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Joint Air & Space Power Conference 2017

Joint Air Power Priorities

By General (ret.) Frank Gorenc

Deterrence and Collective Defence

NATO is the most successful Alliance in history but past performance does not guarantee future results. Four realities could limit NATO aspirations:

NATO potential power is not real power. When deterrence fails, prompt consensus is pivotal, collective defence must be decisive. The enemy has a vote and could choose war. NATO forces must be ready, deployable and sustainable to be fully combat capable.

Recognizing and understanding these four realities will posture the Alliance for future success.

The Power Reality: NATO potential power is not real power.

Today, NATO economic and military power is unmatched. However, Alliance power is potential, not real power. A $ 36T GDP does not generate real military power unless Allies increase defence spending and invest wisely. Large, well-equipped militaries do not generate real military power unless forces are fully combat capable and offered during force generation. Only 5 of 28 Allies meet the 2 % GDP goal and only 10 meet the 20 % GDP modernization goal of the 2014 Defence Investment Pledge (DIP). Nine Allies are top 20 worldwide GDP nations: only 2 of 9 meet the DIP and 2 actually spend less than 1 %! Allies have readiness problems and NATO has lackluster force generation.

The Transition Reality: When deterrence fails, prompt consensus is pivotal, collective defence must be decisive.

Potential adversaries know consensus is a NATO center of gravity and will attack using asymmetric means to delay or prevent consensus. Consensus pivots Alliance mindset from peacetime to crisis and from prudent thinking to detailed planning. Consensus pivots Allies from pre-deployment preparation to execution. Long, contentious delays in gaining Alliance consensus weaken NATO credibility because the enemy may come to believe NATO would not or could not invoke Article 5. To remain credible against the threats described in Warsaw, prompt consensus must be followed with decisive real power collective defence.

The Threat Reality: The enemy has a vote and could choose war.

While effective for decades, NATO deterrence could fail and the enemy could choose war. Currently, in ‘peacetime’, Russia, ISIL/Da’esh and Iran are aggressive and undeterred. Russia using hybrid warfare annexed Crimea. ISIL/Da’esh is attacking Allies using terrorism. Iran pursues nuclear warheads for a capable ballistic missile inventory. Unattributed cyber warfare continues to threaten Allies.

Russian modern long-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems and surface- to-surface missile (SSM) systems create anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) areas to hinder NATO freedom of movement and threaten critical infrastructure. A well-executed military campaign will be required to neutralize A2/AD.

Adversaries are pursuing and threatening the use of nuclear weapons. Russia’s ‘Escalate to Deescalate’ nuclear strategy, the implied willingness to use nuclear weapons in response to an Article 5 response could delay or prevent consensus. Success of this strategy, real or perceived, will provide incentive for future adversaries to seek nuclear weapons and explains Iranian attempts to build a nuclear arsenal.

The Force Reality: NATO forces must be ready, deployable and sustainable to be fully combat capable.

NATO leaders set high expectations for the Alliance force. They want a force that can deter, reinforce and defend against full spectrum potential threats attacking from any direction! Additionally, they want the force to be a deployable, sustainable, interoperable, heavy, high-end, full range and at high readiness!

To be fully combat capable, this force must be ready, deployable, sustainable and available every single day and it will be expensive. How expensive depends on the following unanswered questions: (1) Ready for what? (2) Deploy to where? (3) Sustain for how long?

NATO Joint Air Power core roles remain indispensible to credible deterrence and decisive collective defence. Command of the air, precision strike, ISR, strategic mobility and C2 will continue to guarantee success and minimize risk during both peacetime and crisis. If deterrence fails and the enemy chooses war, NATO air forces with their speed, flexibility, range and high readiness will be the first to respond and maximize the effectiveness of the follow on joint force. NATO Joint Air Power effectively integrated with the selected COA provides the best opportunity to meet Alliance aspirations. Defence investment and pursuing key urgent priorities will make NATO Joint Air Power the historical advantage Allies have come to expect.