CIOR partnering with distinguished Defence Institution

In place of the normal Summer Congress Symposium, CIOR is in Tallinn co-sponsoring with the International Centre for Defence & Security its internationally recognised ’Annual Baltic Conference on Defence’. This is a one-day event – this year entitled ”Strengthening Baltic Societal Resilience and Military Defence”.

 – For CIOR this is a prestigious opportunity to co-operate with an important defence institution, says President Argent.

By: Roy Thorvaldsen, Lt.Col.  (R) Norwegian Army/CIOR Public Affairs

The host for the ABCD is the International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS) in Tallinn.

After introductions by the President and Prime Minister of Estonia, topics being covered are the COVID-19 Pandemic, NATO in the Baltics, and – in the afternoon – Reserves. The title of the latter is: ”The role of reserves in the current and likely future security environments”. Speakers include senior officers and politicians from Estonia, US, UK, Germany, Spain and Portugal.

From an earlier ABCD conference. Photo: ICDS.

All those who are attending the ’Late Summer Congress’ in Tallinn in person can participate, and virtual facilities will be provided for everyone else who wants to follow the event online.

– All of this is really relevant to CIOR, and frankly the list of speakers is such that we could not hope to rival it, says CIOR President, UK Colonel (Retd.), Chris Argent – who is hoping this might only be the beginning of  fruitful partnership.

– There is definitely a long term possibility of ongoing cooperation with the ICDS, Argent enthusiastically says.

The International Centre for Defence and Security has published a wide range of reports on international peace and security issues , in cooperation with – among others – the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, well known in CIOR through the annual winter Seminar. Photo: ICDS.

Link to the ABCD website, with the current version of the program. The conference is hosted by the International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS) in Tallinn.


The ’Late Summer Congress’ is confirmed

The CIOR  ’Late Summer Congress’ is confirmed to go ahead as initially planned, in Tallinn, Estonia, from 27 September to 01 October 2020. Due to the COVID-19 situation, the virtual IBM held last July agreed to make a final decision by the third week of August.

By: Roy Thorvaldsen, Lt.Col.  (R) Norwegian Army/CIOR Public Affairs

The congress will have the option to participate remotely via video-link, for those that cannot, or do not want, to travel and be physically present. It is anticipated that a majority of delegates will choose to participate through the virtual facilities.

– It was important to show that CIOR adapts and adjusts in a realistic, military fashion, says outgoing CIOR President, UK Colonel  (Retd.) Chris Argent.

– We have conducted a thorough risk assessment and are reasonably sure that it is possible to hold this congress without exposing attendees unnecessarily to the virus, given standard precautions are followed – social distance and good hand hygiene being the most important ones.

Participants’ accommodations are available at several hotels in Tallinn for the LSC. The main hotel being the Park Inn by Radisson Meriton.

The President and the Secretary General, UK Colonel (Retd.) Adrian Walton, have been on location for a recce this week, and following a loosening of the Estonian National Policy on quarantine for visitors from countries with higher infection rates in consultation with the Estonian hosts, the congress confirmation was posted on CIOR Connect today.

In place of the normal Symposium, CIOR is co-sponsoring with the International Centre for Defence & Security, the Annual Baltic Conference on Defence (ABCD) which is a one-day event entitled ”Strengthening Baltic Societal Resilience and Military Defence” on Wednesday 30 September in Tallinn. Speakers include senior officers and politicians from Estonia, US, UK, Germany, Spain and Portugal, and proceedings will be opened by the President of Estonia.

All those who are attending the ’Late Summer Congress’ in person can participate, and virtual facilities will be provided for everyone else who wants to follow the event online. Contents will include key note speeches on the Security and Defence Implications of COVID-19, NATO’s Deterrence and Defence in the Baltic Region and the Role of Reserves in the current and likely future security environments.

CIOR President, UK Col. (Retd.), Chris Argent.

– For CIOR this is a prestigious opportunity to co-operate with an important defence institution, and we are grateful for the opportunity and the goodwill of the ICDS, says Argent.

In respecting the health advice for social distance and large gatherings, and adjusting for what is practically possible on short notice during this situation, the Congress will be held without the traditional military competition (MILCOMP), and it is hoped that the CIOR Language Academy (CLA) will take place at a later date.

The ’Late Summer Congress’ is held in lieu of the cancelled Summer Congress in Liege, Belgium, which was scheduled for early August.

The Estonian ’Late Summer Congress’ event page can be found here.


Germany takes over Chairmanship of NRFC

On 1st of July, Germany took over the National Reserve Forces Committee (NRFC) Chairmanship from Poland. With NATO Member States, the NRFC promotes and enhances the utility and interests of Reserve Forces and Personnel as a vital component of the National Forces and of the NATO Force Structure.

In a bilateral video-teleconference call, Major General Robert Głab (Poland) handed the responsibility of Chairmanship over to Rear Admiral Michael H. Busse (Germany).

Germany will now hold the chairmanship for the next two years.

In his farewell remarks, Major General Glab highlighted “the honour and privilege of chairing the NFRC”.

– As chair, my priorities were to facilitate and deepen cooperation between NRFC members, all NATO nations, and NRFC observers as well as to create the appropriate conditions for active participation in NRFC plenary meetings, he said.

He also commended Nations for the work carried out during his tenure and the Reserve Forces for their continued commitment.

NRFC’s new Chairman, Rear Admiral Michael H. Busse, German Navy, signing the NRFC Handover Certificate. (Video-teleconference screenshot by NATO HQ.)

After signing the NRFC Handover Certificate, Rear Admiral Busse emphasised the importance of the NRFC “as a forum to share information, experience, effective models, and solutions between Nations and observe ways in which joint activities build on international best practices”.

– I look forward to working with NATO and the NATO Military Committee who have always been strong advocates for the NRFC and understand the compelling requirement to exploit the inherent potential of reservists and Reserve Forces”, the new chairman said.

Created in 1981, as an interallied and joint committee and recognised as a NATO advisory committee in 1996, the NRFC is one of four entities dedicated to reservist issues: the National Reserve Forces Committee (NRFC), the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (known by its French acronym CIOR), the Interallied Confederation of Medical Reserve Officers (CIOMR) and the Confédération Interalliée des Sous-Officiers de Réserve (CISOR).

(Edited version of NATO headquarters website article and photo.)

A hundred years of Finnish Reserve Officer training

Only a few weeks after the country got its independence in 1917, Finland organised the first platoon leader course in Vimpeli. This has been considered the beginning of Reserve Officer training in Finland. The first Reserve Officers Course began the 1st of April 1920 at the Reserve Officer School in Hamina.

By 1st Lt. Susanna Takamaa, Finnish Reserve Officer Federation/ CIOR Public Affairs

During World War II, the reserve officer training was relocated from Hamina to Niinisalo where it operated under the name of Officer School. From 1945 to 1948 the training was halted all together because of the Allied Control Commission.

After that the school returned to Hamina where it has continued to train reserve officers on two courses per year, the summer and the winter course.

Most of the reserve officer trainees are young people in their twenties. Photo: Susanna Takamaa.

The defence of Finland’s territory is based on the large reserve created by general conscription. Every male Finnish citizen aged 18 to 60 is liable for military service, and women can apply for military service on a voluntary basis.

Annually, the Army’s eight brigade-level units alone train around 20 000 conscripts. The Finnish Navy turns approximately 3400 conscripts into reservists every year, and the Air Force around 1300. Less than 10% of the conscripts are trained to become reserve officers.

Thousands of reservists trained every year

Refresher exercises, which maintain reservists’ skills, involve thousands of reservists each year.

Nowadays Finland has five different reserve officer training units. While the Reserve Officer School in Hamina trains most of the reserve officers, some special branches carry out their own reserve officer training.

Among these are the Special and Para Jäger units of Utti Jaeger Regiment and officers for the armoured troops of the Armoured Brigade. Navy reserve officers are trained in Naval Warfare School and Air Force reserve officers in Air Force Academy.

Military rank only when in active service

The service obligation as reservists continues until the age of 60. The reserve officers do not have a military standing while in the reserve but when called to active service, reserve officers rank with career officers.

Based on their performance during service in the reserve, reserve officers may be promoted to higher ranks. All officer promotions are decided by the President of Finland.

The reserve officer courses bring soldiers from most Finnish garrisons together and bond them through the shared experiences. Sportswear with their own insignia for each course is one of the most prominent identifier among especially the younger reserve officers. Photo: Susanna Takamaa.

CIOR IT Support officer presented at NATO conference

For probably the first time ever, a CIOR representative has briefed at a NATO conference. That happened when IT Support officer (officially Assistant Secretary General Information Technology), UK RAF Squadron Leader Robin Wilkinson in early June gave a presentation to the Alliance’s annual ‘e-learning’ conference.

By: Roy Thorvaldsen, Lt.Col. (R), Norwegian Army/CIOR Public Affairs

Sqn Ldr Wilkinson presented to over 200 delegates on CIOR’s use of digital technology for some of its business online, and to ensure 24/7 connectivity between the Presidency and the delegates from the organisation’s 34 member associations. His presentation was titled “Digital Development in support of International Reservists”.

Screenshot from Sqn Ldr Robin Wilkinson’s briefing session with the “NATO Training Technology Conference”.

The presentation was well received by the audience at what is formally named the “NATO Training Technology Conference”. The conference was entirely virtual, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Wilkinson participated from his home office in England. Attendees were following the presentation from across Europe and North America.

Moving forward in the digital space

– It showed how CIOR is leading the way in embracing technological change, an evolution – not so say revolution – which has proven absolutely crucial during the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilkinson said.

CIOR started its digital revolution 18 months ago, and the project has now come to practical fruition to the extent that nearly all aspects of the organisation’s dealings practically could happen online – securely.

CIOR has just held its first IBM entirely as a virtual meeting and plans to provide at its upcoming Late Summer Congress remote access for any delegates unable to attend.

Although cyberspace activity is not foreseen to ever fully replace in-person meetings with face-to-face human interaction, the potential for savings in terms of both travel time and money by reducing travel is huge – and is something that the Confederation is looking into.

– About finding a good balance

– It is about finding a good balance between virtual meetings and physical attendance, CIOR President, UK Colonel (Retd.) Chris Argent said. He sees NATO’s interest in the CIOR project as a sign of success.

– This is clearly evidence that the path we chose and the priorities we set in 2018 were the right ones. CIOR has been leaning forward in modernising itself for the 21st century to stay fit for purpose, Argent said. He mentioned E-learning as another area where CIOR had put in a lot of effort to make good use of new, digital tools.

“New tools, technologies, strategies, and practices”

The NATO Training Technology Conference “is for anyone involved in NATO training and education who is looking for new tools, technologies, strategies, and practices to enhance their knowledge, expertise, and capabilities, with learning technologies” (

The annual conference is organised by Allied Command Transformation, NATO’s warfare development command and one of the Alliance’s two strategic entities. It’s headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia is the only permanent NATO institution outside of Europe.

Allied Command Transformation headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia is NATO’s warfare development command. Photo: HQ SACT.







IBM succesfully concluded

CIOR wrapped up its first virtual IBM successfully last weekend with discussions on policy revisions and the way forward – to ensure the Confederation remains fit for purpose. More than 50 delegates and other attendees online made this historic conference a success.

By: Roy Thorvaldsen, Lt.Col. (R) Norwegian Army/CIOR Public Affairs

Never has CIOR organised such a large online meeting, and thanks to meticulous planning, thoughtful organisation and repeated rehearsals, everything went as good as anyone could hope for – both in terms of attendance and technically.

The outgoing British-Estonian Presidency and delegates concluded that this way of organising a meeting could be an example for future IBMs.

Although cyberspace activity is not foreseen to ever fully replace in-person meetings with face-to-face human interaction, the potential for savings in terms of both travel time and money by reducing travel is huge.

The British part of the outgoing joint UK-Estonian CIOR Presidency at the Royal Air Force base Northolt, where they ran the first ever virtual CIOR convention, with more than 50 participants.

CIOR 2030

A vetting of the CIOR constitutional foundation and strategic delivery to ensure continued – and strengthened – relevance, and to agree on an enduring business plan process for the future, was at the core of the meeting’s deliberations.

The outgoing Presidency was praised by several delegates for already having sharpened the focus of CIOR considerably, e.g. by the Romanian delegation (AORR).

“Indeed, during the Joint UK-Estonian Presidency, CIOR has renewed its attitude and ambition by delivering very good products and outputs”, their discussion paper said.

Especially mentioned was the signing of the Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with NATO’s National Reserve Forces Committee (NRFC) and the Interallied confederation of non-commissioned officers (CISOR), the re-establishment of a Reserve Advisor at the NATO operational headquarters SHAPE and the strengthened training – especially with regard to young reserve officers and Cyber.

Now is the time to strengthen CIOR’s “main role of becoming a real advisor to NATO on Reserve Matters” and “a true think-tank on demanding issues regarding Reserve Forces and Reservists, including Cyber”, the AORR paper said, and delegates recognised that this role is a ‘’two way street’’ in which CIOR can play an important role in Strategic Communications from NATO to the civilian community.

This discussion will continue at the planned Late Summer Congress in Tallinn and further into the next two-year period. The strategic review is set to be concluded by 2023.

Ambitious agenda – and projects

More than 50 delegates and other attendees participated in the conference online. Photo: Lars Bak.

Other central points on the ambitious agenda for the IBM, was to ensure momentum is kept for organising a pilot ROW Course for young reserve officers in addition to the present YROW and a plan for a CIOR Language Academy Mobile Training Team (MTT) that CIOR has been asked to deliver by the International Military Staff (IMS) at NATO Headquarters in Brussels – and that is foreseen to cover a long list of countries participating in NATO’s outreach program.

The meeting also discussed the allocation of future presidencies and summer congresses, and further included reports from the various committees – which for the most part have been very active also during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

Late Summer Congress in Tallinn

Council agreed to the plan to hold a Late Summer Congress in Tallinn, Estonia, September 27th – October 1st, unless the situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic worsens to the extent this might not be possible. A final “go” or “no go” will be decided upon by August 15th.

The Presidency will facilitate that participants that still do not wish to travel during the present circumstances, or that are under travel restrictions, may participate online.






Delayed spring meeting in cyberspace

CIOR is this first week of July in the middle of its initial virtual conference involving all member associations. The IBM (”In-Between-Meeting”) scheduled for the spring but temporarily halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, takes place without the delegates physically meeting.

By: Roy Thorvaldsen, Lt.Col.  (R) Norwegian Army/CIOR Public Affairs

CIOR President, UK Army Colonel (Retd.) Chris Argent.

When the Corona-virus attacked in March, it became clear that CIOR needed to regroup and come up with a battle plan – one that did not involve physical presence for its meetings to move the extensive program of work forward.

– It was paramount for me as the leader of a military organisation that CIOR also related to the threat that had occurred in a military fashion, by finding an alternative way forward. To admit defeat, surrender and sit around waiting for things to get better was not an alternative, says CIOR President, UK Army Colonel (Retd.) Chris Argent.

A huge effort has therefore gone into establishing a safe means in which to meet. Building on the success of CIOR Connect, CIOR’s new digital workspace, it was quickly decided that professional video conferencing would provide the key functionality to run a large international meeting like this.

Many of those taking part have already become proficient in using this technology in their civilian careers, but comprehensive guidelines and rehearsals were prepared as well as facilities for Vice Presidents and Committees to be able to ‘chat’ as they would do in sidebar discussions at a normal meeting.

In addition, there was a requirement for precise scheduling to enable members from both Europe and North America to participate, fully allowing for different time zones.

– The Presidency is very happy with the way the first day of the meeting proceeded, Argent said.

The Norwegian delegation listening to CIOR President Chris Argent during his report to the CIOR Council. Photo: Ole Kristian Haagenrud, Communication Manager NROF.

– A success

– Both in technical terms and with regard to attendance, which totalled 44 on the first day, and effectivity of discussions and decisions, this clearly is a success, he stressed.

Argent believes the experience has shown that virtual meetings could replace some of the annual physical meetings, most typically the IBMs, due to huge savings in time and travel costs for the 34 member national associations. However, one of the key principles of CIOR is learning about other nations’ ways of working, and much work is done outside the formal sessions, so physical meetings are vital for success.

– This is up to the CIOR Council to decide, but we believe it has merit to meet in this way some of the times. It’s not a matter of either or, but with the help of modern technology to find an ”ideal” combination of virtual meetings and face-to-face human interaction, Argent points out.

Late Summer Congress

The first day of the IBM, among other important business, discussed the plans for holding a ”Late Summer Congress”, in lieu of the cancelled congress in Liege, Belgium.

Estonia has offered to host the Late Summer Congress in Tallinn, as they also did for the 2019 Summer Congress.

Details are to be agreed upon by the CIOR Council, but the proposal is to hold a congress as normal as possible. However, in respecting the health advice for social distance and large gatherings, and adjusting for what is practically possible on short notice during this situation, the Congress will be held without the traditional military competition (MILCOMP) – and also without the CIOR Language Academy – which will be busy fulfilling an operational task for the NATO International Military Staff (IMS). The mid-week Symposium of the Congress would be a scaled down version, according to the suggestion.

Call for nominations

Another matter of high importance discussed during the first day was the successful completion of job specifications for the newly re-established Reserve Advisor at NATO’s operational strategic headquarters, SHAPE – and the Presidency’s call for member nations to nominate candidates for the post.

The second day of the IBM continues with discussions on strategy and future presidencies, and the new ROW course for young reserve officers. The meeting will conclude Saturday noon.




Romanian Reserve Officers Association involved in fight against COVID-19

The Romanian Reserve Officers Association (AORR) donated 460 medical visors to the Central Military Emergency University Hospital (SUUMC) in Bucharest and the ROL 2 Deployable Military Hospital, in function at the Ana Aslan Hospital in Bucharest.

These are in addition to a 120 medical visors aid granted the previous week. Over 40 AORR members donated over 10,000 leu (ca. € 2.000) for this purpose.

Photo: Col (R) Ninel Cercheaza/AORR.

The medicla visors were purchased through the efforts of AORR members and with consistent support from robotics teams made up of high school students from Bucharest, Ploiești and Deva, participants in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) program. These teams have the ability to produce 3D-printed visors, which they donated either directly to those in needs or to AORR for further distribution.

Spontaneous collaboration

It is a spontaneous collaboration that brings together three generations in the fight against Covid-19: military personnel who have ended their active period, volunteer reservists and high school students. We are in a period of turmoil, but also of confirmations related to our potential – and the contact with the FTC is such a confirmation, said AORR President, Lieutenant General (Ret.) Virgil Bălăceanu, PhD.

– Glad we can help

We are glad that we can help, by staying close to active comrades and, at the same time, with minimal exposure to the risks of Covid-19 for AORR members. It is not a small thing to deliver hundreds of medical visors every week, and if we can do that now it is only due to the mobilisation that took place in the whole society”, said AORR Secretary General, Brigade General (R) Iulică Burticioiu.

Effort continues

AORR plans to deliver another 500 medical visors next week. Also due to the accumulation of donations in money and materials, an action that will continue in the coming weeks, it will be possible to make a stock of such visors for military structures in Suceava, a city closed for quarantine.

The original article was published in the Romanian Military Observer no.17. from 29 Apr – 05 May 2020, by Marius Bâtcă. Translation by col (R) dr. Crăișor C. Ioniță. 

International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers

Today is the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. CIOR and NATO celebrates the anniversary together with the United Nations. The theme this year is  ‘Women in peacekeeping: A Key to Peace’.

“The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, 29 May, offers a chance to pay tribute to the uniformed and civilian personnel’s invaluable contribution to the work of the Organisation and to honour more than 3,900 peacekeepers who have lost their lives serving under the UN flag since 1948, including 102 last year.

This year, the challenges and threats faced by UN peacekeepers are even greater than ever, as they, like people around the world, are not only having to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also support and protect the people in the countries they are based in. They are continuing their operations to the best of their abilities and supporting the governments and the local populations,  despite the risk of COVID-19.

The theme for this year’s Day is “Women in Peacekeeping: A Key to Peace” to help mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.” (Source: UN website)

Read more @



China: Future Threat or Partner? Experts and Reservists Discuss Security Politics at the CIOR 2020 seminar

(This article was first published in Dutch military science magazine Military Spectator’s  April edition.)

Since he came to power, President Xi Jinping has put China on the road toward a certain destiny. Central to the country’s economic, diplomatic and military initiatives, experts agree, stands the survival of the Communist Party. That party envisions a new, multipolar world order, in which China dominates its own hemisphere. What does the rise of China mean for NATO and the Armed Forces of the member states? At the February 2020 seminar of the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR) in Bonn, Germany, experts elaborate on various topics concerning security, economic and cultural issues involving China. Is China, as the seminar’s title suggests, a future threat or partner, or is there still another angle to the debate?

By: Frans van Nijnatten

Underpinned by an unprecedented economic growth, China is building up the People’s Liberation Army and wants to play an influential role in military-strategic matters in Asia. Photo: Amber Smith/ US Army.

At the kick-off of the seminar in a packed conference room of the Gustav Stresemann Institute Lieutenant Colonel (R) Hans Garrels, Chairman of CIOR’s Seminar Committee, wants to see a show of hands from the participants: who, based on the knowledge he or she has now, is convinced China is a threat, who considers it a possible partner? The votes are roughly equally divided, with the majority of the reservists from CIOR members and associate countries attending eagerly conceding they are not experts on the matter. They see the congress as an excellent opportunity to inform themselves about a current topic in world affairs. Towards the end of the four-day meeting it is expected that at least some will have adjusted their opinions.

In his introduction Philippe Welti, former Swiss ambassador to Iran and India and an expert
on geopolitical and strategic affairs, explains China’s position in the regional and global environment. There is no doubt that China, underpinned by the unprecedented economic growth of the past decades, is building up the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and wants to play an influential role in military-strategic matters in Asia, partly by outspending rivals Russia, India and Japan. Experts agree that the Chinese defence budget has grown steadily over the last twenty years, and economic growth has allowed the country to modernize its army (including the nuclear forces) and develop blue water naval capabilities. By the mid-2020s, China will have at least three aircraft carriers and a considerable submarine force, allowing it to undertake force projection in vast parts of the Asia-Pacific region. Besides other major military reforms that have been initiated there has been a flattening of the command structure combined with the strengthening of the party’s dominance over the military.

Beijing considers the U.S. to be a military competitor it has to erode and surpass, since no other country seems to be able to frustrate China’s long-term strategic objectives. Gradually, the PLA which, according to the Chinese government, had a budget of almost 178 billion dollars in 2019, is growing into a much more lethal military organization, with a considerable role for reservists and a better ability to perform joint operations.

Strategic opportunity

China, according to Dr. Christopher D. Yung, Dean of the US Marine Corps War College, recognizes a period of ‘strategic opportunity’ in which a relatively peaceful international environment allows it to expand its own military power and – through diplomatic pressure – to reform the international political system and agreements (United Nations, World Bank, cyber laws, the space and maritime domains, et cetera) so that they better suit the needs of authoritarian regimes.

Dr. Oliver Corff, a specialist on China’s current affairs, says observers can derive clues to a Chinese grand strategy from official party decisions, five-year planning documents, yearly government reports, white papers and ad hoc programmatic speeches by party leaders. Considering itself the ‘infallible executioner of history’, the party seems to aim at making China the one dominant economic and military player in the region, exporting its own security model to neighbouring countries. To the outside world, China communicates a strategic narrative that conveys clear and diffuse messages at the same time. As an information source, therefore, Chinese media should be handled very carefully.

At the same time, China has a fragile political system and still spends more on internal security than on defence, because the Communist Party wants to retain its absolute grip on power. Internal unrest, economic downturns and unexpected crises, like the outbreak of the coronavirus, continue to test the party’s resolve. At the same time, the regime spends vast sums on programmes to restrain internet access for its 1.3 billion people, says John Lee of the Mercator Institute for China Studies. China’s digital espionage force, fitting a hybrid warfare philosophy, and its aspiration to become a cyber super power are just one side of the coin; using the internet for total domestic control, enhanced by initiatives like the social credit system, is the other.

Discussing China’s role at the Bonn seminar: Dr. Christopher D. Yung (foreground) eleborates on the ‘strategic opportunity’ the Chinese Communist Party has recognized. Photo: LtCol Bill Grieve (R), US Army/ CIOR Public Affairs.

Taiwan and the South China Sea

To keep its own people rallied around the country’s interests, the party, among others, constantly depicts security threats from the outside. It points at Taiwan, the East and South China Sea, South Korea, and the risk of a cyber attack from overseas. Dr. Sarah Kirchberger of the Institute for Security Politics at Kiel University reminds the audience that in the case of Taiwan, China applies an ‘anaconda strategy’, aimed at ‘suffocating’ the island by military, economic and diplomatic pressure and cyber attacks. She poses an intriguing question: what would the reaction of NATO be if China really attacked the island? Would the member states stand united and if not and only the U.S. stood by Taiwan, could it spell the end of the Alliance? China, she stresses, invests heavily in Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2AD) capacities, while the PLA runs joint invasion scenarios during exercises.

Beijing’s political-military strategy envisions not only the eventual taking of Taiwan and expanding sovereign maritime rights, but also the undertaking of out-of-area operations, aimed at the protection of overseas markets and other interests, like the military base operated by China in Djibouti in East Africa. Elsewhere on the continent China has been making inroads as well. Dr. Andreas Wolfrum, an expert on Chinese culture, explains that African nations are particularly susceptible to offers from Beijing because they hope they can somehow follow the example of China, which after the Communist takeover in 1949 was an underdeveloped country itself but is now, due to its policy of ‘catch up and overtake’, a player on the international scene. Not only in Africa, but also in Asia and Europe, China has gained foothold in markets – well-known examples being Huawei and 5G – and other sectors through the so-called Belt and Road Initiative it started in 2013. In the long run, however, accepting Chinese investments and loans may be subject to a quid pro quo with countries running the risk of Beijing ultimately demanding payback. Eventually, this could become a security threat and put alliances under pressure.

Bilateral meeting between NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Zhang Ming, Ambassador of China to the European Union. Photo: NATO.

Since Xi became President in 2013, China has been using its foreign policy on a broader scale to influence other countries. In foreign affairs, China cooperates with the U.S. on certain issues, but tries to upset Washington on others. One of those areas is the South China Sea, where Beijing operates in a provocative way, claiming historical rights it has unilaterally written into law. Bill Hayton, journalist for BBC News and author of the book The South China Sea. Dangerous Ground, explains that China considers itself the rightful owner of the area which, because of its fishing grounds and natural resources, is of economic importance. The dispute revolves not only around existing islands or artificial ones constructed by China; it also has everything to do with China’s demand for access to the open sea for its navy and especially its SLBM-equipped submarines.

China seeks cooperation with countries that challenge the international status quo, such
as Russia and Iran, and tries to weaken ties between the U.S. and its most loyal ally in the region, Japan. Japan, the U.S, Australia and India have responded by founding the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, creating a multilateral platform for talks and combined military exercises. Another reaction has been the 2018 renaming of the U.S. Pacific Command into Indo-Pacific Command, to broaden the focus on an intertwined area where China wants to become the dominant factor.

Synergy with Russia

Dr. Lyle J. Goldstein points seminar participants at the growing military-strategic cooperation between China and Russia. Photo: LtCol Bill Grieve (R), US Army/ CIOR Public Affairs.

China not necessarily wants to go it alone. Dr. Lyle J. Goldstein, Research Professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute of the U.S. Naval War College, emphasizes the synergy China and Russia have developed in several important fields, ranging from trade to military matters. In an article for The National Interest, published during the Bonn seminar, Goldstein points at the strain Russia caused by closing major border crossings in the Far East due to the coronavirus crisis in China. It should be just a temporary setback, though. Only recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that his country is helping China to create a missile attack warning system, which clearly shows a growing military-strategic cooperation between Moscow and Beijing. During a workshop, Goldstein challenged seminar participants to dwell on this rapprochement and the implica- tions for NATO. Would it be realistic to expect a concerted military effort by both countries in the near future, with China, for example, attacking Taiwan and Russia simultaneously creating a conflict elsewhere? Should the West ‘up its game’ by using a wedge strategy, aiming at driving Russia and China apart? At a time when many NATO countries seem to distrust both Russia and China, there seems to be no easy solution.

Ships from the Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Navy sail in formation as part of Malabar 2017 in the Bay of Bengal, a combined exercise to address the threats to maritime security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Photo: Holly Herline, US Navy.

In order to create nearby stability, China is expanding its political and military presence along its periphery and adjacent areas, but is currently not a real enemy, says Dr. Yung. He calls a short-term military confrontation in which the U.S. and other NATO countries would be involved, a far-fetched idea. At this moment, China would be at the losing end of such a conflict and the government in Beijing realizes that. It leaves him to conclude that instead of being either a threat to NATO or a possible partner, China should primarily be considered a challenge, especially to U.S. foreign policy. For participants in Bonn, many of them eager to follow the debate on China from now on more closely, that is one of the valuable insights to take away from the reservists’ seminar.


‘Armed Forces and CIOR should focus on the younger generation’

Hans Garrels on the need for reservists and their ideas.

In 2019 the Dutch Armed Forces welcomed 564 new reservists, to bring the total to almost 5,800. The growth in the number of reservists is good news, but the Ministry could still step up its efforts to facilitate part-time military personnel in consultation with their civilian employers, says LtCol (R) Hans Garrels, Chairman of the Seminar Committee of the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR). After a day of presentations and discussions about China and NATO at the yearly seminar in Bonn, Germany, Garrels expresses his views to the Militaire Spectator about the need to stimulate young people to become reservists and, as such, help determine the future of the armed forces. According to Garrels, reservists should not shy away from taking part in complex debates on international and security politics.

By: Frans van Nijnatten

‘Compared to other countries, I would describe the recognition of the position of reservists in the Netherlands as rather poor.’ Garrels, who works as an independent business consultant and is Deputy Head of Reservists at the Defence Materiel Organisation, chooses his words carefully. ‘For example, the Bundeswehr has a reservist or, as the case may be, replacement for almost all functional ranks, up to the highest level. In the UK, the General Staff has reservists at two and three star level. The same applies to France.’ In those countries, reservists apparently are not considered a ‘threat’ by the regular military. Garrels: ‘But I do not know of one Dutch reservist who intends to take over the position of his professional colleague.’

Hans Garrels: ‘Every reservist who has a certain position or ambition, should want to participate in the seminar to develop a broader understanding of global security issues and international decision-making’. Photo: 2nd Lt Catalin Florea, Romanian Air Force/ CIOR Public Affairs.

Garrels calls the influx of new reservists good news, but says a considerable effort should be made to make sure they do not leave after only a short stint. ‘In some fields, we are starting to run into shortages of, for example nurses, engineers, and members of the National Reserve Corps. We see many students who join the National Reserve, which

is a nice part-time job. Some of those people are really talented and ambitious, some play an important role in filling gaps that are the result of the many vacancies within the Dutch Armed Forces. But we keep cutting the budget for reservists too quickly, while at the same time we expect them to attend the required exercises and stay available. The Ministry should really apply better personnel care because if the militarywishes to include reservists in their organization, it is also responsible for them. And why not develop a career policy for them?’

New initiatives needed

As a representative of the independent Dutch reservists’ associaton KVNRO Garrels emphasizes that the organization does not seek ‘to judge the world of professional soldiers.’ Nevertheless, the Ministry should not be afraid of suggestions made by people employed outside the military. ‘With a few exceptions, criticism usually comes from people who want to make an organization better. An organization must be willing to learn.’

‘When those responsible within the Dutch Armed Forces look at trends in society, they will realize that the young people we need nowadays cannot be lured with outdated employment contracts. We will have to seduce them by offering custom-made agreements and new incentives. The blind loyalty to one’s employer is a thing of the past. Nowadays, young people switch jobs more easily. So, why not introduce, as a replacement for the conscription we have put on hold, the right to serve? Unfortunately, this is not currently being discussed, and from the viewpoint of the organization there’s a big question hovering over this idea: is it manageable?’

To keep up the operational level of ambition the Armed Forces have set for themselves, new initiatives to attract reservists will come up, Garrels expects. ‘We cannot sit back and wait for young people, we will have to take action ourselves, simply because we need their knowledge.’

CIOR aims at young reservists

Garrels, himself a keen watcher of international affairs, enthousiastically tells about the organizational work needed to hold the yearly CIOR Bonn seminar. ‘We offer a platform for scientific debate on a current geopolitical- military topic, with highly-qualified speakers who influence discussions in the media and via books and articles. I think every reservist who has a certain position or ambition, should want to participate to develop a broader understanding of global security issues and international decision-making.’ Meanwhile the CIOR, too, has shifted its attention to the younger generation. ‘It became clear tous that we had to leave Cold War thinking behind us. We had to look at the CIOR and reservists differently than in the context of large mobile units and traditional military operations.’

Bringing young reservists to the seminar is one of Garrels’s top priorities. ‘The CIOR narrative, communicated by its Public Affairs Committee, is very good, but we have to get the message across to the young. We will sit together soon with some of their representatives to discuss some ideas, like a social media strategy.’ Pushing news through social media channels is one of the recommendations 34-year- old Captain Reitze Wellen (Royal Netherlands Army) makes. ‘The CIOR and KNVRO should make the information available as soon as possible, to allow those interested to make arrangements with their civil employers. Many young reservists would like to attend the seminar, if they only knew it existed.’

Without exception, the young people attending the conference say they find it enriching. ‘The seminar is an opportunity to meet collegues from other NATO countries and learn about their culture,’ says Wellen. ‘Normally, we consider the issues from an operational and tactical point of view. Experts at the seminar, however, zoom in on strategic developments and challenge participants to express their own thoughts.’ Lieutenant Desi van de Laar (33, Royal Netherlands Air Force) agrees with Wellen and appreciates the seminar as a platform to talk about current topics with collegues from abroad, like a reservist from Australia who has been involved in operations to fight the devastating fires that recently swept the country.

Besides the seminar, reservists can take part in CIOR programmes aimed at sharpening skills and knowledge. Photo: 2nd Lt Catalin Florea, Romanian Air Force/ CIOR Public Affairs.

Garrels: ‘Young reservists gain international contacts and insight into international decision-making. The CIOR is a versatile organization, which has attractive programmes
to offer, like the Young Reserve Officers Workshop and its own Language Academy. These programmes are discussed during the seminars as well.’ Van de Laar describes the additional value these programmes have for her: ‘They enhance both skills and knowledge and create abilities you can use directly in your job.’

Garrels urges participants from as many CIOR member countries as possible to take part in the seminar, also to avoid one-sided views and to broaden the scope of the academic debate. At the end of each seminar, he gathers the evaluation forms participants have filled out. There is always room for improvement but Garrels’s starting point will remain signing on first-rate speakers whose views
will help sharpen reservists’ opinions. ‘Armed Forces give young people a lot of responsibility. They learn to lead, persevere, and make difficult decisions and support them. On a broader scale, those qualities play a role in global security politics as well and that is exactly why reservists have a headstart when contemplating military and international affairs.’

(This article was first published in Dutch military science magazine Military Spectator’s  April edition.)