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COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH (1/5) … and why it is a big NATO issue

This is a publication of the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR)


The Comprehensive Approach is the biggest issue in NATO today. For that reason the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR) organized a Symposium, highlighting this subject during its 2010 Summer Congress in August in Stavanger, Norway. The intention was to educate reserve officers on this topic (professional development is one of the objectives of CIOR) as they can bring these messages home to their respective stakeholders in the 36 countries that are members of CIOR. The role of the Reservists as they relate to the Comprehensive Approach was seen as critical to creating valuable insights for a successful end state in current operations.

The CIOR Symposium was held under the Chatham House Rules, meaning that no information or discussion could be subsequently attributed to an individual speaker. Accordingly, the opinions as stated in this article are not specifically referenced to their source.

This will be a series of articles where the Comprehensive Approach will be addressed and elements of this new approach will be explored. 

Comprehensive Approach – what it is.

Comprehensive Approach (CA) is not yet well defined, since actors and nations have different opinions about what it is. From the standpoint of the NATO military, through lessons learned, it is now generally agreed that military operations executed in host countries cannot reach the end state of that operation by military means alone. Although the military can contribute in other fields, their first objective will always be to bring a higher level of security in that area of operation. In such a limited approach however, the broader operational outcome objectives can be missed.

The end state is clearly defined and communicated in the United Nations (UN) Mandate with a focus on political, economical and social terms.  But in recent years, the experience of Civil Military Corporation (CIMIC) in various operations has revealed that many aspects are untouched and that many other actors are operating “in the dark”,  never knowing if they are working towards the same end state. A lack of communication leaves them “un-guided”.

Currently, CA is an orchestration of communication of all activities in a country, coming to a well defined and well understood end state. It means that no single actor in a country is leading CA, but all actors contribute to it in such a way that their actions are all working towards that same end state.

This means that it is not “NATO’s” Comprehensive Approach, because NATO doesn’t own it. NATO speaks about NATO’s contribution to a Comprehensive Approach. NATO wants to contribute in the security field, just like other actors are doing in their respective fields, in reaching the same end state. This way of working together and communicating is new and has many implications: in military planning, training, and rebuilding, to name a few examples.

CA is already understood at the Strategic Level in NATO, but implementing it at that level is not so easy. NATO is looking at its strategic partners the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) – but NATO needs their cooperation to work together on CA. From the UN perspective it is problematic, since several member nations see NATO more as an instrument of the western world bringing "capitalistic solutions" to an area of operations, giving them reason to oppose the use of NATO to fulfil UN mandates. Another reason can be that UN representation in an area of operations is often understaffed.

The EU is also a strategic partner, and it has more capabilities than simply the military: it can support on a government level, it can use diplomatic means, and it can also send police forces to the area of operations. For a long time however, the EU problematic working together with NATO often had a political undertone, effectively blocking decisions to work together with NATO on CA.

Most importantly, it is necessary to recognize that Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are doing important work in various areas of operation. The problem is that only a few of them are organized at the strategic level. The few that are (like the International Red Cross and Doctors without Borders), are humanitarian organizations that will never  work together with armed forces, nor will they compromise themselves by working with a party on one side of the conflict. They will continue to stick strictly to their humanitarian principles and will always help all victims in the area by keeping independent to the crisis.

For CA to be implemented on the Tactical and Operational level of NATO, it first has to be understood by all military. After it is understood, it is then important for the current military culture to transform by embracing a CA approach. Professional military officers and non-commissioned officers are well trained in a variety of planning and conduct of operations in difficult circumstances. Military members are used to be “in the lead” and calling the shots - playing the military card whereby all activity is directed towards the military objective.

Under this old philosophy, when planned activities were executed, all means, military and civilian, were used to reach the militarily defined objective, as clearly defined in NATO’s definition of CIMIC:
The co-ordination and co-operation, in support of the mission, between the NATO Commander and civil actors, including national population and local authorities, as well as international, national and non-governmental organizations and agencies.
(Allied Joint Publication 9, page1-1, Art 102).

With this definition, the commander's intent always prevailed in planning and executing the mission.

The most significant change in adopting CA is the understanding that the mission is not only a military objective but can be an objective used to integrate a broader approach, leading to an end state that is not simply military in character.

By the incorporation of CA, the planning of operations would mean that we would not look to the use of civilian organizations as a means of supporting a military mission, but recognizing that we have to share the planning table with other actors; actors who want to achieve their own objectives!

In some cases, it may be that those objectives could prevail, in which case we have to accept that military means will simply be part of a bigger plan, thus necessitating a somewhat less direct course to take in reaching the military objective.

This is a real turnaround of working with military means. This turnaround means a lot of flexibility from not only the military organization as a whole, but from every individual soldier. It means that the man/woman that carries the gun has to accept that use of his power and skills can be used for purposes other than the military objective.

This is not a new concept; in most countries it is well established that the military is partly tasked to support the civilian government in disaster relief operations. But still military organizations are used to getting a fixed task, and having a clear objective. Once the objective is clear, the military are real masters in planning and conducting the operation, on their own. Others can be used, but it is their objective, and as soon it is reached, the job is done.

In this changing world, military organizations will have to accept that the plans and activities of other partners will influence conditions in a given area of operations. Even if these partners are not very adept in operations planning, they will have to work together and let the other actors have their own space to do what they have to do.
Military organizations will have to more effectively communicate with other actors at all levels, regardless what their background or culture is. Military organizations often don’t realize that they use a multitude of acronyms and terms that are not understood by civilians, for example.

Our military organizations will have to adapt, in their planning and in their language, as the military becomes less of the leading agency in operations; more frequently, it may often be one of the many non-military actors in the Comprehensive Approach who takes the lead. When operations become less “kinetic”, others might take over and military power will become only one of several means to reach the end state.

This is where reservists can be of help. As being “twice a citizen” (Sir Winston Churchill) reservists can bring civilian competence to the military staff in operations. They can translate the military “slang” into language that can be understood by the civilian actors, and they can also bridge the gap in helping the military to understand the way of the civilian by working at the planning with civilian actors, because military reservists live “in both worlds”.

This is the first of a series of 5 articles from CIOR on the Comprehensive Approach, derived from the CIOR Symposium on “NATO’s Comprehensive Approach and the Role of Reservists” held on the 11th of August 2010 in Stavanger (NO).

© 2012 Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers