The Third Phase of NATO Transformation: Hagel Caps His Way Ahead Approach


2015-02-06  Secretary Hagel participated in the recent NATO ministerial at NATO headquarters, and spoke about how he saw the challenges facing the Alliance.

He highlighted the cross-cutting impact of three threats: Russian seizure of Crimea and threats to the North; terrorism at home in the NATO territories; and combating ISIL in the Middle East.

He sees the challenge of dealing with the convergence of such threats as leading to the “third transformation” of NATO.

The alliance has transformed in the past, and Hagel traced the evolution of NATO in his lifetime. Through the end of the Cold War, he said, NATO focused on the imperative of territorial defense and deterring Soviet aggression.

The fall of the Soviet Union and dissolution of the Warsaw Pact led to a second stage, he continued, with the alliance responding to conflict in the Balkans and conducting major out-of-area military operations in Afghanistan and Libya.

“Now, in its third phase, the alliance and its members must be prepared to address all of these challenges at once — territorial defense and hybrid warfare on its eastern frontier, stability operations on its southern periphery, and out-of-area operations such as our training mission in Afghanistan and coalition counter-ISIL operations in Iraq,” he said.

Hagel said he is concerned with suggestions that NATO can handle only one threat, and that he is worried about a division between northern and southern allies. “This is a time for unity, shared purpose, and wise, long-term investments across the spectrum of military capability,” he said.

“We must address all the challenges to this alliance, all together and all at once.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel conducts a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 5, 2015. Hagel addressed a range of topics including security across the Continent and Russian aggression in Ukraine.  Credit: NATO
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel conducts a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 5, 2015. Hagel addressed a range of topics including security across the Continent and Russian aggression in Ukraine. Credit: NATO

Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its continued efforts to destabilize Ukraine have been met with resolve, the secretary said. NATO forces have confronted Russian military aircraft over the Baltic republics and Poland, he noted, and have conducted exercises in all countries of the east to demonstrate the resolve of collective security.

“We have established a new high-readiness task force that will be poised for deployment within days — not just to its eastern frontier, but wherever it is needed,” Hagel said during a news conference at NATO headquarters.

The alliance is facing threats from terrorist groups, especially from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. NATO is strengthening alliance member Turkey, and allies have been flying missions against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

“Allies are on the front lines combating violent extremism — extremism that has brought tragic violence to Paris and Ottawa,” Hagel said.

“NATO allies and partners also make up the backbone of the coalition against ISIL. They have provided critical support for operations in North Africa, and NATO continues to help build peace and security in the Balkans.”

In Afghanistan, NATO has shifted from a combat role to a train-and-assist mission for Afghan security forces, the secretary said. “We transitioned security responsibility to a unity government emerging from the first peaceful, democratic transition in Afghan history,” he added.

“Our coalition has trained more than 370,000 members of the Afghan national security forces, helping the Afghan economy to expand more than six-fold since the fall of the Taliban, helping create unprecedented opportunity — and hope — for the people of Afghanistan.”

It is a complicated security environment, and the alliance must face all these security challenges, Hagel said.

“This means being prepared for the full spectrum of missions, and building NATO’s military capability and readiness, which has been the focus of our discussions today,” he said.

Last year, Hagel warned that the return of the direct defense of Europe posed some significant challenges. 

“In recent years, one of the biggest obstacles to Alliance investment has been a sense that the end of the Cold War ushered in the ‘end of history,’ an end to insecurity — at least in Europe — and the end from aggression by nation-states. Russia’s actions in Ukraine shatter that myth, and usher in bracing new realities,” Hagel said.

“We must see renewed financial commitments from all NATO members [because] Russia’s actions in Ukraine have made NATO’s value abundantly clear.”

Hagel called for the inclusion of finance ministers and senior budget officials at a NATO ministerial meeting, while arguing that “talking amongst [defense ministers] is no longer good enough.”

He said the alliance must beef up its military capabilities, exercises, and joint planning. But he said nonmilitary measures are also needed in the face of Russian aggression.

Hagel emphasized the need to wean Europe off its dependence on Russian energy supplies, noting that the U.S. Department of Energy has conditionally approved export permits for liquefied natural gas that would add up to more than half of Europe’s gas imports from Russia.

“Future generations will note whether, at this moment — at this moment of challenge, we summoned the will to invest in our alliance. We must not squander this opportunity or shrink from this challenge. We will be judged harshly by history and by future generations if we do,” he said.

Credit Video: The NATO Channel

And decisions and visits made in his final period as Secretary of Defense have clearly highlighted the kind of forces which he sees the need to strengthen.

Enhance Insertion Force Capabilities

First, there is his recent visit to the new large deck amphibious ship, the USS America and his comments on the role of the USN-USMC amphibious assault force in the period ahead.

I thought I’d make a couple of comments about you, about your ship, about the future, at least from my perspective, and then we’ll talk about whatever you want to talk about.

First, we were talking with the admiral and captain, and some of us say we came on to the ship here a few minutes ago about three essential priorities that I have focused on since I have been secretary of defense, that I think capture the future of our country, the future of our military.

And the future in every respect of opportunities of our security, and it is first people, second, capability, and third, partnerships. And you probably represent and this ship represents those three foundational elements of our future as well as any one group of people.

And I say that because this is a very select crew, as you all know, for the reasons you know why you were selected for this crew.

This is a particularly important skillset that’s required. You are on-board and you run, maintain, and sail one of the most sophisticated Navy platforms we have with more capabilities than almost anything else. That’s first.

Second, capabilities, as I’ve just — capabilities represented on this ship and the amphibious possibilities that our Marines are getting back to after 13 years of long war: two long wars.

What you’re doing here, represent that in every way.

And third, partnerships. The reference I made to your tour around South America.

Those partnerships that we are building, partnerships to assist our partners in their capacity and their capability, and their ability to not just defend themselves, but partner with us in a world that is now completely interconnected, as we all know.

And so the threats are global. Opportunities are global. Relationships are all now more global than ever before. And that won’t decrease. That will only increase.

Enhance Deterrence Capabilities

Second, he signed off on the decision to go ahead with the long range bomber or strike asset.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday vigorously endorsed an Air Force plan to build a next-generation strategic bomber, arguing that it would help deter nuclear war and preserve America’s global pre-eminence.

“I think the long-range strike bomber is absolutely essential to keep our deterrent edge as we go into the next 25 years,” Hagel told reporters after addressing a group of several hundred airmen at this B-2 stealth bomber base in western Missouri.

He called the future bomber, estimated to cost $55 billion to $80 billion for as many as 100 planes, “a critical element” of U.S. global power.

Use Military Force, Notably Ground Power, Judiciously

Third, he underscored the importance of effective civilian leadership to use the military instrument wisely.

There is a clear need for any Administration to think through clearly where, how and when to use force.

On his visit back to the Army base where his military service started (Fort Bliss), he hammered home some key points.

Hagel said the terrorism and fighting roiling the Middle East are being driven by deep tribal, religious and ethnic tensions.

“We can’t fix that,” he said during a troop talk at Fort Bliss.

“The United States of America can’t fix that problem. No country outside that region can fix that problem.”

He argued that some people are too quick to look for a military solution.

“Sometimes there are not immediate answers,” he said. “

We Americans can test that. We can fight for that [and say], ‘Of course there’s an answer to the problem.

We’ll fix it. Let’s go to war.

Let’s commit troops …

[But] we have blundered when we have tried to force issues and tried to force answers on other people.”