By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
NORFOLK, Va., Dec. 13, 2012 – To more coherently realize the alliance’s strategic vision and future interoperability, NATO’s Allied Command Transformation must champion training, capability development and education, the command’s chief of staff said here yesterday.
Royal Navy Vice Adm. C.A. Johnstone-Burt said military leaders from NATO’s 28 member nations and 17 partner nations are meeting here this week to promote technical and intellectual flexibility in weathering changes that a slower Afghanistan operations tempo and a fiscally constrained environment will evoke.
“We’re trying to establish a dialogue and create a crucible within which we can generate ideas and think about how we can transform the alliance for the better,” Johnstone-Burt said.
The admiral referenced the popular “King of Neptune” statue in neighboring Virginia Beach, Va., to liken Allied Command Transformation to the trident gripped by the Roman god of water.
As of Dec. 1, ACT has now assumed responsibility for all training within NATO, he noted, making that component the center prong.
“From a strategic, operational, tactical level we do training. From an individual to collective level, we do training,” Johnstone-Burt said. “Cradle to grave -- that’s ACT.”
The other trident prongs can be thought of as ACT’s charge to assess capability development requirements in strategic military thinking over the short, medium and long terms.
“To what degree are we clear about the challenges that we’re going to face in 2040 and beyond?” Johnstone-Burt asked. “Are we configured as NATO, as an alliance, to prepare ourselves properly to deal with those challenges?”
The admiral said ACT consists of people around the world who painstakingly seek those answers.
“The shaft of the trident is transformation -- to transform NATO … in preparation for the future,” Johnstone-Burt said. “The core of the trident is made up of our member nations and partners, because we can’t do it without them.”
Finally, the grip of the handle, Johnstone-Burt asserted, is interoperability and coherence. ACT’s connected forces initiative, he said, marries education and training with exercises and technology to maximize agility, standardize policy and expedite response.
“The CFI is hugely significant and will shape the future,” Johnstone-Burt said.
Similarly, the NATO defense planning process and “Smart Defense” initiative enable member countries to benefit from the political, military and resource advantages of working together while maintaining sovereignty, the admiral explained.
Smart Defense projects, NATO officials explained, include developing advances in e-learning, pooling maritime patrol aircraft and amplifying the role of women as key leaders in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325.
Advances made within these new processes are thought to be among many drivers for transformation within the alliance, Johnstone-Burt said.
With 148 active efficiencies projects and proposals in place as of Dec. 6, the Smart Defense portfolio generates multinational solutions developed parallel to the NATO defense planning process and will continue to identify new opportunities for nation-to-nation cooperation, he said.
“The aim is to make sure [Smart Defense and the planning process are] as aligned as possible,” Johnstone-Burt said. “The overlap must be the greater of the two circles.”
Though Smart Defense has traction and the alliance’s nations do recognize the value, the admiral said, now the ideas must be implemented.
Execution culminates with an ACT team visiting each participating nation to assess its capabilities.
“There’s one nation that traditionally delivers far more than the others,” Johnstone-Burt said in a reference to the United States. “The European NATO nations accepted that fully … and came up with a tacit understanding that no nation should … contribute more than 50 percent to any one capability, if at all possible.”
This, Johnstone-Burt said, makes forging the future a critical part of transformation.
“If we collectively had an agreed picture of the future, then it follows logically that we could gear our NATO defense planning process around that in terms of capability,” the admiral said. “We can gear our education and training exercises around it.”
The doctrine and policies may be complex, but the transformational mindset part of the equation, Johnstone-Burt said, is quite simple.
“It’s really not about ordering people to think differently. [Rather, it’s about] releasing their potential,” he said. “It’s really looking at our different mindsets, our culture, our behavior and our systems to see how we can adapt those to embrace everybody.”
Differing services within the nations further compound the challenges, the admiral acknowledged.
“It will take time, but the ultimate aim is to unleash this potential,” Johnstone-Burt said. “We do have a spectrum of capability when the balloons go up, and nations can play to their strengths.”
Finding the common ground in such a diverse alliance is not without its obstacles, but it’s worth the effort, Johnstone-Burt said. “There is always a degree of friction in trying to get to an agreed position, … but once we’re there, boy, is it hugely powerful when you get 28 nations all agreeing,” he added.
ACT’s location in the United States also brings an advantage to NATO, the admiral noted.
“It provides that transatlantic bridge,” Johnstone-Burt said. “It maintains a European-NATO perspective in America and enables us in wider NATO to reflect the U.S. perspective back into Europe, and vice-versa.”