Interview with the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR) General Sir Richard Shirreff
A lot has been said and there are ongoing discussions here in Latvia about the joint Russian-Belarusian military exercise Zapad-2013. I would like to ask your opinion about this, how do you see this situation from your point of view?
Well, I view Zapad as exactly the sort of exercise that any armed forces of any nation would want to conduct. It’s all about joint readiness capability, it’s training, and when armies and armed forces are not on operations, they train and that’s what we do. So I don’t view this as anything out of the ordinary at all. The Russians have been very open with us; they’ve briefed us about the scale and the scope of the exercise, they’ve invited NATO to send observers and NATO has taken up that invitation, so I don’t see anything that we should be concerned about with Zapad.
The next question is about Syria conflict, how do you see NATO role in Syria?
NATO, of course, will only take any action when the political leadership of the Alliance makes the necessary decisions at the North Atlantic Council. And all that has happened so far is that NATO is supporting the air defence of Turkey, it has deployed Patriot batteries to Southern Turkey in accordance with the Turkish request, and that is all that NATO has done. Until such time as there are further decisions of the North Atlantic Council that is all what NATO will do. But clearly I don’t know what the future will hold, I would not rule out anything.
A question on ISAF – what are NATO’s expectations from nations in the post-ISAF period? What are key issues and challenges that NATO will be confronted with and should be adapted to in the long term? What should the Alliance be able to do strategically to overcome these challenges or exploit the opportunities of the future security environment?
The post-ISAF mission which the Alliance, together with the Afghan Government, signed up to and agreed to conduct in Chicago at the Chicago Summit last year is a key mission, this is critical to the future stability of Afghanistan. The ISAF operation and campaign despite all challenges is heading very firmly in the right direction, the Afghan National Security Forces are now in control but they will continue to need training support and advice. And meanwhile, of course, we are under no illusions that the insurgency will continue through 2014 after the ISAF mission and into the future. And if the Afghan National Security Forces are to ensure that that insurgency does not pose an existential threat to the Government of Afghanistan, they will continue to need support from NATO and the international community. Hence the planning that we are conducting as far as the future is concerned and in accordance with our political direction. As far as expectations from the nations are concerned, what you would expect me to say as NATO’s force generator and the member of the command group of SHAPE responsible for generating the means to conduct operations, well, I look to the nations to support it. I am in regular contact with the Chiefs of Defence of all the NATO nations together with our Partner nations engaged in Afghanistan to encourage them all to provide the necessary support in terms of troops on the ground that we are going to need in order to conduct that mission.
Can you tell me more about this support case, how do you see what exactly will be needed for support?
Well, what we are looking at is providing training support and advice to both the Afghan Army and the Afghan Police together with what you might call capacity building in the various security ministries – the Ministry of Defence and the Interior Ministry in Kabul. I think the ministerial advice will be our key component but also we are looking at how best we provide advice at an appropriate level and in accordance with the direction we’ve been given. Of course, that is now a subject of ongoing discussions and you wouldn’t expect me to go into detail about operations. I am sure that at the end of the day we will produce a robust mission that provides what the Afghan National Security Forces need.
The question about the NRF training and certification – how do you see the way for further development of this training and certification? Do you think this could be implemented through the Connected Forces Initiative?
I think this is really important. I think most of us believe and I certainly believe that when the ISAF mission comes to an end at the end of 2014, this will really bring to a close almost two decades of NATO’s force structure being defined by the need to service and support enduring out of area expeditionary commitments. We’ve seen the years of operations in the Balkans, for some nations, of course, there was Iraq and then for all nations there has been Afghanistan.
What does the future hold? Well, I think NATO needs to focus number one on defence and what does defence mean in the 21st century, and security as well. How do we prevent a problem in a far off land giving the sort of globalized world we live in, impacting on us within NATO? And a key to this is training, ensuring that we are ready and capable, both of preventing a problem becoming a crisis but also being able to respond as necessary to a crisis either within the NATO area or external to the NATO area but still with the strategic importance to NATO. The key is strong and credible reserves, and that means ensuring that the NATO Response Force is strong, is credible, is usable, that the nations of NATO are ready to use it, and part of this, of course, is training. I think we all view the training of the NRF and the commitment of forces to NRF as being of vital importance to NATO as it comes to terms with the new paradigm in which we find ourselves.
As far as I know this is the last year for you in this position. A lot has happened in the world since you took this assignment. The final question I would like to ask you is what are your feelings about this position? What were the good and interesting things that have happened, is there anything that you feel you could have done in a different way?
These will have been a fascinating nearly three years when I leave this place at the end of March next year. Of course, it’s been a period characterised by continued operations. My first day in place was the day the North Atlantic Council discussed the no-fly zone over Libya, so Libya focused attention. And I think everyone saw there NATO coming together in a very strong, robust way to implement an operation in accordance with the UN Security Council’s resolution. And that operation, in accordance with the limited aims it set itself, was successful. But, of course, if you look more widely, what I think we see is, and this is a feature of the sense of the complexity of the world we live in, that actions taken to resolve a particular problem, inevitably have second and third order effects which we may not be able to anticipate.
I think the second area, of course, is Afghanistan. If you look back three years, to where we were in Afghanistan at the beginning of 2011 and of 2010, I don’t think any of us would have expected the Afghan National Security Forces to have improved their capability and capacity quite as well as they have done. They and we all continue to have awesome challenges which I don’t underestimate. And I certainly don’t underestimate the tragic expenditure of blood as well. All our nations have suffered grievous losses and indeed, of course, the Afghans continue to suffer more losses than anybody. But nevertheless, I think that operation is heading in the right direction and I think it’s a testament to the strength of the Alliance.
In terms of looking more broadly, I think anybody spending time serving the Alliance cannot but be impressed with the commitment of the nations, this fusion of 28 nations together in the strongest Alliance the world has seen in its history – and that is something that is going to be encouraging for the future. Of course, NATO faces challenges, we are well aware of the challenges of continued, particularly European underfunding of defence, the increased dependence of the United States, and that I think means that it places a premium on the European nations to find ways to step up to the mark in defence spending terms in order to allow the Americans to focus on other areas potentially as the strategic position changes.
But overall I have to say that the position of DSACEUR has been a great privilege, a great delight. One of the greatest of all delights and a hugely enriching experience is the opportunity to get to know the different nations of the Alliance. And if I may speak personally being here in Latvia – and this is my third occasion, third visit to Latvia, I feel very comfortable being here, Riga is a delightful city and Latvia is a hugely welcoming country with delightful people; it’s a place I am looking forward to return to in the future years.