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Speech by General Joseph W. Ralston

General Joseph W. Ralston

Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

On: US-European Command Challenges

16 April 2002

“I would like to give you a quick summary of our area of responsibility; about what NATO is doing and what US-European command is doing.  

This is a very busy alliance. I am not sure that all of us realise all of the operations that are ongoing.  I have five ongoing combat operations in the theatre right now. I don’t believe that any of my predecessors have ever been ‘blessed with’ five combat operations at one time.  That is on top of other things that we do, for instance, in terms of NATO enlargement and our relationship with the European Union.

The first combat operation is called Operation Northern Watch.  This is the enforcement of the ‘No-fly zone’ over Northern Iraq. It is done not as a NATO operation – I wear my US hat and there are UK, US and Turkish pilots flying on a daily basis. Sometimes we forget the magnitude of this effort. In the year 2001, we flew 6000 sorties enforcing this no-fly zone.  That is 500 sorties a month. That is almost 20 a day.  We have been doing this, by the way, for the past 11 years.  It is a very real combat situation.  Last year, our pilots were fired at over 300 times that we know of.  These are missile firings or Triple A firings that were recorded. It is a very busy operation.

The next operation is in Bosnia-Herzegovina. To give you an idea of the situation on the ground: it has improved dramatically from six years ago but it is still not what we want it to be. Six years ago, we had 60,000 troops in Bosnia.  Every six months, we review the situation on the ground and make changes to our force structure.  Those changes in the force structure are one measure of merit, if you will, on how things are moving.  This morning, we had slightly less than 16000 troops.  So it has come down from 60,000 to 16,000 troops. By October, if the Northern Atlantic Council accepts my recommendation, it will be less than 12,000.  That is a significant improvement on the situation on the ground.  I must stress again, that’s not what we want it to be; there is still too much tension, too much corruption, and not enough economic opportunity. There is still a developing political structure. But by enlarge they are not killing each other as we are here tonight.

The situation is Kosovo is remarkably good.  Every time I go to Kosovo, which is a couple of times a month, I come back more optimistic than the time before.  There is energy.  The people are in the fields.  They are working.  They have repaired their houses.  They are in the markets. They are not always doing things in the markets that we would like them to do but at least they are in the markets.  Our force structure when we started out was 54000 troops in June 1999; this morning we are about 34,000. So once again an improvement.  I think that, if my recommendation is accepted, we will be at less than 30,000 by October.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: here is a situation where NATO took a different approach than it had done in the past and where, if there is a criticism; people would say that we waited too long.  I think we acted responsibly early on and with a minimum of force. This has been a true partnership between NATO, the European Union and the OSCE in trying to work with the Macedonian Government to get them to make changes to the constitution and pass some laws that gives some hope of getting through this without a civil war.  We are not where we need to be in Macedonia yet. We have elections approaching this Sept.  But with a little more luck, we will be able to get through that process and continue to move forward

Global war on terrorism:  To show how inadequate we are at human beings in predicting the future, for 52 years it was ‘a given’ – a fact, and no-one ever disputed it – that if NATO ever invoked Article 5, American forces would flow from the US to Europe to defend Europe.  On Sept 12 when for the first time in 52 years NATO invoked Article 5, it was European forces in the form of AWACS that flew westwards to the United States.   Tonight, as we speak, NATO AWACS are flying over the cities of North America, protecting them.

We have the Standing Naval Forces Mediterranean.  It changed yesterday to Standing Naval Forces Atlantic.  This is a NATO flotilla made up of eight or nine nations in the Eastern Med that are tracking ships that are associated with terrorist activities. They are keeping track of them and at the appropriate time they are being boarded.  It is a very active operation.

It is a very busy time for the forces that I have talked about. I have left out a lot of other things. For instance:

We had a horrible disaster in Africa about 3 months ago. In Nigeria, an ammunition depot exploded.  In a four kilometre radius around this ammunition depot, all of which was in the city, 1000 people were killed. In all of the housing areas, where children were playing, there were unexploded bombs and shells.  I made a special trip back to Washington and met with my boss Secretary Rumsfeld on this, saying this is a very important thing for us to do: we have the capability; we have the explosive ordinance disposal troop. They are practicing their trade in Germany.  Why not send them to Nigeria and do it for real? He asked if I could get any of the NATO allies to help and, after he talked to the President, told me I could go ahead and send troops if I had some allied support. I came to my good friends in the UK and was able to put UK EOD troops with my US EOD troops. For the past two months, they have been collecting and destroying unexploded ordinance.  As of this week, they had blown up over 36,000 pieces of unexploded ordinance.  Each one of these was a potential killer to the children in the housing areas. You don’t read a lot about that but that’s part of your military – the UK military and the US military – trying to do the right thing in Nigeria.

I mentioned NATO enlargement.  We have a very important decision coming up later this year. The NATO heads of State will gather in Prague in the latter part of November where a decision will be made on the invitation for NATO membership. There are nine nations that are aspiring members of NATO membership. That means that they have a formal membership action plan they are working through this with the Member countries.  In no particular, order, the aspirant members are: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia Slovakia Romania Bulgaria Albania and Macedonia.  We are actively working with each of these countries to try and make sure that they doing all the things that are required for NATO membership.

There were five things that NATO said that if you want to be a member of NATO that you need to do:

  1. You need to have a democratically elected government
  2. You need to have Free market economy
  3. You need to have Civilian control of military
  4. You need to make peace with your neighbours.  No border disputes
  5. You need to demonstrate that you can Inter-operable with NATO

This has had a remarkable impact on countries that want to be members of NATO.  Countries like Hungary and Romania had border disputes for decades.  It is amazing how the border disputes got solved. 

The European Union.  We are working very hard to try and work out our procedures with the rapid reaction corps.  I have tried to be supportive of what the EU is trying to do.  But I would need to put one caveat on that.  We need to do it in a way that does not adversely affect NATO. I think that will all work if we don’t duplicate – or don’t have the EU duplicate – the planning mechanism of NATO.  This would be wrong for three reasons

  1. It would require thousands of officers and a huge headquarters.  Those resources can only come from one place, from the squadrons, battalions and ships that we need for our defence.
  2. Military planners in terms of crisis come up with options.  Options ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ that we give to our political masters.  Option ‘A’ has a set of forces and a certain risk factor and a certain chance of success.  Option ‘B’ has a different set of these from Option ‘A’.  If the EU does this independently they will come up with Options ‘1’ ‘2’ & ‘3’  And then when it gets to the two political bodies, there will be more confusion  because one body with be talking about Option ‘2’ and the other about Option ‘B’ and there will be no basis for communication
  3. The EU may say: ‘I want Battalion X to go on a given operation’ but Battalion X will be committed to a NATO operation.

There is a simple solution. Do the planning under a deputy SACEUR which will always be from a European nation.  They are all good nations: Finland Sweden Austria, Ireland.  Let their planners at SHAPE participate in the Option development.  You haven’t wasted resources, duplication, you haven’t introduced undue confusion into the process, and you haven’t double-counted forces.

A comment (In response to a question from the floor before the ‘off-the-record’ part of the proceedings) on the view advanced in some quarters that NATO is in some form of ‘crisis’ and might be marginalised by the US:  

There has never been a time in the alliance some pundit or other has not predicted that the alliance was about to ‘come apart’. It is remarkable that the Alliance has been resilient enough to survive 53 years.  It has evolved during that time period and I feel very confident that it will continue to evolve and meet the requirements that the members have for it. Regarding the view that the US marginalized NATO, I strongly counter that. 

I believe, first of all, we need to look back at what happened. US came to NATO and asked for the following things which NATO granted: 

Intelligence sharing 
Over-flight rights
Basing rights 
Bringing US ships into ports
Standing naval forces Mediterranean

Sometimes these contributions are minimised.  Let me talk about NATO AWACs.  The US has 11 deployable AWACs.  It has 33 airplanes in total. But you have to have test airplanes, and so forth, and you wind up with 11 that you can actually use at any given time.  NATO gave the US seven AWACs.  That is significant.  It is a real combat capability.  It is not a mere symbolic contribution or a political statement. It is true that at the very beginning that, as the US tried to work its way through what to do in this new situation, there were many nations that came forward and said ‘We would like to contribute ‘ X’ ‘Y’ or ‘Z’.’  The US said ‘Thank you very much; let us sort this out and we’ll get back to you.’  It took a little time but we have not been in this very long, altogether slightly over six months.  Out of 16 nations that are involved in Afghanistan tonight, 13 of them are NATO members. There is a lot more contribution from NATO members than generally given credit for.

There is another side to this story; some things we need to work on.  The US, or any nation for that matter, when trying to make a decision on who their allies are in war, have to weigh up all the factors. On the right hand side of the scale, they have to ask. ‘What kind of capabilities am I going to get if I join up with this country?’  On the left hand side of the scale ‘What is it going to cost me in terms of slowness of decision-making if its longer to co-ordinate things and so forth?’  There is no question that there is a quantifiable left side of the scale.  Now if the potential allied nations can only add a marginal increase on the right hand side then any nation is going to say ‘Thank you very much but that is not really worth all of the down side that I have over here.’  The NATO members in my personal view need to increase their capabilities on the right hand side of the scale. 

Lets talk about Defence Budgets: The President has asked our Congress for an increase in defence spending for the fiscal year 2003.  He has asked for a $48b dollar increase. This is the bump up.  It is a 14% increase.  Take out inflation, it is probably 11%, rounding up at about a 10% increase. That is not huge, given the magnitude of the task; but then on the other side of the ledger, how much is $48b, this one year bump-up (by the way, that will be in subsequent years as well):  It is 150% of the annual defence budget of the UK and 150% of the annual defence budget of France.  That $48b plus-up is greater than the combined defence budgets of 12 of the 19 nations. 

That $48b is not going to be spent on more people and bases.   It is going to be invested in research and development and procurement and training. That is because we do not need it for tomorrow.  We need it for 15 years downstream.  I want my successor to have the capabilities to meet whatever threat is out there.  If the European nations do not make an equivalent investment in research and development and procurement, then they will not be able to add as much to this right hand side of the scale as they should to off-set the downsides on the left.”