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Transformation Looms Large Globally, Regionally

September 2003
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

A NATO stalwart seeks to build a road map for its—and the alliance’s—future.

The thrust toward force transformation that is redefining the U.S. military also promises to revamp NATO and its member nations. The alliance is working to evolve a new military configuration that will serve 21st century needs, which is a task that many of its members—including a host of new nations—are facing on their own. The recent successes of the U.S. military, which already is reaping some of the benefits of its force transformation, are adding urgency to both individual-nation and alliancewide efforts.

NATO has found itself at many crossroads during its 54-year history. The one it faces now comprises a variety of factors beginning with the changing definition of military strength, a host of new member nations joining the alliance, the growth of a single European political entity and the global war against terrorism. Each of these factors in turn influences the effects that the others bring to the table.

One nation that is dealing with several of these issues is longtime NATO member Italy. Italian National Armaments Director Adm. Giampaolo di Paola, ITN, offers that the biggest challenge facing NATO armaments planners is to lead the alliance in the direction of transformation. NATO planning must be steered in this direction, he emphasizes, in such a way that all the nations involved in armament planning can contribute to this new thrust.

The admiral does believe that in the post-Cold-War alliance the philosophy of collective security will be enhanced also through the concept of nation specialization. The NATO transformation is aimed at operational security that extends beyond the alliance’s traditional areas of operations. Ultimately, this security may extend even beyond regions that abut Europe.

Adm. di Paola sees Italy as one of the leading European nations in this transformation effort. “Having understood what is taking place in the United States, [Italy] is favoring this transformation and is pushing an understanding among all the allies that we must move forward in this direction,” he declares.

“We understand fully the need for this transformation, and we are trying to accommodate our planning in a way that is fully consistent with the new direction that NATO should be taking.”

In that vein, Italy also is moving toward transforming its own forces. This requires long-term joint planning, which the nation has been pursuing for some years now. However, it is not fully there yet, Adm. di Paola says, so the country must both establish joint planning and apply it to force transformation.

Within its own planning efforts, Italy is striving for some specific goals. Foremost among these is the transition to a professional, all-volunteer military force. Plans call for suspending military proscription early in 2005. Adm. di Paola notes that merely suspending proscription is only the first step in building an effective professional military, as the all-volunteer force must be reshaped, maintained and supported. This includes recruiting and training personnel and ensuring that they can be retained.

But, a sea change in personnel is only half of Italy’s military transformation. The other half involves operational capability. Italy intends to move in a direction consistent with that of the United States, Adm. di Paola says. However, the Mediterranean nation has neither the role nor the scope nor the resources of its largest NATO ally. So, Italy’s transformation thrust aims at having projectable mobile forces that can be operated in a network. This translates into a focus on command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I), he allows.

“We are taking very seriously the net-centric warfare operation concept that will be the future core, I think, of our C4I system,” the admiral states. "This means we will transform our C4I system in a direction of making it the supporting architecture for net-centric warfare operation capability.

“This is really the way, I think, in which the transformation will affect C4I,” he continues. “We are going to arrange our C4I architecture to allow our operational forces to be fully integrated in the net-centric warfare architecture, both nationally and with our allies.”

These new Italian forces also will be revamped to address the challenge posed by the new global war on terrorism, especially the threat of weapons of mass destruction.       However, where the U.S. military is transforming across its entire spectrum of operations, Italy is pursuing a less ambitious program.

“Italy will do it on a more limited scale and scope,” the admiral emphasizes. “Within this general framework of transformation, we will give priorities to certain capabilities over others.” As a result, significant emphasis will be placed on forces that can be deployed, sustained, protected and networked, he states.

Adm. di Paola sees his country’s key contributions to NATO in both political and operational terms. In political terms, Italy’s geographic location increases its role in contributing to stability in Europe. In operational terms, Italy has deployed its forces outside of NATO territory, especially in the Balkans where it has a major presence among alliance peacekeeping and stabilization forces.

Italy’s position on NATO’s southern flank has grown in importance with the end of the Warsaw Pact threat and the instabilities in the Balkans and the Middle East. The peninsular country in the Mediterranean finds itself near the front lines of the Atlantic alliance’s main security concerns. Where during the Cold War NATO focused its forces on stopping a Soviet-led invasion of Western Europe, the alliance now must contend with diverse security threats both within Europe and from outside the continent’s borders. The addition of new members from Central and Eastern Europe also has produced a shift in NATO’s geographic balance.

These new NATO members will alter the nature of the alliance in more ways than geographical, the admiral observes. NATO’s elaborate decision-making process aims toward achieving consensus, and this effort becomes more complex with the addition of several new members. The result may be that NATO finds itself in more of a stabilizing role in the eastern and southeastern regions, Adm. di Paola offers. These new nations provide a stronger foothold in the Balkan region, for example, which puts the alliance in a better position to tackle problems in that troubled area.

“The alliance is no longer a territorial defense [organization] per se,” he continues. “You defend yourself, your territory, by expanding the area of security outward. By engaging the alliance in bringing security and stability at your border and beyond, [then] you are defending yourself.”

With their own histories as well as their neighboring conditions, these new NATO members understand well the need for stability. “Having been unstable, and [then] having been stabilized by NATO, they will facilitate the transformation of the alliance,” the admiral offers.

This shift in the alliance is rooted in “a fact of life that this area is presenting challenges to NATO,” Adm. di Paola relates. “For this reason, Italy is playing a major role because we are closer to where potential risks are emerging.

“With the alliance moving more toward collective security—and taking into account that the security problem is more acute in the southern region—inevitably we must shift our focus of emphasis,” he states.

For example, the headquarters for the International Security Assistance Force post-war peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan is being supplanted by a NATO headquarters that is coming from the alliance’s northern region. This represents a clear demonstration of how NATO is moving resources to wherever the need is, which currently is in or near the southern region, the admiral notes.

This shift toward a more southern emphasis does not portend a change in the basic structure of NATO, the admiral cautions. He emphasizes that the trans-Atlantic alliance must continue to flourish on the basis of two fundamental pillars. One comprises the United States and Canada, while the other pillar is Europe. And, as one of the two key pillars of NATO, Europe should assume a greater responsibility in the alliance as part of its unified identity.

“Europe must still retain a strong sense of connection and link with the United States,” Adm. di Paola offers. “Italy is an advocate of a stronger Europe and a stronger European role within a stronger alliance. A two-pillar NATO having Europe as the eastern pillar and the United States and Canada as the western pillar would be an ideal outcome of the goal of a European Union.

“Europe should not, and will never, go its own way. Certainly Italy, together with other allies, will work hard for a stronger Europe and a European Union that can express its own views. But, it must be strongly linked with the United States and Canada through the alliance.

“We must not portray the growth of the European identity as something that can be counterproductive to the alliance, but instead as something that can make the alliance stronger,” the admiral posits. “There is no way that Europe can be a stronger partner of the United States if Europe does not grow stronger itself. The best way for us to do more is as Europeans with a strong sense of European identity.”

The biggest challenge facing NATO in fighting the war on terrorism is the nature of this conflict, which now is global. Characterizing this conflict as “unpredictable, unforeseeable and having the advantage of surprise,” Adm. di Paola warns that many terrorists possess a “nihilistic nature” that makes it hard to eliminate them at their roots. Planners fighting terrorism must understand the nature of their adversaries, which can vary from this nihilism to a political nature. While some political issues can be addressed, nihilistic terrorism must be eradicated, and this is a substantial challenge facing NATO, he cautions.