General Karl-Heinz Lather: "We are committed to success"

Posted in Broader Middle East | 27-Jun-08 | Author: Dieter Farwick

- Exclusive Interview with General Karl-Heinz Lather, Chief of Staff SHAPE, conducted by Dieter Farwick -

NATO General Karl-Heinz Lather, Chief of Staff SHAPE: "Cohesion and solidarity will continue to be the glue that binds the…
NATO General Karl-Heinz Lather, Chief of Staff SHAPE: "Cohesion and solidarity will continue to be the glue that binds the Alliance together and must maintained at all costs."
Dieter Farwick: Sir, “transformation” is the term to describe the process NATO and NATO member states have been undergoing since the end of the Cold War. Where does NATO stand now that it is close to celebrating its 60th anniversary?

General Karl-Heinz Lather: As Chief of Staff, Allied Command Operations, my focus is on current NATO military operations. The task of Alliance Transformation falls to Supreme Allied Command - Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia. Yet, our future capability to succeed in operations is, of course, a concern for the entire Alliance.

NATO has demonstrated a remarkable capability to adjust to the rapid changes confronting European, North American, and global security since the end of the Cold War. The Alliance has been confronted with instability, humanitarian crises, regional conflict, and terrorism on a multi-national scale. This is the reality of the 21st Century and NATO has responded with capabilities at hand and has developed new capabilities, new policies, and new partnerships to meet these challenges.

NATO is now entering its most challenging period of transformation, adapting not only to the realities of a changed Europe, but also to those of a changed world. NATO is taking important steps to complete its transformation from a static, reactive Alliance focused on territorial defense to an expeditionary, proactive one that works with nations to deter and defeat the spectrum of 21st Century threats confronting our collective security.

Finally, I would like to state that the concept of transformation is a never ending cycle of assessment and adaptation. There is no ending point for transformation. As the environment changes, so must this Alliance in order to remain relevant and effective.

Dieter Farwick: The integration of numerous new member states into NATO’s political and military structure would have been a great challenge without any additional parallel task. Multi-nationality, cohesion, interoperability, different national cultural backgrounds and the efficiency in NATO HQ have to be brought into balance. Where do the NATO HQs stand in this context?

General Karl-Heinz Lather: As the Chief of Staff for Allied Command Operations, I can address the military aspects of this question. For the political aspects I will respectfully defer to NATO HQ in Brussels.

Having said that, yes, the NATO enlargement might be seen as a great challenge. In fact, the NATO integration process is a very complex task involving different economic, political, military, geographic, national, cultural and many others factors. We have to bear in mind that not only armed forces but the whole country is joining the Alliance. Therefore, practical steps have to be taken to move the process forward in a manner that ensures Alliance goals and policies would not be compromised.

In order to minimize the potential risk of loosing the Alliance cohesion, interoperability, efficiency and military abilities, the Alliance undertook two basic, yet fundamental assessments. In 1995 we introduced the Study on NATO Enlargement which examined the “why and how” of future admissions into the Alliance and a Membership Action Plan (MAP) was established at the Washington Summit in April 1999.

With regard to “why” of NATO enlargement, the study concluded that, with the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact, there was both a need for and a unique opportunity to build improved security in the whole Euro-Atlantic area, without recreating new dividing lines.

With regard to “how” the Alliance would expand, the study confirmed that any future NATO membership extension would be in accordance with North Atlantic Treaty Article 10. Once admitted, new members would enjoy all the rights and assume all the obligations of membership. They would need to accept and conform to the principles, policies and procedures adopted by all members of the Alliance at the time they joined. The willingness and ability to meet such commitments would be a critical factor in any decision taken by the Alliance to invite a country to join.

With respect to the MAP we are actually talking about providing a practical tool for NATO to assist, provide advice, and practical support to countries wishing to join the Alliance. At the beginning of each MAP cycle, aspirants submit an annual national programme on preparations for possible membership, covering political, economic, defence, military, resource, security and legal issues. They set their own objectives, targets and work schedules and update them annually. At the end of the cycle, NATO draws up progress reports for the individual countries. These form the basis of a discussion between North Atlantic Council and the country concerned on progress made. All candidate countries have to meet the criteria that would enable membership invitations to be extended to them to begin accession talks.

All these precautions ensure the overall NATO ability to demonstrate that extending the sphere of stability in the Euro-Atlantic area would definitely enhance security and would be in the interest of every country sharing the Euro-Atlantic democratic values.

Dieter Farwick: NATO’s politico-military commitment in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia and in Afghanistan have been demanding military operations over great distances. What are the main lessons that you have learned?

General Karl-Heinz Lather: NATO has seen a significant increase in expeditionary operations, resulting in a review of many “legacy” systems and processes to ensure we are fully prepared to effectively operate beyond our boarders. This new reality requires the Alliance and its members to focus on the development of leaner, deployable and sustainable capabilities.

Experiences, in Afghanistan and the Balkans demonstrate that the international community needs to work more closely and must take a comprehensive approach to successfully address the security challenges of today and tomorrow. Effective implementation of a comprehensive approach requires the cooperation and contribution of all major actors, including that of Non-Governmental Organisations and relevant local bodies. To this end, it is essential for all major international actors to progress in a coordinated manner, and to apply a wide spectrum of civil and military instruments leveraging their respective strengths and mandates.

At the Bucharest Summit the NATO countries endorsed an Action Plan comprising a set of pragmatic proposals to develop and implement NATO’s contribution to a comprehensive approach. These proposals aim to improve the coherent application of NATO’s own crisis management instruments and enhance practical cooperation at all levels with other actors, wherever appropriate, including provisions for support to stabilization and reconstruction, as we do in Afghanistan. They relate to areas such as planning and conduct of operations; training and education; and enhancing cooperation with external actors. It is necessary to emphasize that this Action Plan, taken as a matter of priority, will be kept under continual review, taking into account all relevant developments as well as lessons learned.

"In Afghanistan an estimated 35,000 children who would otherwise have died are alive thanks to the immunisation programme."
"In Afghanistan an estimated 35,000 children who would otherwise have died are alive thanks to the immunisation programme."
Dieter Farwick: Sir, the ongoing commitment in Afghanistan is a litmus test for the survival of NATO as a reliable and trustworthy alliance. The public domestic support for this commitment is at most fragile. The media too often concentrate on negative events. What are in your view the major achievements so far in Afghanistan?

General Karl-Heinz Lather: Again, I will have to defer the political aspects of this question to NATO HQ in Brussels while focusing my answers on the military aspects and ACO.

It is important to say that NATO/ISAF’s mission is to help create a secure and stable environment for the people of Afghanistan in support of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Our strategic objectives are the extension of government authority across Afghanistan; the development of the Afghan Government structures necessary to maintain security across the country without the assistance of international forces; the establishment of a stable and secure environment in which sustainable reconstruction and development (R&D) has taken hold.

I am more than confident that our commitment in Afghanistan has already proven that NATO is a reliable and trustworthy organization. Let me present you some facts and figures in terms of security, governance and R&D of what we have achieved since the fall of Taliban.

  • Security
    • Building the Afghan National Army to a point of more than 50,000 soldiers plus over 75,000 Afghan National Policemen assigned.
    • More than 60,000 members of Illegally Armed Groups have been disarmed and more than 100,000 weapons have been collected.
    • In 2007, 70% of significant security incidents activities took place in 10% of AFG districts where less than 6% of Afghans live.
  • Governance
    • Presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections have taken place and women are now sitting in the Afghan Parliament. 28% of the Members of Parliament of the Lower House are female. Legitimate and representative government is now in place.
    • An estimated 4.8 million refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) have returned to their homes.
    • Poppy-free provinces have increase from 6 in 2006 to 14 in 2007. The Afghan Ministry of the Interior estimates that there will be 22 (out of a total of 34 provinces) by the end of 2008.
  • Reconstruction & Development
    • The Afghan economy grew by 29% in 2002, 16% in 2003, 8% in 2004, 14 % each in 2005 and 2006 and 13% in 2007. The fiscal year 2008/09 foresees a similar annual rate of growth.
    • There are now more than 4.5 million cell phone subscribers, up from zero in 2001.
    • There are 300 newspapers, 90 radio stations and 14 TV stations countrywide.
    • Current estimates are that there are now 661 basic health centres, 413 community medical centres, 66 district hospitals and 33 provincial hospitals.
    • An estimated 35,000 children who would otherwise have died are alive thanks to the immunisation programme. Approximately 83% of the population now have access to healthcare as opposed to an estimated 8% in 2001.
    • UNICEF efforts to improve neo and post-natal care have resulted in a 26% decline of infant mortality and a 22% decline of under-5 mortality between 2002 and 2007. This means that 85,000 babies and children under age of 5 did not die in 2007.
    • 350,000 children are vaccinated against polio

Dieter Farwick: On the military side there seems to be a stalemate between US and NATO forces on one side and the Neo-Taliban and other terrorist groups on the other. Neither side can win. Why are NATO member states and their partner states not able to improve the quality and quantity of their troops? What are the main deficits? Is the political resolve of the NATO member states to defeat the Neo-Taliban in due course underdeveloped?

General Karl-Heinz Lather: I do not see a stalemate in Afghanistan. NATO is succeeding – I assure you – and we will continue to succeed, but the international community can and must do more. Today, much of the country is relatively stable with zero or very few major security incidents. Yet, in key areas of the southern and eastern parts of the country, security incidents have increased in number over the past two years as we continue to push into the opposing militant forces’ safe havens.

Successful operations by the Afghan National Army and ISAF have compelled the Opposing Military Forces (OMF), to adopt terrorist tactics – indiscriminate attacks designed to strike at the resolve of not only the Afghan people, but also others committed to progress in Afghanistan. While this activity has affected Afghan and international public opinion, these tactics do not enable Opposing Military Forces expansion on the ground, nor do they undermine our commitment.

Through a series of tactical victories, ISAF has geographically constrained the Opposing Military Forces’ ability to conduct sustained activity. 70% of security incidents in 2007 occurred in only 10%, or 40, of the 396 districts in Afghanistan. These 40 districts are home to less than 6% of Afghanistan’s population. So far in 2008, 91% of insurgent activity has occurred in just 8% of districts. I therefore reject he idea that NATO member states have not the right quality to do the job. On the other hand NATO has not yet completely filled our agreed statement of requirements for forces needed in Afghanistan. We are still short key capabilities and enablers, enablers such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, communications, engineering and air support. Each nation has its own internal issues to be addressed, but a completely resourced force sends a clear message to our adversary and the Afghan people - the message that NATO is committed to achieving success.

I am therefore pleased that at the Bucharest Summit the Heads of State and Government of the 26 NATO Nations and its partners reaffirmed their dedication, citing a ‘firm and shared long term commitment’ toward helping the Afghan people. I see in this dedication also a will for a political resolve to defeat the neo-Taliban.

Dieter Farwick: The commanders on the ground are not happy with the operational freedom they are granted by the nations. So-called caveats – or national red cards - limit the flexibility and readiness to counter attacks from insurgents and terrorists. Is there a chance to bring the number of caveats down? Which caveats are the most blocking ones?

General Karl-Heinz Lather: As I have mentioned above, I strongly believe NATO is making a difference in Afghanistan through the continued support and vital contributions made by 40 NATO and non-NATO nations. However, we can and must do more. We have the strategy and forces to succeed over time.

However, we could achieve the mission much faster and more efficiently with more. To that end we are constantly re-assessing the capabilities required to achieve the political goal and to mitigate any shortfalls.

At the moment, some 80 national caveats are restricting the use of NATO forces, limiting the flexible employment of our formations. Caveats, like shortfalls, increase the risk to every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine and Military Police deployed in theatre. NATO forces are exceptional, but they need as much flexibility as possible to be effective on this asymmetric, irregular battlefield. So in a perfect world, without any caveats the mission in Afghanistan could be easier. But we have to respect the commitments and restrictions made by member nations and plan accordingly. For operational reasons you will understand, I can not discuss details of specific caveats.

"In Afghanistan so far in 2008, 91% of insurgent activity has occured in just 8 % of districts."
"In Afghanistan so far in 2008, 91% of insurgent activity has occured in just 8 % of districts."
Dieter Farwick: There are always voices pointing out that NATO cannot win militarily in Afghanistan. In their view, NATO is failing. This view is based upon a misperception of the military part in a UN peace support operation. The military can only create the military security for non-military nation building and reconstruction of the infrastructure.

Does the military lack a competent civilian partner to cooperate with? Is there a civilian operational plan adequate to the military’s? Is there sufficient civilian coordination to orchestrate state and non-state activities? What should be done?

General Karl-Heinz Lather: Ultimately, the overall international community engagement will succeed only if there is a properly managed and coordinated effort between all the actors. NATO has been working closely with all relevant players, to achieve this.

At the April 2008 Bucharest Summit, NATO Allies and partners reaffirmed their support for the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and agreed to a strategic vision for our security role, supported by a political-military plan. I would like to stress we are not lacking any competent civilian or non-governmental partners. The international community has been demonstrating solid and long-term commitment to the Afghan people. We strongly support the launch of the Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS) which embodies the priorities that the Afghans set for themselves to further develop their country in the next five years. This achievement by the Afghans and for the Afghans is a sound example of progress achieved since 2001. This marks an important step. Under the leadership of the Afghan authorities and through the coordination of the UN, the international community will support its implementation.

I firmly believe we must do more to solicit the active and constructive engagement of Afghanistan’s neighbours, particularly Pakistan. A stable and secure Afghanistan is in their interest. I am sure NATO will continue on playing its part. It will always be ready to provide support within means and capabilities, and in the most effective manner as part of a coherent and comprehensive international approach.

Dieter Farwick: Sir, “unity of command” is one “old” military imperative. In Afghanistan there are two separated command and force structures – the US Operation Enduring Freedom and the NATO-led ISAF operation.

What are the main obstacles to forging a common command and force structure?

General Karl-Heinz Lather: The mandate of ISAF and OEF are different. ISAF is a stabilization mission under the mandate of the United Nations, in support of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, helping to create a secure and stable environment for the people of Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Freedom is a US-led coalition with a mission to counter terrorism and bring security to Afghanistan in collaboration with Afghan forces. OEF has three primary areas of operation which include training and equipping of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, contributing to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development, and conducting counter-terrorism operations. OEF operates under a separate but complimentary mandate to that of ISAF.

From my point of view I do not see any major obstacles in regards of having these two missions carrying out their task in Afghanistan. ISAF and OEF forces maintain close coordination and de-confliction in conducting their missions. We, as well as OEF, preserve the distinction but there is off course mutual support between the two missions where and when needed as both missions have a common goal, namely to create a secure and stable environment for the people of Afghanistan.

Dieter Farwick: A dark chapter in Afghanistan is the lack of success in building up an Afghan police force. The European Union is in charge of this decisive task. As in other failing areas the military has to take over parts of this task – and is often blamed for poor results. Do you see a chance that the EU wants and will change this misery?

General Karl-Heinz Lather: I am sure that just like NATO, the EU agrees that the Afghan National Police, which has grown quickly in numbers in the last years, continues to lag significantly behind the Afghan National Army in professional ability. The ANP presence and policing performance need to be strengthened. Police reform is therefore one of the most critical issues for Afghanistan’s security and stability and even greater efforts are needed in this vital area. Law enforcement is a supporting task for ISAF.

Recent pay and structural reforms are helping, but corruption, criminality and a lack of qualified leadership remain pressing issues. In order to push their performance upwards the Combined International Police Coordination Board (IPCB) was formed. The board consists of representatives of the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan (CSTC-A), EUPOL, UNAMA and the Afghan Ministry of the Interior. It meets once a month under the chairmanship of the Afghan Minister of Interior.

CSTC-A launched the initiative of Focused District Development (FDD) whose main objective is to create secure areas and to build on them. The police corps of 12 selected districts is now undergoing training in Regional Training Centres. Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), trained by US International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Agency (INL) and Germany, replaces the police in selected districts on a temporary basis until they complete their training and return with full equipment.

The high number of ANP casualties – in 2007 more than 1,000 ANP were killed in action and 1,400 wounded - underline the urgent need for better training, equipment and tactical employment. The infrastructure by which pay and benefits are administered must be improved.

Dieter Farwick: Looking forward to NATO’s 60th anniversary, prominent, former highranking generals have requested a new Grand Strategy for NATO. One of their major recommendations is the combination of the military and civilian activities under one umbrella. At the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, NATO member states agreed to develop such a Grand Strategy to be presented at the next NATO summit.

If it is possible to develop a new grand design prior to the summit, what might be new or modified major elements?

General Karl-Heinz Lather: Demands on our Alliance have grown in complexity in the last twenty years, as the security environment has changed and both the scope of our missions and operations and our membership have expanded. This requires continual adaptation and reform. A great deal of progress has already been made in this field, as part of NATO’s overall transformation; but more remains to be done.

At this moment the EU and NATO flag are side by side on the SHAPE Headquarters where my office is. It is a visible symbol of an already ongoing integration of military and civilian cooperation between the EU and NATO.

It was recognized by the heads of state during the Bucharest Summit that this path needs to be further explored and developed. The Secretary General of NATO was requested to chart a path forward, in time for the 2009 Summit, on how to meet these objectives.

This will be a moment of choice and decisions. It will mean that NATO members once again, have to redefine NATO’s future, like it did after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Is NATO to be the organisation that is going to serve as a core element of future security architecture? Are present and new member states willing to take upon them that shared task, meaning more operations like the current one in Afghanistan? These are just a few of the many questions that will have to be discussed and answered on the political level.

Dieter Farwick: There are signals that France may rejoin NATO’s military structure. What are the politico-military advantages for NATO? What would be the footprint of France’s representatives in NATO’s integrated command structure?

General Karl-Heinz Lather: Although not currently a member of the Integrated NATO Command Structure, France has been consistently working within the Alliance for the accomplishment of our shared goals as a political member of the Alliance. France continues to make significant contributions of forces to NATO operations, to include providing the current Commander of KFOR in Kosovo, as well as forces designated to support the NRF.

If France decides to rejoin the NATO Command Structure, NATO could benefit from an increased integration of forces, staff and financial contribution which, ultimately, can only be good for the Alliance.

We recently welcomed FRA contribution of 700 troops to Regional Command - East, allowing a re-deployment of troops to areas of the Regional Command - South, which currently is where the largest concentration of OMF violence is taking place.

Now, as to where France would fit within the integrated command structure, this will be decided, mostly at the political level. Undoubtedly, France will wish to assume appropriate representation, to include leadership roles.

Dieter Farwick: Sir, if you had three wishes left for the future of NATO what would you put on your wish list?

General Karl-Heinz Lather: Since 1949 we now have safeguarded the freedom and security of our member countries and we are actively transforming to confront existing and emerging 21st century security threats. Although no organisation led by a human is perfect, NATO remains a very attractive alliance to join. With every new member accessing our alliance it will strengthen security for all the Euro-Atlantic area, and bring us closer to our goal of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace.

ACO, with SHAPE leading the way, is all about the effective prosecution of operations for there can be little doubt that success breeds confidence. We are committed to success, for that is what we owe to our member Nations and the nations we support through those operations.

Underlying our past and future successes has been, and will continue to be, the cohesion and solidarity of the Alliance. Our operations are NATO ones and though not all 26 member nations are represented on every operation, every operation represents the political will of all 26 members of the Alliance. The Nations all depend upon one another, and this is most felt on operations where our sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen work side by side. Cohesion and solidarity will continue to be the glue that binds the Alliance together and must be maintained at all cost.