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DoD News Briefing: Vice Admiral Sir Peter Abbott, Royal Navy

Presenters: Vice Admiral Sir Peter Abbott, Royal Navy
February 08, 1995 1:30 PM EDT
(NOTE: Vice Admiral Abbott is Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic. He briefed on NATO Exercise STRONG RESOLVE 1995)

Admiral Abbott: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to make it clear that although I'm a Brit -- a Royal Naval officer -- I'm actually here in an alliance NATO capacity. I work for a U.S. Marine Corps four-star general, Jack Sheehan, down in Norfolk, Virginia, and have been here for about 18 months. I'm, as I say, an Alliance officer.

I wanted to tell you about STRONG RESOLVE which is a big NATO exercise starting on the 18th of February this year. There are some interesting things about it. Then I thought I would give you some questions as to why we're doing this huge exercise. I'll give you some of my thoughts on that, and then issue a challenge to you and maybe have some questions as well.

STRONG RESOLVE '95. We haven't done an exercise as big as this since '92. The next one we would plan to do is '98. It's also the first exercise in NATO's history that's being planned and will be executed by the two major NATO commanders -- my boss in Norfolk, Virginia, and General Joulwin, who is the boss of the major NATO Headquarters in Mons, Belgium. That, I think, is an interesting point to focus on.

When this exercise was planned in the early '90s, we used to do exercises like this every two years, and now we're doing them every three in the recognition of the fact that the Cold War has ended. I have to tell you from my headquarters, that doing them every three causes considerable difficulties because you have lost experience, and there are a whole lot of skills and readinesses that you need to be up at. Looking at the world in 1995 as opposed to the early '90s, it seems to me that the world is a more dangerous place than we might have thought it was going to be.

STRONG RESOLVE involves over 100 ships, over 170 aircraft, 20,000 troops, a deal of expenditure. It's taking part in the Eastern Atlantic around the shores and actually on the land of Norway. It could take place in other parts of the world, but that's where this one is taking place this year. We then will have a debate as to whether the STRONG RESOLVE exercise in 1998 should take place.

Now why should we be doing this exercise? And you may want to ask questions about that. I think it takes you straight to the root of why you need an Alliance, so I'll make some observations. The first observation I have is that I am quite sure that the history of the last 100 years has shown us that North American and European security in the last resort are inextricably entwined. There isn't a threat in the way that there used to be during the Cold War, but as I say, there's a risk. There's risk to the east of Europe and to the south of Europe. There's an imbalance of wealth that runs down a clear line. Richness on one side, poverty on the other. There is an instability of political nature that runs along the same line. A large empire has come to an end -- or is in the process of coming to an end. Those factors alone have been cause in history for major war.

The situation that we live in... It seems to me to be unstable and one that is continually capable of producing unexpected things. The thing that you last thought would happen seems to happen as a matter of certainty. In those situations you would be wise, I think, to take out some sort of insurance policy. The experience that NATO has brought to the table over the years seems to be an essential capability to retain. Now what its new missions and what it should be designed to do in the 21st century is a debate that we ought to have. That's the debate that's been initiated and it's one that ought to be well-informed. I think this is probably one of the challenges I would throw out to people. It doesn't seem to me -- on this side of the Atlantic -- that that debate is well-informed.

We ought to just know that NATO is not part of the United Nations, for example -- a common thing. What its goals and what its missions should be. Those are things we should be talking about. What is going on in the former Yugoslavia might be useful experience for all of us to see how we should deal with this in the future.

Those are the broad strategic things as to why you need an Alliance. If you've got an Alliance, then it's very important that our readiness, our training, our ability to adapt to change -- which is around us all the way. That our servicemen are prepared, flexible; our new headquarters arrangements, our new command arrangements, the new changes that improved communications brings are exercised; so that we're ready to do what we're suddenly called for and which we never expected to do. That's what this exercise is all about in terms of professional training.

In terms of what it does politically, I would have thought that it demonstrates to people who may be out there watching us -- people we can't identify -- that we are interested in our security, that we understand that American engagements in Europe is important. There's a demonstration of resolve of the 16 nations within the alliance that they can do something together. Those are things that are important to be shown.

So I'll hand over to you for questions, but the challenge I leave to you is to come and take an interest, come and watch this exercise and see for yourselves and inform yourselves and inform the really important people in this country who are the taxpayers as to why they should be interested in the North Atlantic Alliance.

Q: Are the Russians or any members of the PFP...

A: We thought about this very carefully. We've asked them to come and observe. That is what they're doing.

We have in the Alliance a responsibility to make sure that our own training is up to a certain standard. If you bring in people who are not actually used to doing that, we do exercise with the Partnership nations and that's very important. But in this exercise, we're making sure that the Alliance itself is good enough to do the education and its own training is coming foremost. So yes, they're coming as observers. No, they're not taking part in the exercise. Yes, we're arranging exercises for them that are at a lower capability level so that we don't get into the business of running before we can walk.

Q: You said they are coming. Who exactly is they?

A: Who are observing? The Russians have been invited to observe. Whether or not they come hasn't yet been decided. We've invited the Poles and the Lithuanians and a number of those people, and I think they are coming.

Q: You just described the threat as being from the South and the East...

A: I didn't use the word "threat." I used the word "risks."

Q: Why would you be exercising in Norway in the winter?

A: That's a good question. The thing is, this exercise was set up some time ago and it's difficult to change. Now where we have the exercise in 1998 seems to me to be a very interesting proposition. There is a debate to be had about that. If we were planning the exercise and it didn't take three years to plan, maybe we would have chosen somewhere else to go -- but that just shows you how fast the world changes, and it makes the point that maybe we ought to do these exercises a bit more, but that costs dollars.

Q: You talked about the risk to the south. I assume you're talking about Algeria. What can any military alliance do to prevent the threat of fundamentalism, which is (inaudible) to many members of the southern European alliance?

A: The risks, I said, were associated with a fracture zone where, on one side of the line, it's richness, i.e., to the west and north. On the isle side, it's poor, and maybe a change in religions and instability of a political nature. The best thing probably to address that fracture zone is to put a Marshall plan or some huge amount of aid to make sure that you assuage the imbalance between the two. There doesn't seem to be a political desire -- or the amount of wealth that the world has is insufficient -- to meet that sort of alliance. So I think you need to take political steps, and those are being done in the context of Partnership for Peace.

It will be prudent in historical terms to make sure that you have a military safety net that underpins this -- that deterred people or dissuaded people who might be persuaded to be adventuristic or who thought to even out their situation. The traditional way is if you've got wealth in serious terms and I haven't, I get my act together and go and get it.

Q: Can you describe for us what kind of exercise it will be? Is it in phases, is it in...

A: Yes, it's in phases. The exercise starts off with a lot of ships going towards Norway. Meanwhile, on the continent of Europe there would be reinforcements of land troops, deployments of aircraft, and these two all come together in the second phase.

Q: Is there a fictional plot...

A: We're very careful here. Yes, there is a totally fictional plot with a scenario that bears no relation to the real world whatsoever.

Q: How much does it cost?

A: It's costing NATO about $25 million.