NATO Capabilities Improving, but Time Needed
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2004 NATO capabilities are transforming, but the process will take time, said Marine Gen. James Jones in a recent interview.
Jones, the alliance's supreme allied commander for operations, said that transformation is not just a U.S. process. "It's all over the alliance, he said. "We have 26 nations, and we're transforming the alliance toward the 21st century."
NATO forces are in Afghanistan. They are going to be in Iraq to help train the Iraqi security forces. NATO assets helped safeguard the Athens Olympics. These are missions that would have been unheard of 15 years ago when the alliance was prepared to defend Western Europe from the Soviet Union. "For NATO this is historic stuff," Jones said. "But it takes time to turn that around."
The general said that people should not be critical of the alliance in the global war on terror. "(The NATO nations) are making a big contribution," he said.
Transformation in NATO is essentially a land problem. "The air forces are already pretty interoperable, the naval forces are completely interoperable and have been for years," Jones said. "The third piece is the armies, and that's where the mass is."
Persuading countries to make their forces more usable and reorient the savings they realize into needed capabilities is working, he said. "The capabilities issue is interesting, because there is a list of high-end items like strategic lift to fix over a 10-year period," he said.
Countries are making these investments. If they continue over the next five to 10 years, much of the technological gap between the United States and its European allies will close. However, this will be extremely expensive, and it means that there will be fewer than the 2.4 million Europeans that there are in uniform today.
"It's the same problem the United States faced after Desert Shield/Storm," Jones said. "We had excess capacity too many bases, too much old equipment, too many people. To get to transformation, you have to shrink your personnel costs while maintaining the overall budget."
Many of the allies are transitioning to a professional force an all-volunteer force, he said. They are going after higher-tech weapons systems.
Jones said he would like to see "a little bit more commitment to national security on the part of members whose (defense) budgets are below 2 percent (of their gross national product)."
"My line in NATO is you can't call it transformation if you are reducing your budgets and your force structure," he said. "If you are holding the budget and fixing all else, that's transformational."
New members are doing well at this. NATO expressly asked Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia not to develop air forces. The alliance said it would be responsible for those countries' air policing and air defense under Article V of the NATO charter. Right now, Danish fighters are over the Baltic republics, which allows the countries to develop other needed capabilities.
The Czech republic built a world-class chemical, biological, radiological defense capability that everybody wants to use. These examples are probably the way of the future, Jones said.
And Jones works closely with his friend U.S. Navy Adm. Edmund Giambasitani, the alliance's supreme allied commander for transformation, based in Norfolk, Va. Jones said the men are "philosophical soulmates." They are working together to further the work of transformation throughout the alliance, he said.