Interview with the DSACEUR General Sir Richard Shirreff
1. What is the role of Steadfast exercises? How would you characterize their importance in NATO’s overall capability development?
Well, the importance of Pinnacle and Pyramid, the two Steadfast Exercises is that they bring together senior staff and senior commanders from right across the NATO command structure and establish a common baseline for the critical military activities of campaign planning and operational design in the very complex circumstances we find ourselves in the security challenges of the 21st century. And I think it is a remarkable feature of an alliance of 28 nations that we can come together and work to standardize procedures like that. I would also like to add that it is an opportunity to bring in key partners too, and on this exercise as you know we’ve got partners from Austria, from Finland, from Sweden and indeed from Russia as well which is what NATO should do for the future. I think as far as lessons learned are concerned well the process of these exercises acts almost like a sort of laboratory for military procedures and thinking, and we will be drawing out a number of areas were lessons may have been identified; it will take a bit of time to analyse precisely what those lessons are and that will be played back in to again, back in to the development of the process for the future.
2. What is your opinion of the fact that PfP countries like Russia, Finland, Sweden and Austria also participate in these exercises? How does it affect access to information and planning procedures? What was the reason for the decision to allow the participation of NATO partner nations?
Well, I will answer your last question first. The decision was mine. NATO at the moment in our operation in Afghanistan we’ve got 22 partners, in the operation against Libya last year we had a number of Arab partners who played a critical role. So NATO may be a regional organization but the challenges we face as an alliance are global, and therefore it’s essential that we have the experience and the relationships to work alongside our partners which is why I decided to invite a number of partners to come and participate. And, of course, you are absolutely right, that does throw up issues of sharing of information, intelligence and those sort of things but... exercises like these allow us to identify some of the challenges with non-NATO partners and then to find solutions to those challenges.
3. Exercises Steadfast Pyramid and Steadfast Pinnacle are being conducted in Latvia already for the second year; it is planned that Latvia will continue to host these exercises till 2016. How do you assess Latvia’s accomplishment as a host country for this staff exercise for senior and higher officers?
Well Latvia has been a terrific and a great place to come to on so many levels. Firstly, I’d like to highlight and thank the Latvian government, Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces for the support that have enjoyed here; we could not have been better looked after. We’ve been superbly hosted and people have gone well out of their way to support and help us which has been a delight. I think on the top of that it sends a really important signal that NATO is conducting important key leader training in Latvia, in the Baltic area, it’s a sign of NATO’s commitment, it’s a recognition of Latvia’s important role as a key player in the alliance as a whole and in particular, of course, in Afghanistan. I, then finally, it’s a just a pleasure to be in Latvia; it’s a lovely country, charming people and I would recommend it to anybody.
4. How do you see NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan after 2014 when the ISAF mission will be finished?
Well, the international community at Chicago, at Bonn have send a very strong signal, and indeed in Tokyo with the financial commitment to Afghanistan post 2014 that there will be a requirement for an enduring or a continuing mission once the ISAF mission draws down at the end of 2014. We recognize that the mission is likely to be focused on training and assistance, continued training and assistance, and advice to the Afghan Security Forces to allow them to ensure that they can continue to contain what we anticipate to be a continued insurgency in that country. In terms of the detail – much yet to be resolved, we need to identify which nations are prepared to commit forces; we need to work through the planning process. All that work is ongoing at the moment within NATO Headquarters and with our coalition partner nations and I would anticipate being able to produce some sort of a definition and clarity of the scope of the nature of the mission probably on New Year or shortly after that. Much depends, I think on a number of political decisions which, of course, I would not wish to pre-empt in any way.
5. What risks to security situation in Afghanistan do you see after 2014?
Well, Afghanistan is a risky country and, of course, there will be risks and there will be challenges. We can, as international community mitigate those risks with a continuing commitment to training and assistance. I wouldn’t anticipate, I think it’s pretty certain that this will not be a combat mission; it will be focused on training and assistance. And through training and assistance, and continuing to support the Afghan Security Forces in that way, I think we can as I said mitigate the risks to the State of Afghanistan.
6. Finally, what are NATO’s main challenges for the future in your opinion?
Well you kept the biggest question till the last. We could talk for hours about that. But in a nutshell I think it’s remaining true to the foundations of NATO, Article 5, collective defence, attack on one is attack on all. At a time when all governments or most governments are facing real challenges in terms of economic and financial situation, it’s relatively straight forward if there is a clear existential threat to an Alliance as we saw during the days of the Cold War. There is no clear, existential threat; therefore it is difficult to get agreement on the measures that need to be taken and particularly difficult to get that agreement and commitment from nations who are always looking to bear down on defence spending. Having said that at a time when the world remains and is likely to continue to be a very dangerous and complex place, and uncertain so I think we face real challenges but I think we need to remain true to the values of the Alliance, remember what the Alliance is all about, remember that this is the most successful Alliance in history, over 60 years old, and in the sense, the testament of the success of the Alliance is the sort of exercises we are doing here today. And, I think, providing we do that, then I think the Alliance has a healthy future.