Throughout its history, many people have forecast the death of the NATO alliance, but it has remained relevant and is set for another transformation, Danish Army Gen. Knud Bartels, the chairman of the NATO Military Committee, said today.
The chairman of the Military Committee directs the day-to-day business of the committee, NATO’s highest military authority, and acts on its behalf, according to the NATO website.
NATO’s transformation will be an inherently different one than in the past, Bartels said at a Defense Writers’ Group breakfast.
Over its history, the alliance has transformed any number of times, Bartels said. The alliance went from a strategy of massive retaliation to one of flexible response. It went from a small Western alliance aimed at a single enemy to a large alliance of like-minded nations sharing and defending shared values. It went from a North Atlantic/European alliance to fighting a war in Central Asia. It has incorporated new capabilities like missile defense and focused on new defenses like operations in the cyber realm.
Bartels sees a new transformation underway, but one that is fundamentally different than in the past.
“We are living in a world where everything takes place with emails, Twitter, Facebook, et cetera, et cetera,” he said. “This means that the long adaptation we have seen with our previous transformations will be an accelerated process, both at the military and political level.”
Threats will continue for the alliance, he said, and while it needs to look forward, it also needs to look to the past.
The challenge that Russia presents with its occupation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and threats to eastern Ukraine is one example, Bartels said. Russia launched what is now being called a hybrid campaign against Ukraine.
The hybrid campaign, he said, is characterized by a mixture of conventional forces, unconventional forces, and information warfare.
Hybrid warfare not new
Bartels said hybrid warfare is not new. “You see the way the Soviet Union dealt with Finland during the first Soviet-Finnish War in 1939-1940,” he said. “If you see later on how the Soviet Union implemented its power in what became the Warsaw Pact. Maybe we have not been paying sufficient attention to it.”
The general said NATO knows how to counter such a campaign and is putting in place counters to the various tactics inherent in hybrid warfare.
One problem, he said, is the speed of decision-making on the Russian side. “This is characteristic of the system today and is a challenge to an alliance built on consensus of 28 [members],” Bartels said. “That needs to be addressed at the political level, but the summit at Wales made it quite clear that the allies are aware of the challenge and I am quite confident that the allies are ready to act accordingly when the necessity arises.”
Bartels said he addressed the threat in Vilnius, Lithuania, the site of the most recent meeting of the alliance’s Military Committee. Lithuania is one of the Baltic Republics once a part of the Soviet Union and a possible target of a Russian hybrid campaign.
“I expressed that should a nation or number of nations chose to challenge the integrity of the allies, they will be facing the full might of the most powerful military alliance in the world,” Bartels said. “I said it on purpose — very clearly and very confident in Vilnius — one of the Baltic States.”
General Petr Pavel, Chief of the General Staff of Armed Forces of the Czech Republic, was elected to succeed Bartels as the next chairman of the NATO Military Committee when Bartels is expected to step down in June 2015, according to the NATO website.