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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 60, September 2001

Opinion & Analysis

Multinational Security Cooperation and Military Doctrines in the OSCE Area

By Harald Müller

Introduction: Military Doctrines in the Present Security Environment

Military doctrines are the implementation of Clausewitz's most famous dictum that war is the extension of policy by other means. That military doctrines at times aim at avoiding rather than fighting wars is no contradiction to that statement. If the overarching political objective is not to be entangled in armed conflict, and the armed forces are postured to do exactly that, then Clausewitz's statement is only confirmed. In other words, military doctrines provide the interface between politics and the military realm. They state how the political objectives determined by the appropriate constitutional processes are implemented: when, for what purpose, how, with what means, and in what form of organisation the armed forces are supposed to deploy in peacetime and to fight in war in order to fulfil the politically set objectives.

In offering this information, military doctrines are, at the same time, an important means of transparency. They help other states to understand what the military of their partner (or enemy) stands for, and what the objectives behind the visible postures are supposed to be. Of course, doctrine and posture may present obvious contradictions. This, however, provides important information in itself. If the doctrine is utterly defensive, but is contradicted by an offensive posture, distrust will be strong. The impression will be that the state in question is trying to deceive (however ineptly) its partners about its true intentions. This will affect their defence policy accordingly. If the doctrine is very offensive, but is not supported by commensurate capabilities, training, and deployment, a bluff is obvious, and neighbours will consider why the state concerned feels compelled to resort to this type of tactic and what can be done about it. Most often, fears or collective minority complexes may lie behind such a disjuncture, something that may be treated by discreet and patient diplomacy.

The Case of Europe: the OSCE Area as an Unusual Security Region

The basic hypothesis pursued in this article is that there are inherent tensions in the relationship between military doctrines and multinational security cooperation as it has been emerging in the area of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The OSCE approach to military and political security is distinct and innovative, shaped by Europe's devastating experience of warfare and continental and global rivalries. In the current international system, the OSCE's pursuit of mutual security in a multinational framework sets the region apart from most of its own history and many other contemporary security organisations and arrangements.

By long and bloody tradition in many regions, military force has been a means of conquest and aggrandisement, and, in more recent times, of the defence of national territory against external attack. The imperial use of force is now excluded by international law, specified in the OSCE in the Paris Charter. But security in the OSCE area is more than just national defence. The countries in the region have promised to each other to pursue security in a cooperative way.

By entering this cooperation, OSCE countries have made a double commitment. First, to accept the fact that the security of all member states, however remote their location might seem from the other pole of our geographic spectrum, matters to all the others. Given the strong influence geopolitics and geostrategy have exerted over military thinking and planning in the past, this must be regarded as a very bold step. Second, to accept that each country's ways and means to pursue its security, including, in particular, military doctrines and the ensuing procurement, deployment, and postures, must take into account how they affect the security of all others. Maximising one's own security at the cost of others, then, should be ruled out as a course of national policy. Decisions, of course, must still be made at the national level. If such decisions are taken at the obvious expense of one of the partners, though, such behaviour would have to be regarded as 'rogue'.

Multinationalism Versus National Decision-Making

The first tension inherent in the OSCE's pathbreaking approach to cooperative security is the contradiction between multinationalism and national decision-making. Multinational agreements establish certain missions and impose ensuing requirements that must or should be met by national military forces. However, decisions about doctrine, implementing legislation and funding decisions are inevitably made at the national level. It can't be otherwise; as long as nation states exist, national authorities, notably elected parliaments, cannot relinquish decisions of this enormity to international or supranational bodies.

Funding decisions by cabinets and parliaments, however, might reflect quite different priorities than defence ministers and their representatives have in mind when agreeing joint missions. Doctrine without hardware, though, remains shallow. In Germany, for example, the clear priority is to balance the budget and reduce public debt. After decades of deficit spending, such prudence is seen as the condition to achieve both economic stability and renewed freedom of action for the government. Every public sector, defence included, is expected to make its contribution to this national goal. This will inevitably mean that what has been promised within the context of the EU (headline goals) and NATO (Defence Capability Initiative) will take considerably longer than the representatives of the Defence Ministry may have initially indicated. It is up to the government as a whole and to parliament to decide upon priorities. There are good domestic reasons why the defence budget is not the most important item at present. In the context of commitments entered into by the executive at the international level - commitments with implications and consequences for military doctrine and disposition - the disconnect between bureaucracies with responsibilities for external policy, domestic bureaucracies and parliaments creates confusion.

Other domestic factors may intervene to undo agreements formed at the supranational or international level. National prejudice may make cooperation difficult. Aversion to becoming entangled in far-away affairs may reside in some national cultures more than in others and delay or prevent the timely adaptation of national doctrine. The organisational culture of the military or of single services may have the same effect. Parochial concerns may prevent the most economic use of scarce resources. For example, economising on the number of military bases is certainly an urgently needed requirement to free defence resources for more urgent missions.

Such dilemmas or handicaps can never be completely overcome in a region where democracy is the preferred form of government.

Mixture of Missions

The second major tension arises from the mixture of missions on which OSCE countries have agreed. For example, intervention in internal conflicts almost inevitably implicates troops in policing rather than warfighting. Typically, internal order has broken down, trust in public authorities is close to zero, if such authorities exist at all, and the fighting parties face each other heavily armed: security for the combatants - if they are supposed to lay down their arms - as well as for the civilian population is as pivotal as it is precarious, and a premium is on the quick restoration of public order if peacekeeping is to succeed.

There are several problems here. Many armed forces do not like policing functions, and the resistance to accept them as a normal mission component has been considerable. Nevertheless, the time lag between the end of conflict and the availability, in the theatre, of capable, numerous and adequately equipped police forces, their appropriate deployment, and the erection of a functioning organisation is not just a matter of good or bad preparations, but is intrinsic and cannot be avoided. Inevitably, military forces will have to take over a policing function and implement it in a transition period until it can be handed over to police units. Troops must be well prepared to fulfil this task, be totally trained for distinguishing clearly when a combat mode and when a policing mode has to guide their activities, and be extremely careful in handling civilians that might be implicated in riots or the like.

Another difficulty is the clear separation of military and public order functions in democracies. We ask our troops to undertake tasks in peacekeeping operations that we absolutely prohibit them to implement at home. Having the military involved in police activities is usually a sign of a semi-democratic or non-democratic system, and is generally prohibited by constitutional stipulations in democracies. Yet, we must train military personnel carefully and intensively to prepare them exactly for this policing task. We have to take care that no constitutional difficulties arise from this necessity, that this training is thoroughly circumscribed, and that clear accountability is ensured towards parliament and the public.

A third problem lies in multinationalism. The interface between military and police tasks, and the transition from one to the other, is difficult in itself. To conduct these missions in a synchronised and non-contradictory way among the armed forces of a panoply of countries tremendously increases challenges of coordination and command in the field. A harmonisation of doctrine and training concepts in this regard is highly desirable, and probably inevitable. Joint training in carrying out these functions will also be very helpful.

Even more problematic are contradictions between the defensive and offensive orientation of the armed forces as required by their mix of missions. Defence of the national territory - alone or in the context of an alliance - remains obviously the basic mission of all military forces in the OSCE. To provide for defence in a way that is not seen by neighbours as aggressive and offensive has been a major preoccupation of arms control and confidence-building over the last fifteen years. It has inspired the search for 'defensive defence' or 'non-offensive defence' structures and doctrines. Even though the more radical proposals worked out by proponents of these concepts have not been realised, they have not been without political influence: defensiveness as a guiding principle has deeply informed the CFE Treaty and the Vienna documents. The CFE Treaty has focussed on weapon systems whose massed configuration is the precondition for large, decisive operations of territorial conquest. The Vienna document has aimed at preventing the surprise concentration of troops necessary to conduct such offensives.

Other missions to which our countries agree today, however, impose different requirements. Even for the success of conflict prevention and peacekeeping missions, deploying a significant number of robust units in the theatre of operations in the briefest time possible can be a condition of success. For peace enforcement missions, forcing such deployments through against local resistance with a view to prevail with the mandated mission, and with minimal losses to one's own troops, is an indispensable part of the task. This requires superior offensive capabilities, including the capacity to project military power rapidly over an extended distance, capable, mobile headquarters, large-scale, long-range transport and logistic support capabilities, and equipment that permits a high concentration of firepower in the theatre of operations. Training and organisation have to be adapted accordingly. These requirements are evidently hard to reconcile with the defensiveness demanded from military forces in a non-aggressive neighbourhood.

Avoiding Casualties Versus Non-Aggressiveness

The third major tension, closely related to that just presented, arises from the increasing unwillingness of democracies to tolerate large numbers of casualties in the case of armed conflict. This tendency should be welcomed. It means that our countries are not at all as war prone as before. The carnage in the trenches of World War I would just not be acceptable anymore. And the desire to avoid casualties is, of course, even stronger for missions not arising from the need to defend national or allied territory.

As a consequence, national and allied military forces understandably seek to exploit the possibilities of cutting-edge technology with a view to achieve superiority and quick victory, thereby minimising casualties - if possible, even for the enemy. The technological developments usually lumped together under the label 'Revolution in Military Affairs' (whatever one might think of the term) tend precisely in that direction. There is no doubt that, if realised, they open possibilities - partially prefigured in the Gulf War and the conflict over Kosovo - for highly effective offensive operations.

Doctrines built on absolute superiority - or 'full spectrum dominance' (in US Airforce language) in all five dimensions of battle - land, air, sea, space, and the electronic spectrum - are, however, the contrary of what is expected in a multinational security space. In the old days, the Soviet Union was widely considered to be pursuing unfettered military superiority, a perception which prevented the emergence of true multinational security cooperation up to the very moment when Soviet doctrine and posture was explicitly and credibly reshaped in a non-threatening direction. This experience appears to confirm the assumption that doctrines aiming at superiority or one-sided dominance are not easily reconciled with the requirements of multinational security cooperation, and that national doctrines should be worked out with due regard to obligations derived from arms control agreements. Armed forces, national defence ministries, and alliances must be very careful, when developing new military-technological options, to avoid creating insecurity for their partners. Arms control approaches that would help to contain that risk should not be dismissed, avoided or declined, but explored for mutual gain.

Multinationalism in a Multi-Layered Organisational Space

The fourth tension emerges from the multi-layered character of multinationalism in the OSCE region. Besides the OSCE, NATO and the EU discharge security functions for their members. All three are legitimate partners in providing regional security, often with the involvement of a fourth, global organisation, the UN, and indeed they cooperate, if not without some inefficiencies, in various theatres of conflict. However, it would be blind to ignore the fact that there also exists a degree of competition among them, a reality of which their representatives and staff are fully aware.

National loyalty to these different organisations varies. As is now generally acknowledged, the member states of the European Union have developed their integration to a point where it has to be extended to the field of defence and foreign affairs if the project is to maintain its momentum. This assessment is valid independent of one's view of the project's finality. In other words, beyond the various missions agreed in the Petersberg tasks, European defence cooperation also serves a more general, superior political objective, the continuation of European integration, and it can hardly be judged and understood without this objective in mind.

NATO remains the supreme instrument for granting national security to its members. It is presently the only organisation with the structure and capability to conduct effective and successful military operations on a large scale. At the same time it provides for the decisive bond across the Atlantic which is a more general, political mission, comparable to the integration function of European defence cooperation. NATO links the United States solidly to European security space; throughout the last century, it has become obvious to many how indispensable this link is.

In comparison with such loyalties and orientations, the OSCE comes only third (if it is recognised at all) in the daily political practice of the Western member states and their armed forces. This is not a value judgement, but a statement of fact. It is also problematical, as the OSCE is the most inclusive of the three organisations, and decisions taken by NATO or the EU may have considerable consequences on the interests and the security of other member states.

Nuclear Deterrence Against Security Partners

The last contradiction, in my view, emerges from the inherent contradiction between nuclear deterrence and multinational security cooperation. Deterrence remains part and parcel of the military doctrine of quite a number of member states. It is meant to deter all sorts of threats to national or alliance security, including some that may emerge from within the OSCE security space. No particular potential enemy is nominated, and according to public declarations the weapons are not targeted against anybody.

Nevertheless, the threat of mutual annihilation sits uncomfortably with the promise of the recognition of mutual security, and the commitment to security cooperation that multinationalism entails. If within the OSCE security space - as contrasted to deterrence relationships vis-ô-vis external threats - nuclear deterrence appears necessary for granting national security, or if the role of nuclear weapons is even enhanced as in the most recent Russian security doctrine, this may suggest that our political homework has not yet been completed; obviously, the political relations between member states then still contain the notion that war, in the end, may be possible among them, however remote that possibility may be.

It seems to me that this conclusion points to the strong imperative of developing and intensifying cooperation further to the point where this notion disappears and nuclear deterrence is no longer seen as necessary to guarantee security within the OSCE space. In other words, member states should together consider possibilities for overcoming the residual role that nuclear deterrence plays among themselves. In that regard, the declared intent of the Bush administration to move the mutual security relationship away from nuclear deterrence should be welcome, though the unilateral pursuit of National Missile Defence is certainly not a convincing way to arrive at such a change.

Three Areas for Common Doctrinal Development

There are three issue-areas where further development of joint thinking on military doctrine appears necessary, as major gaps can be identified that could impact negatively on the common security of OSCE member states.

The first is security risks or threats originating from outside the area, but extending inside. Central Asia is the region where this process is most visible. There is no doubt that the national security of some OSCE member states is badly harmed from forces and disturbances inside Afghanistan. The Treaty on Collective Security, which links the Russian Federation and its neighbours, attempts to deal with this situation. The recent foundation of the Shanghai Organisation for Cooperation between four Central Asian states, China and Russia also points in the same direction. The question remains, however, whether a stronger engagement of the OSCE is desired by the states in the region, and if military doctrines should reflect missions of assistance in those sort of contingencies, if member states ask for it.

The second issue area is that of WMD terrorism, a contingency with low probability but enormous ramifications should it ever occur. Prevention is, of course, the first line of defence and the major field for cooperation. However, incidents could surpass the capability of a considerable number of member states to cope with the consequences, notably in the case of the use of biological agents or nuclear devices. OSCE security cooperation should include emergency planning for these contingencies. Military doctrines should reflect this. The task is complex. While many of the capabilities to cope with the likely consequences lie within the realm of the military, many do not. Particularly medical assets, but also other important skills and equipment reside in the civilian sector, for example with waste management agencies and firefighter brigades, not to mention the police. The civil-military interface in such contingencies must thus be carefully planned, particularly in a multinational context.

The third area is the response to proliferation, notably the use or threat of use of WMD against any state, within or without the OSCE area. Along with NATO and the EU, the OSCE has recognised WMD proliferation as a matter of common concern, and has identified preventing the spread and use of WMD as a core common security interest. Non-proliferation depends critically on the reliability by which the security of countries in regions of conflict are granted, and the probability that a WMD threat or even use will meet a strong and determined response. Although security guarantees have been provided by the nuclear-weapon states in the advent of WMD attack against states parties to the major non-proliferation agreements (the BWC, CWC and NPT), not much has been done to convincingly bolster these rather vague prospects. As the OSCE region houses more than 80% of the world's military capabilities, a response would necessarily have to come from that area. Developing concepts and, if possible, explicit joint doctrines of response would strengthen the non-proliferation regimes immensely.


In conclusion, we have to recognise that national military doctrines and multinationalism are not natural bedfellows. In order to cope with the contradictions described, the following work appears to be necessary:

  • the intensification of military and political cooperation beyond the status quo
  • increased transparency, since transparency counteracts the element of surprise, and surprise is the prerequisite for successful and low-cost aggression
  • the binding of the use of force other than self-defence to collective decision-making and international law. To do this consequently and credibly is particularly important when large asymmetries in military power would otherwise make countries feel very insecure
  • the renunciation of doctrines of destabilising superiority
  • the undertaking of joint military missions, as this enhances mutual respect, recognition and friendship among the troops and the officer corps
  • where possible, agreement on a military division of labour, as reliance on others for essential operations makes it impossible to initiate war
  • joint preparations for responding to risks that emerge outside of the OSCE area, to terrorism, to the breach of non-proliferation regimes and to the use of weapons of mass destruction.

These are, no doubt, daunting tasks. But framework conditions in the OSCE area are promising; at any rate, better than anywhere else in the world. They should be used for the sake of common security.

Professor Harald Müller is Director of the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt. This paper is an extended version of a presentation to the Seminar on Military Doctrines and Defence Policies in the OSCE Area, convened by the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation, Vienna, June 11- 13, 2001.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.