General Sir James Everard, KCB, CBE
Former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe
should never stop reading, listening and learning, and yet we are often
too immersed in the daily grind and crises (and there is always a
crisis), to the point that too few of us do. This why the work of the
Defence & Security Forum is so valuable in keeping us honest. In
this case on NATO and whether the Alliance is inadequate or
What we believe depends on where we sit. I am a military pragmatists.
My tribe like things that can be observed and measured. We know the
crucial importance of understanding the opponent. We like strategies
that pass the test of reality (remembering that even the best
strategies do not come with a guarantee of success).
You may or may not my version of contemporary and future history.
You may or may not believe that our strategic partnership with Russia
is long-dead, and the Kremlin sees itself at war and is operating now
to destabilise the West.
You may or may not believe that the West and rules-based international order is in retreat.
You may or may not believe that China can simultaneously be a partner, competitor and rival.
You may or may not believe that Europe’s inability to set its strategic
compass and compromise between different visions will produce a Europe
without a vision.
You may or may not know how NATO works, that Capitals retain
decision-making authority – and so when we are critical of the Alliance
we are implicitly critical of ourselves.
You may have your own truth. Good. I will listen and learn. However,
no-one can deny we are now a long, long way from the post-Cold War
triumph of liberal democracy and the so-called End of History.
I believe the threats to the Euro-Atlantic Area from Russia, China and Terrorist Groups are very real.
I believe that the understanding of war in Russia has broadened to
embrace non-military means, but that this approach is underpinned by
its conventional and nuclear capabilities – and we ignore these at our
I believe that given these threats NATO remains an extra-ordinary instrument for building common purpose across Allies.
I believe that if the Alliance did not exist we would be working to create it.
I recognise that present tensions in the Alliance are harmful, but
observe that this is not a new phenomenon and in hard times NATO has
always overcome the different, sometimes contradictory perspectives of
And yet for all this NATO is not yet the best it can be.
The first problem is that NATO is a mystery to many people.
Governments (for reasons good and bad) have not educated their
populations on the threat or what NATO does to keep them safe. This
lack of understanding is a vulnerability.
In 2017, 73% of Britons approved of NATO, today it is only 50%. In
France, it is 39% - and falling. In Spain favourability towards NATO
(different poll and different metric) is 29%, in Germany 30% and Italy
35%. 25% of NATO supporters in the UK also admit (YouGov UK December
2019) they do not know what NATO does, whilst a further 15% believe
NATO is the military wing of the United Nations.
The second related problem is that the question of how Europe defends
itself is not ‘mainstream’. The debate is live today amongst our policy
makers, not because of the actions of our adversaries, but because we
fear the American security umbrella can no longer be taken for granted.
This given US (and UK) powerplay in and around the Pacific designed to
match the pace of China’s rise. This given our untidy retreat from
As an aside commentators were quick to say that NATO failed in Afghanistan, but I remind you again we are NATO.
What happened? The NATO non-combat Mission RESOLUTE SUPPORT (which
included US troops) sat alongside and was interdependent on a US-led
counterterrorism mission (which included Allied troops) both under a
single (US-NATO) Commander serving two masters, but bound together
(held together) by one simple idea: In Together-Out Together.
Did President Trump have the right to speak for or negotiate with the
Taliban on behalf of all international and NATO troops in Afghanistan?
Even if many Nations (and 49 deployed troops at one time or another)
were only there to support the US he did not.
But challenging President Trump was potentially
counter-productive for NATO and so Brussels and Capitals avoided
self-harm and went with the flow: In Together: Out Together.
Did Allies have concerns? Yes, but in truth no-one wanted to be left
holding the baby in a country rotten with corruption, where no-one in
government appeared to be accountable for anything, in a nation still
stuck (to quote Kim Barker) somewhere between the 7th Century and Las
In the end it was not the fact that the US had decided to leave
Afghanistan, but the manner of the negotiations that put US domestic
politics ahead of our commitment to the Afghan government and people
without a Plan B and the nature of (our) collective departure. Clearly
nobody expected the house of cards in Afghanistan to fall so quickly,
but it did and we are all embarrassed and exposed by our failure.
As a result the nagging doubts over US reliability were reinforced,
compounded by a pandemic that has exposed the weakness and fragility of
All this further emboldens Russia and China.
How do we recover?
By ensuring that the US and the Allies get their collective act
together in NATO to ensure the future of our democracies are defended
from a position of strength.
To do this we need to again prioritise Collective Defence and deliver
on the commitments already made at the Brussels Leader’s Summit this
year (2021) to not only update the 2010 Strategic Concept (the official
document that outlines NATO’s purpose, nature and fundamental tasks)
but also take forward a new military strategy to (quote) strengthen our
ability to deter and defend against any potential adversary and to
maintain and develop our military advantage now and in the future.
The background to these commitments is interesting. In 2016, despite a
number of sensible tactical steps taken by the Alliance since the
Russian Annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Alliance remained wedded to
Crisis Response and had not recognised Russia as a threat.
Three SACEURs in a row worked closely with the Military Committee to
strengthen NATO. A NATO Military Strategy was produced in 2019. This
recognised Russia and Terrorism as threats to the Alliance, and moved
the Alliance away from a strategy of reaction to one of action. This
Strategy was only ever noted by the North Atlantic Council (they
reserved judgement), but it was then followed by a detailed Concept for
the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA) which was
DDA is the agent of change for NATO
It is long. It remains classified, but DDA both upholds the defensive
nature of the Alliance and sets out how NATO armed forces plan to deal
with the two main threats, Russia and Terrorist Groups. It is also
elastic and can be applied elsewhere.
DDA visualises the complex nature of modern warfare as a contest, where
deterrence must demonstrate an intelligence-led and unambiguous ability
to defend, and defence relies on controlling geographic areas and the
multiple domains of warfare simultaneously, allied to the ability to
deliver Forces, Fires and Effects at speed.
This Concept was then brought to life – underpinned – by a
Strategic Plan (known as the SACEURs Strategic Plan – the SASP). This
is the first military strategic plan for the employment of the military
instrument since 1968, and builds on Alliance peacetime activities and
provides an area wide perspective across the five domains to directly
challenge our adversaries.
It also contains a strategic framework that defines Military Strategic
Objectives and links these to Military Strategic Effects and Military
Strategic Actions, making the act of political control much easier.
DDA has been approved at 30, and the SASP has now been sent to the
Alliance’s supreme political body, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) for
But the military are already acting. Within his Authorities SACEUR has
already issued a Directive for Peacetime Vigilance based on the logic
of DDA. This aims to harmonise the peacetime military activity
conducted by Allies. Indeed, many Allies are already embracing this new
methodology during their peace-time activities, with the UK best in
However, there are those in Brussels and Capitals who do not like the
concept or idea of 'unpeace' and where this might take us.
Their concerns are reasonable and need to be addressed, but they
(perhaps) think the military have moved too quickly, and are ahead of,
or have gained too much influence over the political process. For now
they have gone with the tide, but I think we will see more debate on
how we defend Europe as we close with the delivery of DDA-SASP. What
would they say if they were here?
That it is easier to find visible ways to counter, contest, complicate
and circumvent our competitors than meet well-defined military
strategic objectives; that competition encourages competition and so
the death-spiral begins; that our actions will simply increase the
Russian sense of insecurity; that this is going to be costly; that it
diverts attention from NATO 2030 with a militarized strategy when what
we really need a more political NATO with more creative non-kinetic
Capitals retain decision-making authority in NATO and I hope these
questions have been looked at, our leaders are reassured and will now
stick to their guns. In delivery DDA-SASP provides a strategic
framework that both enhances political control and will help restore
balance and sustain peace in the Euro-Atlantic Area. NATO is already
stronger because it is beginning to act as one to a common vision.
Important because Russia respects strength. The alternative? Drift,
reaction and lost opportunities on a downward path to mediocrity and an
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, US power allowed
Europeans to believe that military power was no longer important (to
paraphrase Robert Kagan). Defence spending fell by around 30% between
1991 and 2015. We (Europe) were slow to accept the true nature of the
threats we face, and too slow to adapt strategically, because it was
just / is just so politically and economically difficult to do so – and
we hoped there was an easier way.
We instead provided space to our opponents in the hope they would
off-ramp, or that we could transform them through rapprochement,
through trade or simply by giving time to time. We feared provoking
them, and often turned the other cheek. None of this has worked. And
all the time we have given ground, and no longer hold the
Our intentions were honourable, but I suspect that Basil Liddell Hart
would have called our efforts to date head-in-the-sand Ostrichism (read
Defence of the West). Others would call it complacency, and history
shows us that complacency is ‘the curse of our forces and the killer of
our men’ (General Francis Tuker, Commander 4th Indian Division, North
So, what to do?
The 2022 Strategic Concept must communicate a clear Alliance
understanding of future warfare and drive forward the implementation of
We must invest more effort in educating our populations on matters of
security and defence, until (to quote Isaiah) the eyes of the blind
shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Our voters must understand that today we are losing without really knowing it, and that there is a better way.
We must rebuild our military capabilities for a multi-domain fight
because our technological edge in all the domains of warfare has faded.
And when the time is right NATO must also
allow outsiders to ‘red team’ its thinking. Shining a light on what we
are doing (transparency) is a vital part of being an Alliance of
Finally, for NATO to genuinely be a strategic actor in the 21st Century
will also require the UK to lead others by the hand. Indeed, the UK is
one of very few countries (perhaps only country) with the
self-interest, knowledge and mana to lead in NATO. NATO is often
secondary in the thinking of all Allies. We (the UK) can change this,
can lead in NATO by word and deed, so that we can all sleep soundly in
our beds because the Alliance stands ready in the night to deter and
defend - and our adversaries know this to be true.
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