Catherine Sendak: Hello, my name is Catherine Sendak, and welcome to the 2023 CEPA Forum, Winning the War, Winning the Peace. It is my absolute pleasure to be here at SHAPE headquarters in Belgium with the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, and Commander of US European Command, General Christopher Cavoli.
General Christopher Cavoli: Hi Katie.
Sendak: This year CEPA is proud to present its 2023 Transatlantic Leadership Award, recognizing extreme contributions, exceptional contributions, to strengthening the alliance, to General Cavoli. General it is an honor to be here to recognize your enduring and exceptional leadership in strengthening the alliance and your steadfast support for Ukraine, and its fight for freedom. Thank you so much for joining us today. And I’m looking forward to the discussion.
Gen. Cavoli: Thank you very much, Katie, it’s great to see you again, first of all. And especially on an occasion when you bring such a kind and prestigious award. I accept that happily, and somewhat humbly on behalf of so many people working hard every day in US European Command and Allied Command operations, who are committed to peace, committed to deterrence, and committed to our way of life. So I’m very lucky to get to take this on their behalf today.
Sendak: Thank you. Thank you. So let’s get started to that end. Since February 2022, and Russia’s full-scale invasion into Ukraine, we have seen unprecedented unity of effort and voice from the alliance. From your perspective, how do we maintain that unity in the long term?
Gen. Cavoli: Well, first, just like always, unity comes from discussion. Unity comes from transparency. Unity comes from candor. It comes from us all recognizing that our commonalities are greater than our differences. The values that this alliance is based on, the commitment to peace and prosperity on this continent, and indeed the globe, that this alliance is based on, that is far greater, that is something we hold in common far greater than any divergences. And we’ve really, really seen that in the past year and a half. It’s been fantastic to be a part of. And it’s been amazing just how enduring that unity has been. So I think what we do is we continue to drive the head the way we have been, by focusing on what it is that’s important. And by not letting the smaller things, and small differences get in our way.
Sendak: That’s, that’s great to hear. And I’m so happy that we’re 20 months into this, and we’re still seeing that strength of effort.
Gen. Cavoli: Yeah, it’s incredible.
Sendak: With very little naysayers on the periphery here. So sticking to Ukraine. What we’ve seen over the past 20 months in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, tons of lessons we’re learning from the battlefield. Among those is the emerging disruptive technologies we’re seeing on the battlefield. What have been your key takeaways on the use of EDTs in Ukraine? And what can the Alliance glean for the future of warfare?
Gen. Cavoli: Yeah, so it’s a fantastic question. And one an awful lot of people, not just the alliance, are looking at right.
Gen. Cavoli: So there are a lot of efforts going on to study this war, nationally, by nations, as well as collectively as an alliance. We have observation teams, we have study teams, we have interviews. In my role as the Commander of USEUCOM, we also have a great deal of contact with the Ukrainians, because we are training them directly at locations throughout Europe, as are many of our allies, although most of them working under the EU Military Assistance Mission rubric. But we have context. So we are doing studies where we’re thinking about these things. So what are we learning? Well, we’re learning some old lessons and we’re learning some new lessons, right? I mean, the old lessons are, gosh, mass still matters. We see that every day. And that brings other lessons with it. As soon as you get past the first couple of months of a war, and it begins to protract, it becomes a competition of production. So the industrial basis of our nations are something that we’re all studying even harder.
So some of the lessons are old lessons, some of the lessons are a little bit newer, the role of drones, especially first-person drones, as well as one-way attack drones have been remarkably effective, a very inexpensive way to add a third dimension to your operations. That requires very little back-end support, very little training, and has huge results on the battlefield. One of the biggest results it has is it gives people a feeling of insecurity on the other side, it’s not just that you got hit with the drone, it’s that you kind of didn’t hear it coming. And every time you hear a buzzing sound in the air, it fills you with dread. These are things we hear from people on the battlefield, things we see. So it’s also got a little bit of a paralytic effect in addition to its initial disruptive effects.
We’re learning a lot about electronic warfare. A lot of it is again old lessons, but there are some new lessons. You know, we can’t go into all of it, you know, in every form, but there’s a lot to be learned there. We’re also validating a lot of things, you know, the way we link intelligence to operations. We’ve tried to share that with our Ukrainian colleagues and they’ve adopted it very quickly, and it’s been very successful for them. So to that end, you know, it sort of validates the way we do business. So there’s a whole lot going on that we’re learning a bunch. There are disruptive technologies out there and we’re studying those closely, and we hope to adopt some of them ourselves.
Sendak: Absolutely. I mean, you know, you hear that there is no hiding anymore on the battlefield.
Gen. Cavoli: Yeah. It is very hard to hide on the battlefield. It is possible. But one of the ways to do it is not by hiding, it’s by cluttering. Right. And so even what the meaning of hiding is shifts a little bit.
Sendak: So interesting.
Gen. Cavoli: Yeah. It’s hard to hide on the battlefield.
Sendak: Yeah. So pulling it out a little bit on Ukraine. I’m going to quote you back to yourself here for this question. But you were at a defense conference in Sweden in January this year, and part of your remarks you quoted “Leadership is the beginning of victory, and so it is the parent of peace.” Aptly, as I mentioned earlier, the theme for this year, CEPA Forum is Winning the War, Winning the Peace. I’m really interested from your perspective on how transatlantic leadership can usher in peace in Ukraine moving forward.
Gen. Cavoli: Yeah. So I think when I said that, up in Sweden, I was really talking about civilian leadership. So one of the remarkable things about this war is that it’s been a huge reminder, that war is not a military endeavor, right? War is a societal endeavor. When you get into a big war like this, it’s a societal endeavor. And our societies are led, at least in the West, and among the nations of the NATO alliance, by our civilian leaders. And so the quality of the leadership is so important. And we’ve been so lucky, right?
You know, if we look at Ukraine, the way civilian leadership galvanized the nation salvaged a situation, and then turned it around and led a nation: the amount of pride, the amount of stick-to-it-iveness. If we look at the alliance, the way civilian leaders have stood up, have stood together, going back to our question about unity, but have also been brave and taken important decisions. I mean, all of this adds together. So civilian leadership is really key to all this. You can have battlefield victories without it, but you’re not going to have a political outcome that you seek without that political leadership.
Sendak: Right, and how do we get to a place of peace?
Gen. Cavoli: That’s right. And so you know, we the military can get you across the battlefield, but I can’t get you all the way to the peace. And so I think it’s a very salient lesson of this war.
Sendak: Yes, absolutely. So in addition to that, and the Alliance leadership that we’ve seen over the past 20 months, we’re also welcoming in new members to the alliance. Under your leadership, Finland has acceded to NATO, and hopefully, very soon, Sweden will follow. What does it mean for the alliance for Sweden and Finland, as robust NATO partners, to become members in terms of security for the alliance?
Gen. Cavoli: Right, so first of all, both nations when they accede, will bring capability on day one. Finland brought capability and capacity on day one, and this was not a surprise to us. And it won’t be a surprise to us when Sweden is admitted to the alliance, because we’ve been working with them for so long, we’ve been working with them in training, we’ve been working with them on interoperability, we’ve been working with them on operations; everything from the Balkans to Afghanistan. So it comes as no surprise that they integrate quickly and easily, and that they bring real capability and capacity on day one. So those are really important characteristics of a new member.
Second, they bring geography, right, so 1300 kilometers of border with the Russian Federation, that’s something that we have to consider. And that’s something the Russian Federation has to consider. In addition to that, we now have NATO nations, all along the littoral of the Baltic Sea, which very much changes a military equation in that waterscape. So some of these things very, very quickly, come together and make a big difference militarily for the alliance. Politically, it’s two more nations, you know, they’ve always had strong voices in Europe and strong voices in world affairs, and they’ll bring those voices into the alliance and contribute to our discussions.
Sendak: Yes, and I know how excited they are, and DC is very welcoming to them joining us, as everyone is, into the alliance, we’re thrilled. Absolutely. So under that kind of regional scope, you know, there is a lot of talk about what the Nordic-Baltic region will look like once Sweden actually joins the Alliance and what that region will provide for collective security. To that end, at the Vilnius summit this past July, the alliance approved the regional plans, which is a real shift away from how the alliance has done business in the past in terms of operationalizing. What do these regional plans bring to the alliance in terms of collective security? And what challenges are you seeing if any, in its implementation?
Gen. Cavoli: Right, so the regional plans, first of all, bring regional plans to us right, yeah, they bring classical defense plans for our alliance in sufficient detail, to drive a number of things. A little bit of background, though, first, you know, so for the first decades of our existence, this alliance was focused on collective defense, we’re about defending the territory of the alliance with each other from an external aggressor. After the Cold War that appeared no longer to be necessary, and the plans that we had to do that obviously fell into disuse and became defunct.
We began to concentrate instead on crisis management, smaller-scale operations usually conducted on a predictable time schedule, usually of a smaller scale, and usually, to a certain degree, optional. That is, they were not imposed on us, they were things that we chose to do, and almost always they were out of area. So we started to call this out-of-area operations. And across the alliance our militaries optimized for that sort of out-of-area operation, a rotational force generation model, you could take economies every place except in the unit that was actually deployed. And so we all did that. And we cut echelons above brigade, we cut enablers, we decided that readiness was a rotational matter rather than a tiered matter, or a standing matter.
So coming out of 2014, we realized that we had to get back to collective defense, and then certainly coming out of 2022, the alliance has made it absolutely crystal clear that we have to get back to collective territorial defense. We’ve got two named adversaries, terror groups, and the Russian Federation, both are active enough to put a fine point on the fact that we need to get back to this. One of the principal instruments to do that is the implementation of our deterrence and defense of the Euro-Atlantic area, DDA, it’s our overarching strategic approach. And part of that is to establish this family of regional plans. These regional plans drive everything; so it’s a classical war plan that shows how we’re going to defend, where, with what forces, etc. So this starts to produce a driver for change inside the alliance. We have a force structure requirement, for the first time in 35 years now we have a force structure requirement for the alliance, that is objective plans-based. So that’s a huge advance.
Now, it’ll be a challenge to build out that force structure. But nevertheless, at least we have the blueprint now. We have a new C2 structure that we’ve conceptualized and now we’re filling out the details, and we have to change the shape of our headquarters so that they’re fit for their new purpose, but also so that they’re distributed in the right locations and focused on the task that we need them to do. There’s a new military alert system designed to streamline authorities and decision-making so that we can be responsive. There’s a new allied reaction force as a rapid movement deterrent force that we’re putting together right now. So across the alliance, this is driving change; everything from where headquarters focus to what size stockpiles we need of critical supplies. And those changes, that change that we need in the alliance, is being driven by those regional plans.
Sendak: Getting that guidance, getting those tools in place, which I know has been many years in the making, is really encouraging to see.
Gen. Cavoli: Yeah, it’s a very exciting time to be in Allied Command operations and in the alliance in general.
Sendak: Absolutely. So to that point, I want to finish off, you know, as the recipient of the Transatlantic Leadership Award, discussing unity, discussing civilian leadership, regional plans, you know. Where would you like to see the alliance in terms of deterrence, collective defense, unity, in the next three to five years, as all of this is implemented as we move forward, where would you like to see the alliance?
Gen. Cavoli: Well, first of all, farther along than we are right now, right. So forward progress is critical, but momentum is also critical for change. So I think establishing that momentum and sustaining it is going to be the big thing. Where exactly we end up is going to depend on the choices we make as nations, you know, how fast we want to fulfill these requirements, how fast do we want to establish it. You know, the guns versus butter argument is going to come in here, and those are big political decisions for us to make collectively but also for nations to make them nationally. So it’s hard to say exactly where we will be.
The key is, we have to be ahead of our adversaries at every point along the way. So you know, war, and therefore deterrence are really competitive events. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad, you just gotta be better than the adversary. It doesn’t matter where you are, as long as you are always in a position of an advantage. And our entire strategy is designed around obtaining and maintaining advantage in domain, in geography, and in readiness, and that’s where I want to see us, maintaining those advantages.
Sendak: Sir, that’s fantastic to hear. And I know we’re well on our way here is an alliance for that. Thank you so much for joining us today for this discussion. And thank you all for tuning in to the 2023 CEPA forum, Winning the War, Winning the Peace. Be sure to visit cepa.org for the forum agenda, speakers, and view previously recorded sessions. And please be sure to follow CEPA social media accounts for the latest news and analysis #CEPAforum.