NATO chiefs look to alliance’s future

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Chiefs of defense representing the 29 nations of NATO gather for the NATO Military Committee Conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Sept. 14, 2019. (DOD photograph by Navy PO1 Dominique A. Pineiro)

NATO’s military chiefs of defense worked diligently to ensure the alliance is served in deterrence and defense both today and tomorrow, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Speaking with reporters traveling with him, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford provided his insights on the deliberations of the NATO Military Committee’s meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia, which ended Sept. 15.

The NATO chiefs of defense discussed the alliance’s strategy and how it can shape the future of the alliance. In the United States, officials use the National Defense Strategy and National Military Strategy to ensure all decisions affecting the military today and in the future are strategy-driven. This runs the gamut from how the United States postures its forces to how the Defense Department plans and how the department determines what future capabilities it needs.

NATO chiefs are making sure the alliance can do the same. “[The chiefs] did that because of the competitive environment we find ourselves in today,” Dunford said. 

Russia is a competitor, and the NATO advantage over a resurgent Russia has eroded, the general noted. The chiefs of defense recognize this and approved the new NATO strategy in May. This meeting looked at two documents: a broad concept for NATO defense and deterrence, and a capstone concept for NATO operations.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrives at the opening ceremony of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Military Committee Conference at the National Gallery in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Sept. 13, 2019. (DOD photograph by Navy PO1 Dominique A. Pineiro)

“We are bringing a coherence to the planning that is going on inside NATO, and the collective efforts to develop capability,” the chairman said.

There is a big difference between what the chiefs of defense do as members of the Military Committee and the way they operate in their home countries. In the United States, Dunford works alongside the defense secretary, “actually driving the decisions and the programs,” he explained. “The program reflects all the work that we do. We use the National Defense Strategy and the National Military Strategy. [We] do experimentation, war games, and that drives the investments that we make.” 

NATO’s new strategy drives the alliance’s plans, and it also drives the posture of the forces that have been given to NATO by the various countries. It informs, rather than drives, the path of capability development of individual nations, the chairman said. 

The document gives the chiefs a collective understanding of the challenges NATO faces. They can then go back to their countries and work with political leaders to make specific defense investments that serve their nation and are complementary to NATO’s needs, Dunford said.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets Slovenian President Borut Pahor during the opening ceremony of the NATO Military Committee Conference at the National Gallery in Ljubljana, Slovenia, Sept. 13, 2019. (DOD photograph by Navy PO1 Dominique A. Pineiro)

The chiefs also discussed upcoming operations in Afghanistan and the ongoing preparations for the Sept. 28 Afghan elections. Dunford said the commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Austin S. Miller, spoke about the support NATO and partner nations are providing for the Afghan government as the election approaches. There is an uptick in operations, as there always is before an election, the chairman said. 

The Afghan government wants to give the maximum number of people the opportunity to go to the polls, he pointed out. “The Afghans are running the election, and that drives General Miller’s plan,” Dunford said. 

Dunford also shared with his fellow chiefs the thinking on troop adjustments in Afghanistan. He told them that President Donald J. Trump has not made any decisions right now on future posture adjustments. 

He further said that Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper committed to transparency with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and their NATO counterparts as the United States considers adjustments to posture. “We would make sure they were informed so we can make these adjustments together,” Dunford said.