Evidence of meeting #38 for National Defence in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was nato.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Stéphane Abrial  Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, North Atlantic Treaty Organization

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Good morning, everyone. I apologize for the delay. We had votes in the House.

We're going to have a shorter meeting, unfortunately. I've been advised that our witnesses have to leave to catch their flight back to Washington by 12:45, so we will be adjourning early. I don't think we'll get in all three rounds of questions, but we'll try to make sure that we get in two rounds. I'll be extremely judicious on the time. Once you hit the wall, I will be cutting you off so that we can be fair to all members.

We are continuing our study of NATO's strategic concept and Canada's role in international defence cooperation. Our witness today is General Stéphane Abrial, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, NATO. He is also with the French air force.

He is accompanied by Ambassador Ravic Huso, a political adviser to Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, as well as Colonel Eric Autellet, the executive assistant for SACT.

I'd like to welcome all of you to the committee. We are looking forward to your presentation.

With that, General, you have the floor.

11:35 a.m.

General Stéphane Abrial Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Standing Committee on National Defence, I would like first of all to thank you for this opportunity to contribute to your deliberations on the Atlantic alliance in terms of its vision for the future and specifically its strategic concepts. I am even more pleased to be making these remarks two days after James Appathurai. I feel that I can bring a perspective that will both correspond with and complement his.

By virtue of my position, I can speak to the military future of the Atlantic alliance. I was able to be closely involved in preparing the last concept, which was adopted at the Lisbon summit in November 2010. My staff is also specifically tasked with the role of strategic reflection, the military think tank, if you will. I am also involved in its implementation by virtue of my responsibility for NATO training and exercises, as well as my role in what we call capacity development.

It seems particularly timely to update you on the last strategic concept since, as you know, we are less than 15 days away from the summit of government leaders and heads of state to be held in Chicago.

So, in these opening remarks, allow me to bring together those two perspectives: the concept in the long term and the summit in the shorter term, because really they combine to form a larger issue. I will start with some comments about the previous summit in Lisbon, at which the Atlantic alliance agreed on a new strategic concept, a document that sets the course for the Atlantic alliance until 2020.

The time was right for agreement on a document of that nature. The previous concept was more than a decade old, dating from a time when the alliance had a third fewer members, and, of course, before the tragic and momentous events of September 11, 2001.

What are the main thrusts of the concept? I will identify three.

The first is the desire to come to grips with a new security environment that stresses cooperative security as part of the larger notion of collective defence. This specifically involves the major area of ballistic missile defence in response to the threat posed by the spread of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. In Lisbon, this kind of defence was recognized as a new mission for NATO, or rather as a new way of fulfilling our ongoing and central mission of collective defence. It also involves other emerging threats such as the other new mission defined by the strategic concept in Lisbon, defending against cyber attacks.

The second major thrust is the desire for greater openness between partners. This is a response to a globalization of security matters, which encourages us to cooperate to an even greater extent with partner countries, such as the 22 countries working together in Afghanistan at this very moment. It is also a factor in implementing a truly global approach that is leading us to ever greater cooperation with other international bodies like the United Nations and the European Union, as well as with non-governmental organizations.

The third and final major thrust is, in the words of the preamble to the strategic concept, the desire to help allies “get the most security for the money they invest in defence”. In other words, the concept also called for reform and efficiency.

In all three of these areas the words of a strategic concept 18 months ago have already been followed by action. To take just one example among emerging threats, the cyber threat, NATO has now taken all the steps necessary to make its computer incident response capability fully operational by the end of 2012.

In its efforts at partnerships and outreach, the NATO headquarters is setting up a permanent interface with other stakeholders to implement a comprehensive approach to civilian and military cooperation in crisis management and cooperative security.

In the area of cost effectiveness, the NATO military structure is entering a major reform, the most important since its post-Cold War downsizing. Headquarters will be realigned, based on lessons learned from operations, to meet emerging threats, and manning will be reducing from 13,000 down to 9,000 servicemen and servicewomen.

Where does the Chicago summit now fit in respect to Lisbon and the last concept? It will be marked first by consistency with the major directions set out a year and a half ago. A notable example is the progress that has been made to turn NATO's ballistic missile defence program, based on an earlier theatre defence capability, into a reality. The basic work has now been accomplished to enable our leaders to declare in Chicago what we call an “interim operating capability” for a system that will protect the populations and territories across the alliance.

Another example is Afghanistan. After Lisbon made official the move to a transition phase, Chicago will manifest our enduring commitment to that country through a long-term strategic partnership after 2014.

But the Chicago summit will not only be about implementation of the historic decisions taken in 2010, it will also be about enabling NATO to respond to important events that have happened since, and especially two pivotal developments. The first one, which truly qualifies as a strategic surprise, is the string of political events that occurred in the Arab world, and their most direct consequence for NATO, our Operation Unified Protector. This operation highlighted, above all, the continued relevance and effectiveness of NATO. What other organization was ready to implement the Security Council resolutions on such short notice?

Like all our operations, we also reaped numerous lessons from OUP, Operation Unified Protector. Collecting them is an important component of SACT's mission. Many of them relate to capabilities, from assets to command and control to training. Others reinforced our awareness of the importance of involving partners, including those from within the region. During the operation, the original partners' involvement in either, or both, the political and military roles was critical to achieving the desired outcomes.

The second development is the impact on defence spending of the financial and economic crisis. By 2011, for example, 20 out of 28 member nations had already reduced their defence expenditures compared to the pre-2008 levels. Total defence budgets in Europe dropped by over $21 billion U.S. in that period in real terms, which as you know, is about the order of magnitude of the total Canadian defence budget. We all know there are more cuts to come.

This last development especially has made the issue of capabilities and, more specifically, the cost-to-capability ratio all the more prominent, which has led to perhaps the most important original outcome expected of the next summit, namely the smart defence initiative.

Smart defence is predicated on a simple observation. Our nations cannot afford to spend more on security, and many are forced to spend less. But at the same time, the challenges we face are not decreasing. Whether they are related to the vulnerabilities of globalization, to the spread of potentially disruptive technologies, or to other changes such as the new deal in the far north, there is no other choice than to increase the cost-effectiveness of the resources that nations dedicate to defence, notably by increasingly working together.

What we in NATO have done over the past year is to go to the allies and ask them for their own views on how to move in that direction. I'm happy to report that the response has been very supportive. A comprehensive vision has emerged, with three pillars standing out.

The first one is prioritization, an effort to better align national defence investment with identified collective priorities. This is, of course, above all a question of national will, but NATO can help by providing clarity in the picture of collective needs, including by enhancing established frameworks such as what we call our defence planning process.

The second pillar is specialization. Few member nations can maintain capabilities across the whole of the spectrum of the alliance's requirements, so national specialization is taking place, whether we like it or not. What is at stake is whether countries follow the current drift of specializing by default, notably through uncoordinated cuts, or whether a much preferred path can be taken, what we would call specialization by design, that is, one that fits into a thought-out, coherent whole.

A third pillar is multilateral capability cooperation. These past months I have been engaged in helping put together a package of multinational projects that could signal a new mindset in the development of capabilities. At the Secretary General's direction, I have gone to the nations and have collected thousands of new ideas for cooperation in areas ranging from intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to logistics and maintenance of force protection, and across all components, procurement, training, and support.

I'm grateful for the strong support of Canada, which has, for example, taken the lead on the project by committing to facilitate the interoperability of weapons on NATO aircraft, which like so many other proposals, is most relevant in light of recent operations. I should add that cooperation projects, by their very nature, all contribute to interoperability. It is always a key goal of NATO and is a notion that is at the heart of my command's work.

Actually, interoperability will be the specific focus of a connected forces initiative, which will be endorsed in Chicago, in synergy with smart defence . By means such as enhanced multinational training, reinforced by exercises, and an increased focus on technology, it aims to build on the gains and interoperability achieved in recent operations. In short, smart defence is about having the capabilities we need, and connected forces are about making sure that these capabilities can work together.

To summarize, the Chicago NATO summit—the first one since the 2010 strategic concept—is a great illustration of how such a document helps the alliance as it moves forward. Of course, a 10-year plan is not a straitjacket, but it does provide the alliance with a common, agreed upon vision around its three essential core tasks of collective defence, crisis management, and cooperative security.

The next summit will forcefully confirm a course agreed upon in Lisbon on reform, missile defence, and partnerships, including in the context of our long-term relationship with Afghanistan. It will also open significant new perspectives, particularly with a small defence initiative, which will deeply affect our way of doing work in the years to come.

With all these points on its agenda, I'm sure that the Chicago summit, the first on this side of the Atlantic in over a decade, will send a strong message to our public that NATO will continue to fulfill its responsibility to the security of the Euro-Atlantic region and beyond. That is why this summit will be so important and is why I am looking forward to it so eagerly.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Thank you, General.

I know that committee members are aware that you are the first European to command a major strategic command in NATO. We want to congratulate you on that posting. Prior to that, you were the chief of staff for the French air force, and you are a fighter pilot by training. You commanded the 5th Fighter Wing in Operation Desert Storm for the French air force. You have a lot of experience and a lot of time in command, as well.

We're going to go with seven minutes. To start off, Mr. Harris, you have the floor.

May 3rd, 2012 / 11:50 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, General Abrial.

Thank you for coming to join our committee. We're very happy to hear from you and to have an opportunity to ask you some questions about NATO's new strategic concept.

Let me start by asking you about paragraph 26 of the concept document. It talks about arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation. I'm interested that the first statement talks about NATO seeking its security at the lowest possible level of forces, and it discusses arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation contributing to the peace, security, and stability of not only the alliance but the world. Smart defence seems to fit right into that in terms of our having to do this type of activity.

It talks about disarmament of both conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction, as well as non-proliferation. Aside from the reduction in the number of troops from 13,000 to 9,000, for example, what efforts is NATO making, in particular within its own member nations, to seek, reduce, or avoid the possibility of another arms race, whether it be with conventional forces or, obviously, nuclear. There is work being done on the nuclear side. Perhaps you can comment on that. We had someone talk the other day about it.

On the conventional side, is there an effort to reduce, by taking the next step with higher technology? I know that cyber technology is a new emerging area, and we have to be on top of that. All countries that are concerned about that do. What about on the regular conventional side? Are we making efforts to avoid massive expenditures on new equipment?

11:50 a.m.

Gen Stéphane Abrial

Thank you very much.

I will not touch on the nuclear side of your statement, because as you probably know, nuclear is not included in my portfolio. I have no responsibility on nuclear weapons or what the nations are discussing in terms of future deterrents and the different postures of NATO, which will be agreed upon in Chicago in a few weeks from now.

On the conventional side, yes, we are not at all looking at any kind of arms race, but to the contrary. As part of the job I'm performing on behalf of NATO, we work on establishing the requirements for capabilities in the future. The very title of this part of the work says it all. We establish the minimum capability requirements. This is the basis on which we will ask the nations to look at their own capability development, based on the minimum level of military capabilities that NATO needs to fulfill its mission, as decided by the heads of state in government and reflected in the level of ambition, which we have decided that NATO be able to fulfill. What are the minimum capabilities we need to accomplish the mission?

What is very important to note is that we do this after an analysis of what we call political guidance. Following the strategic concept, which is renewed or a new concept is written and agreed upon roughly every 10 years, we have in a two- to four-year cycle of what the nations call political guidance, which is an updated political vision of what the alliance should do. We on the military side take this document, which is informed by the concept of the most recent analysis of a strategic environment, into these requirements for the future.

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Maybe I can be a little more specific, for example, the development of the F-35 strike fighter. Isn't that a piece of technology that is going to require other entities—shall we say Russia and China, which see themselves as important players—to spend similar moneys and develop similar technologies to provide some sort of balance? Why wouldn't that, for example, be considered a step in the direction essentially of some sort of conventional arms race? And wouldn't it be better if the three bodies we're talking about—China, Russia, and the NATO-U.S., or the partners—were to decide that it would be better if it weren't developed? That's an example.

Maybe the next example is part of the specialization that you talk about when you mentioned the far north challenges, which I'd like you to elaborate on a little bit. Here I am referring to Canada's plan to build military patrol vessels in an area where I'm not anticipating any military challenges. I'm not sure what NATO's views are on that.

Could you talk about both of those issues?

11:55 a.m.

Gen Stéphane Abrial

On the choice by the nations for a specific piece of equipment, NATO has no say. NATO establishes the need for a capability. When we say a capability, we mean the whole spectrum, from doctrine to training, including, of course, infrastructure and equipment. But we don't define the equipment that the nations, in their sovereignty, decide to procure. It's the nations' right to do so.

What we would say is that we will need to be able to do this and that mission and use assets that would fulfill this type of air-to-air, air-to-ground, or surface-to-air mission. It's up to the nations to choose the best way and the best ratio between numbers and technology, and to procure whatever they feel is needed nationally, taking into account the alliance's needs and taking into account their own resources.

We cannot act as if technology is not there; we need to take into account the latest developments. Of course, in the work that we do in my command with the industry, we look at possible technological developments in the future. We want to make sure that we can have access to the best possible technology and that we also have the right means to defeat issues by others who will be ill-minded.

But again, to come back to your very precise question, we don't have any decision, any say, in precisely what type of equipment a nation is procuring. What we expect is that the nations procure a type of equipment.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Thank you. Your time has expired.

Mr. Strahl, you have the floor.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, General, for being here today and for your testimony.

I want to go back to the issue of smart defence. It's a term that we heard as we studied the readiness of the Canadian Forces, which was our previous study to this. I found it interesting to hear from witnesses, and even different parts of the political spectrum, that it means different things to different people. For some it means reducing capability to focus on an issue, and for others it means interoperability.

Canada has essentially been able to maintain our defence budget because of our more enviable fiscal position. What is NATO's vision for the Canadian Forces, or what advice would they give a country like ours that has a full spectrum of capabilities and is proud of that? Does the smart defence strategic concept apply equally to all NATO countries, or is there a different vision for countries that already have a full spectrum?

Noon

Gen Stéphane Abrial

Thank you.

The smart defence initiative was launched in February last year by the Secretary General during the Munich security conference. The smart defence initiative rests firmly on three pillars: prioritization, specialization, and multinational cooperation. The objective is not to reduce capabilities or suggest that we should spend less on defence. The objective is to make sure that despite the fiscal difficulties that all our nations are having, we can deliver the capabilities we need to fulfill the missions that were decided by the 28 members.

On prioritization, we need to make sure there is no possible conflict between a national priority and an alliance priority. We need to define it and discuss it as much as we can upfront.

Specialization does not mean that NATO would ask a nation to abandon anything, or order a nation to do something specifically. We want to build on the strengths nations already have and are ready to share with others, and make sure that the strengths of a nation can be made available to others that could then concentrate on other issues that are their own strengths.

Multinational cooperation is a matter of how much we can work on capability development together. Today most capability programs, that is, procurement programs, are national. Some are multinational, but not many. We would like to see a change in the mindset in the longer term, where nations would first consider going multinational. It could be more the rule than the exception it is today.

The approach concerns every single nation. When a nation thinks it is in her own interest and within her own resources to continue being able to address the whole spectrum, NATO will never say no. It's a sovereign decision by the nation. The problem is probably more for those nations that cannot afford it and become so thin in every part of the spectrum that the effectiveness is not there. Some nations just cannot. Some nations would never have access to a given capability if they did not go multinational. So going multinational enables nations to develop new capabilities as needed, modernize existing ones, and sometimes even save capabilities that we need, despite the financial crisis.

Noon

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you.

What we're talking about there is interoperability. In our previous study on readiness we heard about the importance of interoperability, and not only between our own environments. Canada always acts with an international partner, be it NATO or the UN.

How is NATO working with allied nations to ensure greater interoperability? We heard about new procurements. What about with the existing equipment and forces? What role does NATO play there to ensure that when we go into theatre together it's fairly seamless?

Noon

Gen Stéphane Abrial

I would argue that NATO is all about interoperability. We need to make sure that all member nations are able to operate together. More and more, as we can see in Afghanistan and in the Libyan campaign, we need to also make sure that we have more and more interoperability with potential partners.

Interoperability is at the heart of what we do in my own command when we work on capability requirements, when we work on training. The very fact that we educate, train, and exercise together brings the human side of interoperability into play.

I mentioned to you that we are working quite closely with industrial partners to look together into the future, at what we the military envisage for possible engagement environments in the future, at what industry envisages as possible technology that they could develop for tomorrow. We work on making sure that we ingrain the interoperability factor from the very beginning.

In terms of our existing inventories, some of it is already relatively interoperable, some of it is not. Part of our job is to make sure that we find a way to add this interoperability layer, which is necessary to make sure that we can operate together. We never want to make sure that everybody has the same equipment. It's not our goal. Our goal is that whatever nations decide to do and to procure, and however a nation decides to train and equip their own forces, these forces will be able to communicate and work together.

This is at the heart of my command work.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you, sir.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Thank you.

In the speech part, when you were talking about interoperability, you talked about the connected forces initiative. Is that what you're talking about right now, about how that all plays together?

12:05 p.m.

Gen Stéphane Abrial

The connected forces initiative is a new initiative that the Secretary General launched in Munich this year, at the latest Munich security conference.

Basically there are three aspects to it. The first is additional education and training of individuals. The second is enhanced exercising, doing more exercises together. The third one is technology, to make sure that we have the right interface, the right interoperability from the outset.

All of these aspects are very much central to my work, so I guess our workload at Allied Commander Transformation will be increased. But this is extremely important now, and I think the Secretary General's vision is right to study it early. NATO forces, member nation forces, have been together through a series of operations in the last 20 years.

We see now a period of time coming, after 2014, when the operational tempo will decrease, hopefully. If this is the case, we need to make sure that we keep this level of interoperability that we have acquired through these operations, and we need other means: training, exercises, and emphasis on technology.