February 4, 2008

The Defence Planner’s Dilemma

Defence planning – the process of deciding the size and shape of a state’s armed forces – is probably one of the most difficult activities that the state must carry out.

Defence planning – the process of deciding the size and shape of a state’s armed forces – is probably one of the most difficult activities that the state must carry out.

Defence structures and projects are complex, and their management is immensely challenging. Defence absorbs huge amounts of public money, yet there is never enough to provide for all the capability we would want, meaning that difficult choices have to be made. And, as Donald Rumsfeld eloquently observed , the greatest difficulty of all is that we now live in an uncertain world and cannot be really sure what we are planning for.

Since the end of the Cold War, defence planners have worked to develop a range of new approaches to dealing with these challenges. Despite their sometimes technical descriptions these approaches still all seek to answer three basic questions: what do we want to do, what can we do now, and how do we get to the first from the second?
At ICDS, we have recently carried out some work on the second question through a project to assess how well Estonia’s current force structure meets the requirements put upon it by national security and defence policies. As Estonia’s defence policy is expressed in rather vague terms, we needed first to make use of some analytical tools and techniques to pin down these requirements in greater detail.
Estonia is not alone in expressing its defence ambitions in imprecise terms. Many states are unwilling to be explicit about what their armed forces should be able to do, perhaps because the taxpaying public often has a different perception of the role of the military from those who make the day-to-day decisions about its use. (Some states, on the other hand do this very well; for example, the Future Tasks of the Canadian Forces in Canada’s 2005 Defence Policy Statement offers detailed guidance on just what level and type of forces are to be available, in particular for international operations – this despite polls.pdf indicating that public support for Canada’s international military role is modest).
But the problem is magnified in Estonia because the fundamental question of what the armed forces are for has not really been resolved. To characterise the arguments very crudely, one side of the debate sees the role of the Estonian Defence Forces primarily, or even solely, in terms of preparing to defend the territory of Estonia, while the other argues that Estonia should build its security through active participation in NATO, EU and US-led international operations. Crudely put again, this second approach invests in future security through a combination of dealing with direct security risks as far forward as possible (for example tackling drug and the consequent HIV risks at the source of supply) and, less directly but probably more importantly, helping to preserve the current global situation from which Estonia benefits and gaining security credits by being a visibly good Ally . These are not exclusive choices, but pressures on resources will inevitably force a state – particularly a small one – to lean more in one direction than the other. Estonia’s current force structure, an attempt to find a balance between the two, weakens its ability to follow either path effectively.
NATO is clear that the nature of collective defence has changed. At the Riga Summit in November 2006, the 26 Allies instructed their planners that NATO “must retain the capability to conduct large-scale high-intensity operations”, but also noted that “large scale conventional aggression against the Alliance will continue to be highly unlikely” and that likely future operations would require “forces that are structured, equipped, manned and trained for expeditionary operations in order to respond rapidly to emerging crises”. This type of thinking has been behind some of the transformation strategies advocated for Central and East European states.
Lithuania, for example, has embraced this approach enthusiastically. Its planning guidance is clear that the defence of Lithuanian territory would be conducted with NATO (its military strategy.doc states that, “Lithuania is planning its defence assuming a guaranteed reinforcement of NATO”) and, in turn, requires 50% of its land forces to be structured, prepared and equipped for international missions and 10% planning for or undertaking such missions (compared to NATO’s political targets of 40% and 8% respectively).
These are an ambitious targets and it is yet to be seen whether Lithuania can deliver them. Nonetheless they represents a level of strategic confidence that is not matched in the other Baltic states – making life much simpler for Lithuania’s defence planners.

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