For twelve years Germans, Italians, Polish, Americans, Turks, Latvians and many more worked together in Afghanistan. The NATO ISAF troops are a well coordinated team. For the 130,000 men and women of the 28 member states the joint work and communication was part of their daily routine.
But it will end soon, when NATO ends its operation in Afghanistan at the end of 2014. In order to support the cooperation, NATO will hold more exercises in the coming years. Philip Breedlove, NATO commander-in-chief, calls the new strategy "from engagement to preparedness."
"Steadfast Jazz", a joint exercise with 6000 troops
From November 2 to November 9 NATO holds its biggest joint exercise in years in Poland, Latvia and the Baltic Sea. All NATO member states plus partners Sweden, Finland and the Ukraine will take part in the joint exercise. The exercise will include 6000 troops, 350 vehicles, 60 aircrafts and helicopters, 12 ships and one submarine.
A NATO official said that a broad range of tasks, from humanitarian missions to combat operations, will be part of the exercise. Besides the exercise on the ground a cyber attack will be simulated which senior staff "at their desks" should repell.
Mainly the troops of the NATO Response Force (NRF) will take part in the "Steadfast Jazz" joint exercise. The NRF is NATO's task force which can be send anywhere at very short notice. For example the NRF was sent to the US in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and to Pakistan to help after the earthquake in 2005.
Closeness through more exercises
NATO expert Karl-Heinz Kamp says that with NRF the NATO can test on a small scale what works well. The task force is NATO's laboratory for the time after the ISAF operation in Afghanistan.
"The NATO mission in Afghanistan had the advantage that all 28 member states permanently worked together," said Kamp, who will start as academic director of the Federal College for Security Studies (BAKS) in November. "NATO gained some skills in Afghanistan which other institutions do not have. It uses the same language, has the same command arrangements and the same procedure. It is as if everybody uses the same computer software and not 28 different ones."
These joint structures will not exist after 2014. Therefore NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh-Rasmussen started the "Connected Force Initiative" in 2012. The initiative aims to ensure that the armed forces of the member states stay well connected – by joint training and more exercises.
Russia is not the enemy
"Steadfast Jazz" which takes place in Poland and Latvia, the eastern border of the NATO, is not aimed at Russia, Breedlove emphasizes. It is about "exercising fighting skills which are common in every army." During the cold war the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were seen as NATO's main enemy.
"When you are exercising, everyone asks for which event? Who will you be able to attack?" said Ekkehard Brose, scientist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and Germany's former ambassador at the NATO headquarters in Brussels. "When you have joint exercises in Europe the question 'is it against Russia?' always comes up." The answer to that question is a clear no. Russia is one of NATO's closest partners.
Make a mark
In September Russia and Belarus held their joint exercise "Zapad" close to the borders of Poland and the Baltic States. NATO officials were invited as observers. Now Russian officers are invited to the "Steadfast Jazz" exercise, says Breedlove. The exercise should be transparent.
Recently there were tensions when Russia announced that it would build an airbase in Belarus close to the Polish and Latvian border. "Steadfast Jazz" is a reassurance for Poland and the Baltic States, says NATO expert Kamp. "NATO needs to demonstrate that it can protect countries which feel threatened," said Kamp.