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NATO SACT General Stéphane Abrial spoke at Fourth Strategic
Concept Seminar on 23 February 2010
Thank you, Dr Binnendijk.
Secretary General, Secretary Gates, Vice-Admiral Rondeau, Dr
Albright, Excellencies, distinguished guests,
Let me in turn welcome you to this fourth seminar, which Allied
Command Transformation has the honour of co-hosting with the
National Defense University, around the main topic of Transformation.
Transformation in the years to come will be inspired by the
vision expressed in the Strategic Concept, and is already enriched
by the wealth of information and analysis that the current series
of seminars and their supporting contributions have brought to
light. Abraham Lincoln, the man after whom this auditorium is
named, once said:
If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending,
we could better judge what to do, and how to do it”.
I think this thought can readily apply to the general thrust
of these seminars. Indeed, we have followed such a process leading
us from our Alliance’s core tasks last October to today’s
discussions on capabilities and transformation - we have moved
from the question of “where we are” and “what
to do” to that of “how to do it”.
To be sure, the question of “how to do it” will
keep running well after the new Strategic Concept itself has
been published. It will be a responsibility of Allied Command
Transformation, alongside many others, to translate into military
terms the vision contained in this guiding document.
A few years ago, a book came out entitled Transformation Under
Fire. The transformational issues we will be discussing today
could feature under the same title – as we speak, NATO
troops are engaged in operations, and more broadly new threats
are emerging at an accelerated pace.
Globalization, spectacular technological progress, and a host
of human factors have changed our security environment. Globalization
has made us more dependent on our access to the global commons,
and has shown our vulnerability to threats ranging from cyberspace
to resurgent piracy. The democratization of high-end technology
has enabled a well-known militia in the Middle East to routinely
field UAVs to strike a neighbouring country, using Google Maps
to reach unprecedented precision. Following current trends, it
is not difficult to see nanotechnology, robotization and, yes,
weapons of mass destruction in the wrong hands also become very
But one reality must inform our thoughts about capabilities
and transformation: very seldom does a new peril simply replace
an old one. Old threats may be downgraded, they rarely disappear
As their range only becomes wider, our nations’ capabilities
also must embrace the full spectrum of necessary responses.
Therein lays the main challenge in Transformation: ensuring
that we build the forces and capabilities that will be necessary
tomorrow and the day after, but at a price we are willing to
pay. In this process, innovation is fundamental: without a deliberate
and continuous effort to integrate the very best technology has
to offer, responding to a growing number of risks and threats
would simply not be feasible. But alongside innovation, Transformation
is also a question of continuity.
Our current forces and the change we bring to them must be seen
as forming a continuum, for we don’t have the means to
reinvent them from scratch following each new security assessment.
Emerging perils are not the only factor to have changed in our
environment. One important evolution in the past years, and certainly
since the last Strategic Concept, is the role the European Union
is now playing in many member states’ foreign policies
and defences. Several aspects of this have been studied in previous
seminars, but it also impacts the way we conduct transformation,
with a clear need for a better harmonization.
I would like to emphasize three qualities which we, military,
expect from the new Concept: realism, flexibility and clarity.
Realism is the first requirement for any Concept intended to
serve for many years, strengthening NATO and synchronizing the
efforts of all efforts. We all want an Alliance that is forward-leaning,
but this document will be most useful if it also suggests a match
between ambitions and means.
Realism does not mean timidity, on the contrary. In operations,
realism means recognizing that, though the military contribution
is indispensable, success is no longer obtainable by military
means alone. But realism also calls for us to maintain first
and foremost the military credibility that has always been NATO’s
hallmark and core strength.
The second quality a military commander will be looking for
in the document is flexibility. Circumstances will change, and
without flexibility a text that goes into considerations that
are relevant today may not be as topical a few years from now.
What I hope for is a clear and lasting political foundation on
which to build in the years to come.
And in doing so we also need clarity, which I know is already
foremost in the minds of the experts, and of all involved. Clarity
to the outside world is indeed important – whether to leaders
of friendly as well as less-than-friendly nations, or to publics,
at home and abroad. But in addition to the Omaha Milkman, this
document should be equally clear to the Norfolk sailor, the Milan
brigadier or the Bucharest airman.
Military commanders throughout the Alliance need clarity, so
that the document approved at the end of this year in Lisbon
will allow them to properly refine and implement its military
consequences, which will are sure to be far-reaching.
Certainly, today’s discussions will go beyond what will
actually find its way into the final text of the Strategic Concept.
Much of the analysis will actually deal more or less directly
with the issues of implementing the document – and I am
very grateful that this last seminar has such a focus.
More broadly, I am grateful for the great opportunity this Strategic
Concept presents to our Alliance. As Supreme Allied Commander
Transformation, I see it as a chance to boost our resolve for
Transformation, which is made all the more necessary by the conjunction
of emerging challenges to our security and of lasting pressure
on defence budgets.
This is why I am very much looking forward to today’s
discussions, hoping that you will find this seminar informative
and stimulating in preparing for the crucial months to come.
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