Interview: General Knud Bartels, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee
Croatian contribution to NATO-led operations proves its commitment to the Alliance
In early April Croatia marked its first five years of NATO membership. As a unique opportunity to additionally mark the anniversary we conducted an interview with General Knud Bartels, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, discussing Croatia's participation in NATO-led operations and contribution to Smart Defence initiative respectively. General Bartels also spoke about new challenges before the Alliance in the future.
What is NATO's evaluation of Croatia's contribution to the Alliance over the past five years of its membership, particularly with regard to the participation in peace support operations? Has it asserted itself as a credible and reliable Ally?
First of all, I want to express my true appreciation for Croatia’s contribution to NATO’s operations. Your active participation in ISAF and KFOR has contributed to the efforts of the Alliance on peace-support operations over the last five years. The deployment of troops in Afghanistan with various types of tasks since 2003 illustrates the credible role played by Croatia within NATO. Additionally, your country has been a valuable contributor to the NATO Response Force. In this respect, Croatia offers a force posture for the Immediate Reaction Forces 2015 and 2016 to support the needs of the Alliance.
What is the extent of Croatia's contribution in ISAF to the Allied efforts towards stability in Afghanistan, seen primarily through its engagement in training and mentoring of ANSF to enhance their capability and readiness?
Currently, the majority of Croatia’s commitments in ISAF are based in Train Advise and Assist Command North (TAAC-N). Staff & Support: Mazar-E-Sharif Forward Support Base (95 troops), TAAC-N HQ (15 troops) and a Special Operations Task Group (17 troops). ANSF Training & Mentoring: Mazar-E-Sharif MI-17 Advisor Team (14 troops) and the 209th Corps Military Advisory Team (2 troops). Croatian soldiers also contribute to the Kabul-based National Police Coordination Centre Police Advisory Team with 14 troops.
Previously, Croatia has been heavily engaged in training and mentoring of the ANSF. During the period 2009-2012, Croatia had up to 100 advisors to the ANA 209th Corps 3rd Brigade and 50 advisors to various RC-North Police Advisor Teams. Over the same period, they had approximately 50 trainers within the ANA Engineering, Military Police, Logistics and artillery Schools. Overall, your country has been providing solid support for the Alliance’s efforts to build peace and security in Afghanistan and we very much appreciate your commitment to the Afghan cause.
The current year should see the termination of the transition and transfer of authority from ISAF to the Afghan National Security Forces. Can you tell us something about the role of the Allied forces once the process is over?
Earlier this month, NATO Foreign Ministers discussed our continued support through the ISAF mission and our plans for a new train, advise and assist mission beginning next year. Questions remain open with respect to the legal arrangements for that new mission and we will continue to assess the impact of delays in their conclusion. We stand by our commitments to Afghanistan but the longer it takes for the agreements to be signed, the less we may be able to do. It is not our desired outcome but, if there is no agreement, there will be no mission.
What is your view on NATO's efforts undertaken in Kosovo so far, and how significant in your view is the Croatian contribution to the Allied forces engagement in stabilising the situation in the region?
KFOR is the main NATO effort in the Western Balkans. The NATO-led mission in Kosovo contributes to maintaining a safe and secure environment, and ensuring the freedom of movement for all citizens. The overall security situation has improved and the future evolution of KFOR remains conditions-based. In this context, Croatia contributes to KFOR with a transport helicopter detachment based in Kosovo. This contribution is much valued by the Alliance, particularly because air transport assets are always scarce resources critical to the execution of the mission. Beyond this participation, Croatia plays a valuable role as a key actor in the cooperation in the Western Balkans region. Your contribution to NATO operations over the last five years reflects the strong commitment of your country to the NATO Alliance.
Development of Allied capabilities through the Smart Defence initiative, in view of the current situation characterised by shrinking resources and defence budgets, has been among the NATO concepts of major visibility. How do you rate its results and how would you rate the Croatian contribution so far?
The Smart Defence initiative, which is key to develop the NATO Forces 2020, has delivered its first concrete results in 2013. Three projects are now successfully concluded, namely Deployed Helicopter Maintenance; Demilitarization, Dismantling and Disposal of deployed assets; and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle Maintenance. More ambitious results are expected as Allies enhance capability development within this initiative, particularly in those areas where they cannot afford to develop capabilities by themselves.
In this context, regional military cooperation is essential in terms of procurement, burden sharing and industrial shares. I think there is a lot of potential in South-Eastern Europe and I am very pleased to acknowledge that Croatia is actively engaged in multinational cooperation, particularly on a regional basis. It is in the lead for the Balkan Regional Approach to Air Defence (BRAAD) proposal, which aims at coordinating/facilitating a Balkan regional approach to develop Air Defence capabilities, fostering greater interoperability among the participating nations and to generate significant cost savings. Moreover, your country is participating on six Tier 1 projects and has also shown interest on three Tier 3 proposals. I consider that Croatia provides a valuable contribution to Smart Defence and puts a great deal of emphasis on multinational cooperation as a tool that it can contribute towards in order to fulfill its capability targets.
What is your view on the present global security situation and what are major threats NATO should adjust and respond to?
For the last 20 years NATO has been involved in operations and for the last 10 years the Alliance’s main effort has been Afghanistan. So, as the ISAF mission concludes, this is a time for us to recalibrate the Alliance, to reconfigure it to be ready for operations anywhere in the world and indeed to re-emphasize the core of the Alliance’s responsibility, which is providing collective defence for its members. In this new context, the so called ‘Connected Forces Initiative’ – keeping national forces interconnected through expanded education and training, increased exercises and better use of technology – will help Allies to maintain readiness and combat effectiveness. That said, it will be crucial in the coming years concentrate resources into meaningful and demanding collective training in the full spectrum of operations. We have to train both our military forces and our new NATO Command Structure more intensively than in the past to maintain our skills and to be prepared for the future.
Over the past 20 years we have also built up a great network of partners. At its peak, we had 50 nations – 28 NATO and 22 others – operating in Afghanistan under a NATO flag. We have generated a level of interoperability and cooperation with those partners that arguably has never been seen before. Interoperability at that level is a very perishable phenomenon and we must make quite sure that we don’t let it diminish or deteriorate. Therefore, I think we will also see a huge emphasis on exercising and training with partners so that all our stakeholders are prepared and fully aware of the emerging security challenges, threats and risks that the Alliance may face in the future.
The next NATO summit will be held in Wales. What burning issues will it address and what essential messages can be expected?
This September we will hold a summit in Wales – a pivotal meeting at a pivotal time. Besides confirming our commitment to collective defence, we will discuss the future of NATO, making sure that we remain strong at home, active in managing crises, and engaged with our partners around the world. Despite the ongoing economic challenges, we are making headway. We are filling some of the gaps to build and equip NATO Forces 2020, with European Allies playing their part. The Wales Summit will be the next step in that process.