The NATO alliance grows stronger. It is by no means perfect, but after 72 years, it perseveres as an international instrument to preserve peace and deter aggression. Our new administration recognizes this strategic benefit, and it is no surprise that the first callby the new secretary of defense is to the head of NATO.
An area of focus for the alliance is the Black Sea Region. The U.S. Navy recently sailed two ships into the Black Sea to conduct drills and improve interoperability with partners, and on the ground, a new corps is being built in Romania to serve as a hub of land activity in the region. The beauty of belonging to an alliance means that Romania will not have to do this alone. They have many friends who can help.
The NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) is one of those friends, and together, both corps are working to accelerate the growth of this Multinational Corps Southeast for the region and the alliance. In direct support, U.S. Army Europe and Africa are providing a wide range of exercises in 2021 and beyond to help this new corps build operating capacity.
To help this Romanian corps establish a firm foundation, we had the honor of leading one of their first academic seminars. This event served as a platform for in-depth intellectual conversations as everyone invested time to think about how to build their new corps and where it fits into the broader alliance network. The team worked safely around a continued pandemic and various national restrictions to bring together top scholars and military leaders, which drove interactive discussions about strategy, planning, warfighting, and operational culture. The level of introspection was enlightening. The approach was partner-centric, with everyone challenged to open up their minds and exercise imaginations.
A Romanian general present for the sessions highlighted the significance of this approach by saying, "it is a new way to collaborate and think amidst a military culture that is normally very hierarchical." The group was taught Dr. Celestino Perez's methodology for design thinking, and in turn, developed a framework to describe how the Romanian corps intends to operate and fight. An introduction to NATO planning from the ARRC provided necessary linkages for NATO procedural interoperability, and examples of assessments, red teaming, and wargaming were shared. Overall, there are three big ideas to take away from this event that illustrate the exceptional thinking from such a diverse group.
1. Mission Command. Dr. Robert Johnson from the Oxford Changing Character of War Centre delivered an impactful lecture titled "Decision-Making in the Information Age." His presentation's ideas triggered a discussion on the agility and speed required to make decisions on today's modern battlefield. There was a consensus from young and old that operations orders do not need to be thousands of pages. In fact, most general officers present recommended mission-type orders, which provide a general commander's intent with an associated plan of action and tasks for each subordinate unit with enough detail to ensure adequate coordination.
Dr. Johnson warned that adversaries use the speed of NATO decision-making to determine their freedom to operate and make calculations. It is key for the alliance to respond with appropriate measures to contest, compete, and impose friction that will force would-be adversaries to change their cost-calculus, giving them a realization that the costs outweigh any perceived benefits. This lesson applies to multiple adversaries and across all regions.
2. Bottom-Up Innovation. A key presentation to the group was by members of the U.K. Fight Club, a wargaming experimentation group. The younger Romanian leaders expressed a high interest in stress testing ideas and concepts through gaming and simulations to discover winning ideas and innovations. This approach from the bottom-up will drive experimentation, but more importantly, it will garner long-term buy-in and improve professionalism across formations. The level of human interoperability at the most junior levels will increase between multiple nations as this effort expands across the alliance.
The output from the design thinking sessions pointed out the need to start from a blank sheet of paper. Similar to the US Marine Corps Commandant’s Planning Guidance in July of 2019, the Romanians know they have a unique problem frame and value proposition to NATO and their nation. Finding their niche and the intersection of mutual interests requires critical and creative thinking that can be informed by wargaming and more of these types of academic sessions.
3. Geography Matters. The Romanian corps commander, Major General Tomiță - Cătălin Tomescu, provided sage advice on the vital importance of the lay of the land. He has spent many decades learning the region and all the nuances of the geography that cannot be appreciated with satellite imagery and maps alone. This wisdom is another benefit of operating in an alliance where knowledge is shared horizontally and vertically.
In the Romanians, we have a fully committed and devoted partner. They have invested in a number of ground capabilities to include the Patriot missile defense system, Piranha armored vehicles, high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), and other key platforms, to strengthen our collective defense. After working with our Romanian counterparts over the past year, it is abundantly clear they will be successful in building this new corps that will serve as a strategic hub of activity in the region.
General Tomescu highlighted early last year that “trust and understanding are essential," and after this week of academics, he confirmed, "indeed, we not only have that, but we have also formed a strong bond of relationships across multiple generations that will endure for decades to come.”
Matthew Van Wagenen is a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army currently serving as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations (DCOS OPS) in the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. @MatthewWagenen
Arnel P. David is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army currently serving as the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff G5 (DACOS G5) in the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. @arnelpdavid
The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect any entity or organization of the U.S. Government or NATO.