INTERVIEW - General Philip M. Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR)
CROATIA HAS MADE AN AMAZING PROGRESS WITHIN ONLY FIVE YEARS
Within five years only Croatia has made an amazing progress. It refers to the way it adopted NATO standards, tactics, techniques and procedures. Today Croatia teaches other nations how to adopt them, and co-operates in Afghanistan very successfully with other NATO members. It really makes me happy...
Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Philip M. Breedlove was on an official visit to the Republic of Croatia, meeting senior officials of the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces. The fifth anniversary of Croatia's membership in NATO was a proper timing to make an interview to find about the challenges before the Alliance, the topics of interest and the development of the Croatian Armed Forces.
General, You assumed the duty of SACEUR a year ago now. What in Your view are the main challenges faced by NATO and its member nations today?
Thank You for the opportunity that allows me to talk about four things that are very important. Firstly, as an Alliance, we have to get our transition in Afghanistan correct – we are transitioning from a combat mission into a „train, advise, assist“ mission. It is a transition from a very large mission several years ago now to a much smaller one; our focus is now going to be on enabling training of the Afghan forces so that they can this for themselves in the future. That transition is hard - making a mission change in a middle of a combat situation - is not easy, so that is the first concern.
The second thing that we are working on as an Alliance is - what is NATO after Afghanistan? We used the terms „from deployed to ready“. We were a deployed force, largely in Afghanistan, to some degree Kosovo, the Mediterranean and the sea off the eastern African continent. Now we have considerably reduced the forces in Afghanistan – we are much more in-garrison force, trying to be ready for what happens next; and that transition is not easy either; so from deployed to be ready, and be ready for what? We have been focused for so many years on counter-insurgency (COIN); and now we have to be ready for the full gamut of operations, including the high-end Article V fighting operations. Deploy to ready is the second thing.
The third thing is in the news right now. We have to find the way to reach out and build partnerships with those nations in Europe that are not a part of the Alliance or are not a part of our Partners. We have to figure out how to co-exist, and do more than co-exist – how to prosper together: that is the third concern.
Finally, I also have asked NATO to focus on leadership across the next few years. We are focusing on the leadership of our non-commissioned officers and soon will begin to focus on young officers. Croatia, by the way, is a magnificient example of a nation that has embraced NCO leadership - their schools, their training, coming to western schools, many in American and other nations, giving the experience of other examples, giving Croatia's own signature effort has been very successful, and we have just talked about that over the past.
The Republic of Croatia marking its fifth anniversary of being a NATO member, what is Your view on the level of integration and engagement of the Croatian Armed Forces in the Alliance?
I will sound too enthousiastic here, but I it because I really am – in only five year Croatia has made an amazing progress - the way your country has adopted NATO standards, tactics, techniques and procedures. It is now teaching other nations about NATO tactics techniques and procedures; on the ground, in Afghanistan, it is combating along with other NATO nations, without caveat, exactly the standard, I couldn't be more happy about the progress of Croatia's military.
What is Your evaluation of the Croatian contribution to ISAF and KFOR?
As I said, Croatia's participation in ISAF, has really been excellent. I should also commend the commitment by the Croatian Government, right to the very top, has pledged to be a part of Resolute Support, bringing ringing police training, logistic support and special operations which is a very important contribution. we are very happy to see it. In KFOR – superb performance – as I said before – when I go to Kosovo, I fly on a Croatian helicopters. There is more to it, but the important is that men and women who fly the helicopters are highly professional, very dependable and doing a magnficient job. So I see your flag when I jump on, every time I go there.
Speaking of the missions, one of the maing challenges is the completion of ISAF and launching of the Resolute Support. What main duties activities will it entail, and how do You see Croatia's role in that operation?
ISAF was primarily a combat operation, but in the last year and to this point we have been changing ISAF into the new Resolute Support mission, which is the „train, advise, assist“ mission. Afghan forces lead almost every single mission in Afghanistan, and as we go into the Resolute Support we will definitely complete our combat mission and transition into the that one („train, advise, assist“). Croatia is going to be involved in training, special forces, training the police, logistic support; these will all be agreed in detail when will have the mission set, but Croatia will be involved and we really look forward to it.
Do You think that Croatia becoming a member of the European Union will; General, if You could say Your views on the NATO-EU co-operation from the angle of security and safety, especially here in Europe.
I must make my first example as not in the Old Continent. The best example of the co-operation where NATO and the European Union co-operate is the Operation Ocean Shield, or Operation Atalanta, where forces from the EU and forces from NATO have come together to combat a problem in piracy off the coast of Somalia. Why is this a great example? Because NATO brings great military depth, military command and control, military experience and so on, but what NATO does not have is that whole-of-government approach that the EU does have, which allows the EU to connect to law enforcement, to Departments of State and the Interior so that the whole problem can be addressed. So, NATO brings the structure, the military capability, the at-sea discipline presence and EU connects us to law enforcement, ministries ashore so that both at-sea problem and ashore problem can be solved and a whole future range of issues. I think this is the model for the future. The EU brings great depth in capability, the whole-of-government approach whereas NATO is clearly a military capability with experience, depth and presence.
Regarding the situation in the Balkans, do You see Croatian membership in NATO contributed to the stability and co-operation in the region; also, we would like to ask when do You see the rest of the countries in the region as NATO members?
Absolutely!We have been talking about Croatia to be an anchor – a solid and calming influence, an example how a responsible country can become a part of a great Alliance and bring stability. I expect that to expand. I see Croatia's role absolutely essential in this area. As to when other nations will come aboard, several of them have plans that they are approaching, and are taking actions to meet the requirements set by NATO and I think how they will in the next years progress will be a part of future conversations But what is very clear is that Croatia will continue to lead them the way.
My next question pertains to the situation in Ukraine, only from a different angle. Do You think that Ukraine could serve as indicator or platform for a big crisis situation in Europe and what are NATO procedures and mechanisms for the crises of the kind?
I hope that Ukraine is not what we should expect in the future. What we want instead is that responsible nations to deal with each other and act responsibly to, accept and adhere to international norms, respect international boundaries etc. One would hope that we will not have to see this kind of crises in the future. What I think it presents to NATO is clearly we need to rethink where we are headed; we have gone through a period where we thought that nations were beyond this kind of encursion across an international boundary. Clearly that is not the case. I believe that NATO nations, some non-NATO western nations or others will now have to sit down and re-think what is it that we posture and train our militaries for. We cannot afford not to be ready for such crises in the future so we'll have to rethink to make sure we are.
As You already said, General, You are a fighter pilot, so how do You rate the overall Air Force capability of member countries and NATO as a whole?
NATO has a magnificient air capability; our performance in Afghanistan, Libia and Kosovo demonstrates that we have a unique capability that other parts of the world do not have. They take very precise information all different types of sensors , synthesise those data, provide them to a cockpit or to UAV. And they take those information, the intelligence, synthesise it into a picture and turn it into a very precise discrete targeting in order to accomplish the effects we need on the ground with absolutely minimal collateral damage. The ability to do that at sizzling speed in conflict is the unique capability that NATO brings - a very deep, broad extremely capable Air Force to the field. What this makes, as you've seen in Afghanistan, is the enemy to have to hide, because if you cannot be seen it cannot be hit.