HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — In June, Czech Gen. Petr Pavel became chairman of NATO’s Military Council Committee, the first leader from a former Warsaw Pact nation to serve as the alliance’s senior military officer. During his 32-year career, Pavel has served as an intelligence officer and commander of special forces before becoming the Czech Republic’s top military officer in 2012.
Pavel’s brief tenure in his current position has proved to be a trying time for the alliance. Russia’s incursion into Ukraine has raised tensions throughout Eastern Europe, where NATO’s several of the most recent countries to join the alliance are located. In July, NATO member Turkey began air strikes against ISIS the Islamic State group in Syria. Two months later, Russia launched its own bombing campaign in Syria, further complicating international efforts in the region.
The Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris further drew European nations into the fight against the Islamic State group, often referred to as ISIL, and reignited debate over how to best deal with the flood of refugees coming from Syria and other troubled nations.
Pavel spoke with Defense News in November at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada. This interview also includes a follow-up question.
Q. What has changed after since the Paris attacks? Does it change your thinking and needs?
A. If these recent events have not changed our minds, then we have failed. We need to change a lot of things, including our thinking about how and what to do in the future, and where and on what to invest our taxpayers' money. We will have to do more both in terms of external as well as internal security. Clearly, freedom of movement across Europe, a lack of resources of internal security services and law enforcement agencies to follow a number of people presenting potential threat and to provide permanent monitoring of all the networks, creates a new situation where we will have to put more resources.
Q. Oftentimes countries' intelligence agencies are tracking information that they may not communicate seamlessly to military officials. Based on your background in intelligence, is there more to be done in terms of information sharing?
A. There is a great gap in sharing, and it is not only between civilian and military agencies, it is also among nations and between institutions. We have to put much more attention into streamlining, simplifying the flow of intelligence through different agencies from the countries. If we don’t do that, we will not be able to track a large number of people, to monitor all of the networks. It was clearly seen in right after the attacks in Paris; the exchange was intensified between the United States and France and many other allies. But intelligence sharing is an issue, both in NATO and in the European Union, and between NATO and the EU. All these events will hopefully lead to a recognition that we need more flexibility and goodwill here.
Q. All NATO members are involved to some degree in the campaign against the Islamic State group. After the attacks on Paris, has your wish list changed in terms of arms? Would you change how you fund and allocate resources?
A. NATO is not involved in the anti-ISIL coalition; individual nations are. For the future, I think this is not good enough. NATO will have to be more involved in anti-ISIL operations. The form and level of involvement will need to be discussed in the near future. In terms of resources, I truly believe that it is not exclusively a military issue. The resources need to be put into a much broader spectrum of measures. The funding will have to go to intelligence agencies, to law enforcement agencies, to customs and to other areas that can contribute to a comprehensive package. We will also have to involve other tools to affect activities of ISIL and to cut the flow of money running back and forth, the flow of reinforcements, material support. All this is needed to effectively address ISIL.
Q. Can you go into more detail in terms of hindering ISIL's resources? According to a recent report, IS it is generating $50 million a month in oil revenue alone.
A. Simple soldier's common sense would say: If someone generates wealth through oil, then he needs to sell it somewhere and get money for it. So who buys the oil? Who provides the money? I think we certainly have some visibility about the flow of this commodity and the flow of money, and we have to cut it.
The same is true for reinforcements, for personnel. We know from which countries these people are coming, through which channels they are coming, and we have to cut it. Quite often these extremist activities are linked to organized crime. Wherever there is big money, there is also organized crime, and there are many different interests. If we really want to effectively address this big and complex issue of ISIL, we have to address it at many levels and to be very uncompromising if we want to achieve the result.
Q. Paris highlighted the difficulties of dealing with European-born terrorists, whose freedom to move throughout Europe and cross borders may not attract as much attention as a foreign national. With foreign fighters making up a large part of ISIS' Islamic State forces, what sort of resources do you need to track European fighters when they return home?
A. This is more of an issue for national internal security agencies, for law enforcement, for customs and for the military. We have pretty good visibility over people coming back and forth. Security services are monitoring them. We have to ask ourselves if it is good enough. Shouldn't we also take some legal actions, probably to make it a criminal act — if a citizen decides to go abroad and serve in a military or paramilitary force hostile to his or her own country, he or she should be subject to prosecution. If we put all these people in prison, then we will be in a much better position to have visibility to where they are and what they are doing. It is probably too strong for some, but it is for nations to consider.
Another activity is better control over the black market for weapons. If we act more decisively in this area, we will probably make it much more complicated for these people to get to these weapons. When I talk about a multi-level approach, one of the levels is of course internal measures, where nations have to do more to work with minorities, to focus on positive and progressive parts of these minorities to make them more involved in the overall effort. It is time now to sit down and provide a really comprehensive campaign plan against ISIL, divide the roles and assign the responsibility for specific parts of this campaign to different organizations and provide appropriate tools for respective parts of the job.
Q. Do you see a role for NATO in border security between European nations, or is that something best left to individual countries?
A. I would say that is much more at the nations' level, because NATO's role is not to protect the borders in peacetime. However, I can imagine that nations may under certain circumstances request assistance from NATO in terms of intelligence assets, surveillance assets, to assist them in better protection of their borders. But usually, nations have resources of their own to use for these activities, so I don't see any bigger involvement of NATO in border protections.
Q. What kind of requests are you getting from member nations in the wake of these Paris attacks? What kind of concerns are being addressed to you?
A. In general, very few. Most of the requests came from Turkey to reinforce several capabilities, mostly air defense, ballistic missile defense, ISR. But otherwise, nations are using their own capabilities, and moreover it is not so much a NATO issue rather than but an EU issue. So most of these border security and internal security issues were discussed in the EU, not in NATO.
Q. How has Turkey's downing of a Russian jet complicated NATO's outlook on the campaign against ISISL? Are the stakes higher now for NATO than they were last month when we spoke at Halifax?
A. Russia has repeatedly violated Turkish airspace and Turkey had the right to defend its airspace and territorial integrity. But this incident also underlines the need to establish international mechanisms to build transparency and predictability to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents. As for the stakes, the current state of the talks in the Vienna format gives hope to the idea of finding a common approach to fighting ISIL.