Stephen Saideman – NATO Persistent Presence: The Next Questions

This post was originally published on July 12th, 2016 on Saideman’s Semi-Spew:

Now that NATO summit is over and countries have committed to deploying troops to Poland and the Baltics (not a bad name for a band), what next?

Well, the process here seems to be a bit different than usual. In past NATO missions, once the North Atlantic Council (the representatives of each NATO country–can be ambassadors, ministers or leaders, depending on the fora) make a decision, the head of the NATO military, SACEUR drafts a plan (called an oplan) which then gets vetted by the Military Committee (each member has a senior officer, equivalent to a three-star general/admiral for many/most), and then the oplan is approved. The plan sets up the force requirements and the general parameters of the mission.


This picture and the related text is from the Dave and Steve book: NATO in Afghanistan:Fighting Together, Fighting Alone

The oplan includes the rules of engagement–what can the NATO troops do and what can they not do? To be clear, NATO, at least in Afghanistan and Libya and probably everywhere else, sets up broad rules of engagement, and then countries that participate craft their own, opting in to some/all of what NATO permits. For instance, in Afghanistan, NATO’s rules of engagement permitted national contingents to engage in offensive operations, and some countries chose to allow such efforts and others did not. See the pic to the side, as Germany opted out of much that was allowed and also changed policies over time.

One of the big questions here is: how would NATO forces respond to Russian aggression? Will the rules be fired if fired upon? No need for offensive ops to be allowed without further decisions since this is a defensive/deterrent mission, but will the various contingents be allowed to shoot at little green men (the Russian special ops guys)? Given that it is likely that the local forces (Polish, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian) have already been delegated authority to respond to aggression (since Russia has demonstrated an ability to jam signals and crash computer connections), it would be difficult/awkward/problematic if the locals were firing at the Russians and the NATO forces amongst them are not. So far, I have not seen any of this discussed or worked out, but a lot of this would be classified.

Usually, the terms/conditions under which a contingent will serve, its caveats, will be presented to NATO and the countries in leadership positions when a country transfers control of its contingent. Countries sometimes do not inform NATO of all of the conditions–unstated caveats are “insidious” one Canadian general said.

This ties into the second big question: who is doing what where? The force generation process is where NATO gets the various contributions to the mission–NATO specifies what it needs and then countries volunteer to provide some of the specified units. “Force generation is begging” as no countries are actually required to do anything–it is all voluntary.

Ordinarily, force generation is led by SACEUR’s staff at SHAPE in Mons, Belgium (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe]. When countries do not kick in enough units, then deputy SACEUR asks the higher ranking officials in NATO countries to contribute. When that fails, SACEUR and perhaps the Secretary General ask the leaders of NATO countries to help out. If that fails, the President of the US exerts some influence. To be clear, the magic spreadsheet containing the list of required units and which countries are providing which assets, the Combined Joint Statement of Requirements, is never completely filled. In 2001-02, six years after NATO started the Bosnian effort, its CJSOR was still incomplete.

Anyone, what makes this NATO mission different is that the onus for filling out the requirements does not seem to be a NATO thing but a Framework Nation responsibility–that US/UK/Germany/Canada seem to be responsible for figuring out what is needed and getting commitments for their sector (their assigned country).

And this is where I have a decent clue that Canada is late to the game. Other framework nations have announced who is participating in their effort and with how much. Canada apparently has been told by some members that they will assist Canada, but nothing official has been announced. UK/Germany are ahead because they agreed a while back that they would be Framework Nations and have been working on filling out their force. Canada? Not so much, I think. It is not that problematic since there are probably about 15-20 NATO countries that have not made commitments yet and it is not like Afghanistan, where being slow to get an assignment might mean getting a crappy sector (the John Manley explanation of Kandahar–see Adapting, chapter three).

This will all get worked out, but we may not get the details, especially the rules of engagement and caveats, as they are often classified. Still, we will learn a lot once we know who is serving where. And, yes, I certainly hope that the CAF continue their old tradition of having “opinion leaders” visit Canadian missions so that we can learn how this stuff works.

Stephen Saideman is a Fellow and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs

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One thought on “Stephen Saideman – NATO Persistent Presence: The Next Questions”

  1. “…it would be difficult/awkward/problematic if the locals were firing at the Russians and the NATO forces amongst them are not.” It would indeed. It evokes Rwanda or Srebrenica, except that this time it would be our own allies.

    As to ‘late to the game’, the phrase ‘the world needs more Canada’ uttered in Parliament by Obama does in this particular usage evoke an image of the Imperial fingerprints being left on a certain ‘hapless, gawping’ Foreign Minister’s throat.

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