NATO Defense College Rome Graduation Remarks

Admiral Michelle Howard, commander Allied Joint Force Command Naples, addressed NATO military officers about the NATO Strategic Direction South Hub in a graduation ceremony speech here today. The Hub will collect, collate, analyse and disseminate information in order to contribute to NATO’s comprehensive understanding, situational awareness, decision making and information sharing for the south during peacetime, crisis and conflict. Courtesy Photo.
Jul 21, 2017
Remarks as prepared by Admiral Michelle Howard / 21 July / Rome, Italy
Good Morning, and thank you for inviting me to speak to you on this important occasion. I do realize that my remarks are one of the few things that stand between you, your diplomas, and your return  home.  So you’ll be relieved to know that the Commandant only gave me three hours today.  Commandant, I appreciate the opportunity to be here today, thank you for the invitation. I do promise that I’ll try to come in under three hours. 

Today marks an important day for each of you individually, and for the Alliance as a whole.  Each of your countries has conveyed a special trust and confidence in you.  Six months is a solid investment in a military career.  Your time in the Eternal City has allowed you to build enduring relationships with other members of our Alliance.  NATO will see a significant return on investment with the bonds you form here.

This day, 21 July, in 1949 the United States Senate ratified the Washington Treaty, which created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The treaty had been signed by the original 12 members of NATO earlier in April.  It was quite the statement by the original members.  Just four short years after the end of World War Two, and only 2 years after the Paris Peace Treaty.  The preamble in the charter reaffirmed for these original dozen nations their "desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments.” 

Much has transpired since 1949.  When NATO was created color television wasn’t yet a viable commercial enterprise.  It wasn’t until 1973 that Motorola came out with the first cellular phone, and it was definitely NOT capable of the same things that today’s smartphones allow us to accomplish with the swipe of a finger.  CNN – not around until 1980.  The World Wide Web – created in 1990.  Facebook is still an infant, founded in 2004.   

Just as technology has transformed since the late 1940’s, so too has the Alliance changed shape with the passage of time.  In the decades since its inception, each of the member countries of NATO have signified their belief in the principles laid down in the Articles of the North Atlantic Treaty. The Alliance has not only endured but also adapted over the years. As Secretary General Stoltenberg has said: 
"NATO is the most successful Alliance in History because we have been able to change, to adapt when the world is changing.”

A long and frozen conflict with the Soviet Union was won.  NATO membership has grown from the original 12 members to 29 members, with the addition of Montenegro.  As an Alliance we have seen the threat of conventional warfare with nation states diminish somewhat.  However, it has been replaced with more insidious and amorphous foes like the Taliban in Afghanistan, and ISIS in the Levant.  

What has remained steadfast is the commitment of the Alliance.  We are still determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of our people.  The Alliance was founded on principles like democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.  Those founding principles still resonate today.   

We are as dedicated today to the Articles that bind us as we were nearly seven decades ago.  Article 4 still holds true.  We are committed to consulting one another whenever the integrity of our territory is threatened. Article 4 was invoked by Turkey in 2003 in the aftermath of the second Iraq War, and again in 2015 due to terrorist attacks in Turkey stemming from the ongoing conflict in Syria.   Article 4 was also invoked in 2014 by Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in response to the annexation of Crimea by Russia.  

Article 5 also remains inviolate.  An armed attack against any of our twenty-nine member states is considered an attack on all members.  We proved this to be true in September, 2001 when for the first – and only time – Article 5 was invoked by the Alliance.   Together, Articles 4 and 5 have been considered the foundation on which the unity and resolve of the Alliance and its members was built.  Article 5 led NATO to take the lead of the International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan in August of 2003.  The Alliance adapted and came together to provide effective security and ensure that Afghanistan would never again be a safe-haven for terrorists. 

While not Article 4 or Article 5 missions, the operational missions I have under my direction in places like Kosovo, Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Iraq, and Ethiopia all point to the multi-faceted and comprehensive approach of the Alliance. We conduct these missions in order to live up to the expectations set forth by our treaty almost seventy years ago.  

Our KFOR mission in Kosovo was derived from U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 and operates under the UN Charter as a peace support operation.  The initial mandate included deterring the renewal of hostilities, establishing a secure environment, ensuring public safety, and supporting the international humanitarian efforts in Kosovo.  Just last year KFOR personnel and equipment were sent to Skopje and surrounding villages in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*.  For nearly two weeks KFOR troops worked hand-in-hand with the local authorities to clear roads after severe flooding in the area.  

In the nearly two decades that NATO troops have been on the ground our presence has been crucial to maintaining safety and security for all individuals and communities in Kosovo. At its peak, Kosovo had over 45,000 NATO peace-keepers on station.  As the environment on the ground in Kosovo has improved we have adjusted our posture.  Today we have a much smaller and more agile force that relies on human interactions to make in-roads with the local population. 

Take for example Private Cathia Fercher, from Switzerland, who serves on KFOR’s Liaison Monitoring Team.  Private Fercher is out among the Kosovo population each day getting the pulse of the citizens. She gathers information and returns it to the appropriate parties at KFOR Headquarters.  Recently Private Fercher had a meeting with a local lawyer who specialized in domestic violence and found that there was a great need for clothing at women’s shelters in Kosovo.  After that information was passed along, KFOR was able to work to secure donations to get assistance to people in need.

Today, KFOR continues to contribute towards maintaining a safe and secure environment in the region and is comprised of approximately 4,500 troops. That significant adaptation was possible because of the improvements we have seen on the ground in the region.

NATO remains steadfast in our desire to maintain a safe and secure environment throughout the Balkan region.  NATO Headquarters Sarajevo works to facilitate reforms in the defense and security structures in Bosnia & Herzegovina while also supporting their government in capacity building.  NATO’s Military Liaison Office in Belgrade assists Serbia’s efforts in the Partnership for Peace Program while also supporting the Defense Reform group aimed at modernizing Serbia’s Armed Forces.  While in Bucharest, Romania the team at Multi-National Division South East stands at the ready.  It is a divisional headquarters for the South-east region should the requirement for contingency operations arise under Article 5. 

The recent deployment of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (Land) to Romania provided the first stern test, as MND-SE formed a crucial coordination point for exercise NOBLE JUMP 17.  NOBLE JUMP demonstrated that the NATO Command Structure, supported by regional NATO Force Integration Units can rapidly deploy ready forces from from eight contributing countries by road, rail, air and sea. This is a great bumper sticker of an accomplishment, but to truly understand the complexity of this task, you have to understand what this looks like below the tactical level. 

Consider the experience of  Lt Col Mike Cornwell, the Commanding Officer of the 1st Princess of Wales Royal Regiment based in Sennelager, Germany, held at high readiness to deploy.  For NOBLE JUMP, when the Crisis Response Measure was activated, Lt Col Cornwell’s armored vehicles and his Squadron were moved by road and rail to Marchwood, United Kingdom. The port of Marchwood was the designated point of embarkation of the UK vehicle fleet, coordinated by the Allied Movement Coordination Centre.

Once the ship arrived in the Joint Operational Area in Thessaloniki, Greece, Colonel Cornwell’s vehicles came under OPCOM of SACEUR, who directed OPCON to my Joint Force Command in Naples.  This enabled MND-SE, supported by the NFIUs of Bulgaria and Romania, as well as the Hellenic National Movement Control Centre to coordinate the reception.  They staged onward movement through three different countries, and covered almost 1000 km in nine days. Local civilian logistics companies were contracted to move the equipment, while regional security authorities controlled cross border movement and escorting duties.  All this activity was underwritten by the Defense Attache network. 

Meanwhile, the Colonel’s officers and soldiers jumped on an aircraft in Germany and were flown to the APOD in theater. They were then transported by road into Cincu, Romania to rendezvous with the rest of the VJTF(L) Brigade.  As the ground commander received OPCON from the JTFHQ, Colonel Cornwell ordered his troops to conduct final checks on the vehicles before integration training, just nine days after he left Germany.      

In order to deliver this potent capability, the NATO Command Structure draws on a complex web of National and regional entities, alongside international organizations and networks, both military and civilian. The complexity I just described is obvious.  But much of the risk is reduced because of relationships built and maintained on a personal level. 

In addition to the KFOR mission and exercises like Noble Jump providing for our readiness I have smaller, lesser known missions ongoing that are also about partnerships and adapting the Alliance to the ever-changing environment around us.  I have 20 members of my staff on the ground in Iraq.  They conduct training with security forces as part of NATO’s Partners across the Globe initiative.  These advisors offer their expertise to the local security forces and institutions in Iraq.  

And I have a small element in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia providing support to the African Union.  This element’s goal is putting a security architecture in place and strengthening the cooperation between NATO and the AU.  The work my team does is an important thread in our partnership.      

As the threats to our security have increased in complexity and ambiguity since the fall of the Berlin Wall, so too has NATO adapted.   We began working with partners outside the Alliance, building up their capacity and capabilities with the goal that the overall environment would be improved. 

At JFC Naples we are the lead operational Headquarters for five countries within the Partnership for Peace framework.  Through training and military cooperation we work to increase the capabilities and capacity of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Malta, Moldova, Serbia, and the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia*, and others.

Through the Mediterranean Dialogue NATO has created an avenue for constructive partnership with Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia.  These seven countries see benefit individually with NATO in the form of annual Work Programs aimed at enhancing partnership and cooperation on security-related issues.   My staff in Naples also coordinates with these Dialogue countries on activities such as force modernization, crisis and civil emergency management, and border security.  Mediterranean Dialogue countries are invited to observe and sometimes participate in NATO / Partnership for Peace exercises and attend courses like this one.  

After the early success of the Mediterranean Dialogue, the Alliance sought to expand our contributions to the long-term global and regional security.  In 2004, NATO created the Istanbul Cooperative Initiative and began to work bi-laterally with Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.  Working together on topics such as defense planning, civil-military relations and Mil-Mil cooperation allows NATO to increase our level of interoperability with these partners.  

These partnership efforts have been a part of a paradigm shift in NATO operations by delivering crisis management effects well beyond the borders of the Alliance.  NATO now has partnerships with over 40 nations in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Central Asia – and beyond.

Working with partners both regionally and globally is not the only major adaptation of the Alliance.  

On the morning of April 28th, 2007 Jaak Aaviksoo, then the Minister of Defense of Estonia, was at his desk trying to pull up the website for Postimees, a leading Estonian newspaper.  He kept getting an error message.  He tried a couple of others, to no avail.  He was new to the job, having only become the Minister of Defense four weeks prior and when an aide rushed in to give him a report.  The news wasn’t good.  Newspapers, parliament, banks, and ministries were all experiencing cyber-attacks.  Over the course of the next two weeks Estonian officials and cyber-security experts from around the world worked feverishly to defend against a barrage of virtual incursions across multiple fronts.  Their first defense was to pull the plug on all international traffic coming into the country. Estonia, was basically taking the siege mentality of the middle ages into the digital age.    

As the attacks accelerated, Minister Aaviksoo’s Ministry of Defense cyber experts worked with law enforcement and others to restore their connectivity to the world.  Then, just as suddenly as they started, the attacks stopped.  This event and others like it led to significant adaptation for the defense of our Alliance, eventually with the recognition in 2016 of Cyber as a warfare domain.  

More recently, an email sent to the Lithuanian speaker of parliament alleged that German men had raped a 15 year girl outside a foster home in a rural part of Lithuania.  The email was sent from a third party country outside the European Union and was patently false.  The email coincided with the German forces deployment to Lithuania as part of Enhanced Forward Presence.  A NATO diplomat told German newspaper Spiegel that he viewed the incident as a Russian attempt to undermine the new NATO mission and to turn sentiment against the Alliance.

As an Alliance we must learn to fight and defend cyber space and the information space if we are to maintain the advantages we have long enjoyed in the air, surface and sub-surface domains. It was just over a year after the cyber-attacks crippled Estonia that the NAC granted full NATO accreditation to the Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn.  

The recognition of this new domain of warfare has expanded the scope of the 360 degree view both JFC Headquarters.   As the threat environment changed, our Headquarters were directed by the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe to refocus our vigilance, and develop more nuanced and in-depth understandings in our own neighborhoods.  JFC Brunssum is focused East, while my headquarters – JFC Naples has turned our attention to the South.

The scope of the challenges we face to the South is formidable.  The geographic area that the alliance has chosen is daunting.  NATO Strategic Direction-South has been defined as North Africa, the Sahel and the Middle East.  To put this in perspective, all of Western Europe and the United States would fit geographically into the area in North Africa and the Sahel.  The sheer size coupled with the broad range of cultures, climates, economics, politics and power dynamics throughout the South, add to the complexity of gaining an understanding of the region.  

Middle East and North Africa challenges exist in an ecosystem that allows them to flourish.  The region is characterized by  number of weak or failing states – especially in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.  Porous borders remain unrecognized by the people that live along them, years after the colonial powers drew them up with little regard for natural or ethnic boundaries.  And these borders are patrolled by security forces that are often ill-equipped and lack sufficient training.  

The lack of secure borders is not just ashore.   Let me share with you a short story of the work of one non-government organization, Doctors without Borders, is doing in the Mediterranean to ensure the safety of migrants.

Onboard the MS AQUARIUS, Marcella Kray and other aid workers have the unenviable task of bringing onboard the desperate people willing to risk their lives in the hope of a better life.  Once they are aboard they are given fresh clothing, food, and a brief respite from their troubled lives.   

One day late last month the AQUARIUS brought 1,032 migrants onboard in a single day.  Among them were many pregnant women, and children as young as three-months old.  This mass migration, caused by intolerable conditions of drought, conflict and persecution, undermine security and stability in countries ill-equipped to deal with it. We in JFC Naples are facing this challenge as we continue to adapt to unprecedented circumstances.           

Achieving enhanced understanding we are tasked with is especially challenging in the South.  The Alliance’s ability to collect and process useful information from amongst a vast and growing database will be a key challenge moving forward.  

I’ve laid out how NATO has evolved over time as we’ve met the thresholds of our articles four and five.  However today, Article 2 may be of equal importance to our long term stability and adaptability as an Alliance.  Listen to the verbiage of the Article:
The Parties will contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well being…   

In response to the challenges of the South, the Alliance has decided to build an information exchange organization or HUB.  I was given direction to stand up the Hub at my JFC headquarters.  The Hub is part of the NATO Strategic Direction South and will initially focus on five countries – Libya, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, and Jordan due to their strategic importance to peace and stability in the Middle East and North Africa.  

As I see it, the Hub will function in an Article 2 capacity for JFC Naples focused on increasing situational awareness across the region, strengthening institutions, and promoting conditions of stability and well-being across the South.  Initial tasking for the Hub will include contributing to information collection, management and sharing; contributing to understanding, monitoring and assessing; contributing to the coordination of NATO activities in the South; and contributing to the implementation and assessment of the Framework for the South.  

In just a few short weeks, upon its ribbon cutting on 5 September, the Hub will reach Initial capability. Full capability is expected to come online by the end of December.  We anticipate that the Hub will be a collaborative endeavor working with our friends throughout the region from the Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperative Initiative countries, partners like the European Union and African Union, as well as across a broad spectrum of non-governmental organizations and global industry partners.  

The Hub will collect information from varied sources and collate and analyze the information and then share it with those that participate.  For example, the workers onboard MS AQUARIUS could share the when and where of migrant rescues and we could analyze that data to better predict the migrant flow patterns. The HUB will inform Allied Command Operations and Allied Command Transformation.  Of note, the HUB will not have any command and control authorities.  It is an information gathering analytical, and coordination cell.  A successful HUB will also help us synchronize Allied efforts across the region; optimizing the scarce training and advising resources of the Alliance.   

Ideally we will all be able to add and extract value from the information we will take in and analyze in Naples to gain a better understanding of the complex political, economic, social and military challenges on our Southern Flank.  

Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr, noted French journalist and novelist is credited with penning "plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”   which translates to "the more things change the more things stay the same.”  I’ve spoken extensively this morning about the adaptation of the Alliance, both through our approach to security challenges and our seven expansions from an original 12 member Alliance to one that now includes 29 members.  While the Alliance has changed, the constant has been our talented people.

You are the living embodiment of the preamble of the Washington Treaty.  Each of you is committed to safeguarding freedom.  Each of you believes in democracy, individual liberties and collective defense.  I know this to be true because you are here.  You committed yourself to the profession of arms in defense of your country and -- because of our commitment to one another via the articles of the Washington Treaty -- to your Allies.  You are charged with taking with you the lessons you have learned here in Rome and imparting them on the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen you will lead in the future. 

The relationships that you have forged here at the NATO Defense College may be the most important achievement of your time here.  These relationships form the backbone of the Alliance.  The understanding of one another’s culture and heritage are essential to the continued success of the most effective political-military Alliance in history.  Whether you are working on a headquarters staff, or deployed in support of NATO operations and objectives, the bonds of friendship and comradery built here in Rome will be invaluable as we move forward in the collective defense of our nations.  

It is now your duty to use the enduring relationships you have formed with each other to strengthen us as a whole in the future.  It is a great responsibility that your nations and our Alliance have entrusted to you.  I know all of you will succeed.

Congratulations on the work you have accomplished throughout this course.  In the time honored tradition of my service, the United States Navy, I wish you all fair winds and following seas.  Thank you.
* Turkey recognizes the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.


     Admiral Michelle Howard Commander's Corner