions to ask, and I am going to address just a few on the “shopping list” that are important to me.


Article 4 was mentioned already. Article 5 was also mentioned, and it remains key to NATO. I think all of us, certainly all of us in NATO, would agree that there is a need to reassure all of our Alliance members that Article 5 is the most vital part of our common treaty.

With all of the many politicians and many media sources talking about what is ahead of us, there is also a need for a new approach to partnering, reaching out, on the political side. We come from Partnership for Peace, which is now much wider, with a regional and a global focus. The NATO-Russia relationship, the NATO-Ukraine relationship, and the NATO-Georgia relationship specifically need to be addressed, but there is also the beginning of NATO-Australia-New Zealand cooperation and there is a NATO-China possibility and certainly a NATO-Pakistan possibility. So I think partnering from a political angle needs to be readdressed. I do not know whether this is the first time at this workshop that we have South Americans with us, but South Americans are currently active in ISAF, and we need to address this relationship as well.
Because there is always the question of how to balance home defense and territorial defense, the classic function of NATO and our expeditionary capabilities, we may need to ask the question—certainly we do for my country—What are our people prepared to invest in their national and multinational security? I think it is a key question, not only for nations but for the Alliance as well. For many of us, even the very moderate 2% annual GNP portion to go into defense is astronomical from a national point of view or budget. The question is what the military should look like in the future. Are areas like cyber defense, energy security, the consequences of climate change, and space military tasks? Do we need structures to counter threats to those things? Do we need new equipment, other equipment, to do that? Do we have the right command and control in place to cope with such tasks if they are given to us? And what is the priority task for the military of the future? Is it fighting terrorism, is it education and training of armies of states that are failing or have failed, or is it the classical home defense, which is dear to everybody? All of that has to do, of course, with affordability, and we all know about the budget and financial crisis we are all in. It also has to do with burden sharing: If you are in the Alliance, you have to share the same burden if you share the same values. So it is about national and multinational solutions.

I think the State Secretary from Germany mentioned the need to intensify cooperation between organizations like NATO and the EU. That is dear to me as well; that is my professional experience. We must overcome the lack of cooperation. We all play with and use the same toolbox, and for political reasons we cannot do it efficiently and effectively. I think we have to maintain the nuclear deterrent as long as there is a nuclear threat in the world. We also have to make decisions collectively on that, but I think there is also the need to renew and readdress the quite successful arms control effort that we have seen over the past decade or so.


Because I was appointed as a member of the German Defense Restructuring Commission, which is ongoing, I could elaborate on the shopping list that is very similar to the one we have at NATO and at the European Union and other places. But I will not go into that detail. After all, I think we are globally interconnected, which creates opportunities as it creates uncertainties and threats. Above all, it requires a mental and a physical flexibility, both for individuals, their nations, their alliances, and, of course, their military.
The times when you entered into an army and left it the same way are over. I think you never fully left it the same way, but nowadays it is even less true. I will give you two examples about that from NATO, where I currently work. At ISAF, over the 12 months before this workshop, we saw the forces there increase by about 60,000. We saw three new headquarters, the ISAF Joint Command, the NTM-A Headquarters, and now the emergence of a new regional headquarters in southwest Afghanistan. And the Afghan Mission Network, which is the CIS network in Afghanistan, will be at an IOC on July 1, 2010. Prior to that, nothing was there on that at all. It is all pretty new and dynamic. We are applying a different military and political strategy there, what we call counterinsurgency, which, in black and white terms, now takes the people into focus and not the killing of Taliban members.

On the side of NATO in Europe, in the Alliance, it took about five years to conclude a peer review. We are now entering into a new NATO command structure but, as we are doing that, we are already in the process of developing a new one. Ministers who are sitting here will make decisions on that, will take note of where we stand in the thinking, and then agree and authorize the Secretary General to go ahead the week after this workshop. It is all taking place in parallel, and is just one example of how quickly things change. I look forward to the very wide range of other changes and topics that we will address during this workshop.


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