Major General Skeates: Lets face it – We are living in Uncertain Times

  • By defencematters

The Commander of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Major General Stuart Skeates stated that the threats that we face around the world are very significant and in many respects they are very novel.

By Guntars Grinums

The Commander of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Major General Stuart Skeates in an interview with Defence Matters stated that we are currently living in very uncertain times and the threats that we face around the world are very significant and in many respects they are very novel and they will require novel responses.

Skeates claims that the capability of the JEF is improving - quite literally - week by week and month by month. The Major General also thinks that there are absolutely undoubtedly areas of expertise and capabilities that Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have which the United Kingdom does not, so the Force is about the power of combination.

First of all I would like to ask you why it is and why was it necessary to establish JEF if during the Wales summit a couple of years ago the decision to incorporate a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force within NATO Response force was made?

JEF also stems from the Wales summit in 2014 when NATO quite rightly realised that we needed to improve our interoperability within the Alliance and it promoted the concept of the framework nation. The United Kingdom has always been keen to provide the leadership role within NATO, and forming JEF was a way in which we could do that. So JEF has become a mechanism by which we can strengthen the relationships within existing NATO nations and particularly within the like-minded nations in Northern Europe.

Meaning Norway, Estonia..?

Yes, seven nations - Norway, Great Britain, Latvia, Estonia, The Netherlands, Denmark and Lithuania.

You mentioned that the UK wanted to take up the leading role for a while now. Does it mean that the UK is troubled by and cares for the security of the Baltic states and Eastern Europe because we might be the "weak spot, weak flank"?

No. I mean, the framework nation concept is all about strengthening relationships and improving our ability to operate together and to operate together within NATO, as well as against any other threat. And the purpose of the JEF is that it is a global response force - it is able to and is intended to operate in any crisis in any part of the world at any time. Particularly, at high readiness.

A large part of what I do is to ensure that the capabilities we have within maritime forces, armies and airforces are sufficiently prepared, sufficiently trained and sufficiently sustainable, that we can react at pace and in a decisive fashion against any particular threat.

If we are talking about a hypothetical moment of actual crisis, how quick could the Force react?

Well, we have got various parts of the forces assigned to the JEF which are already in a position to react. The UK deploys its forces, particularly its maritime and airforces all over the world constantly and we have extremely high readiness forces prepared back in the UK, and with a necessary strategical airlift and sealift we can get them to an area of crisis within a matter of days and in a matter of hours.

The debate about potential Russian aggression is ongoing, we can also see it in the decisions that were made at the NATO summit in Warsaw. Does the British military circle see it as a topic?

You know, the strategic policy of Latvia is the same as it is in the UK - that NATO is the cornerstone of our defensive strategy, and NATO is configured and trained, and able to act to any hostile act against any of its member nations. The arrangements that we have are sufficient under the Article 5 and Article 4 to act against any aggressor to out member nations and this is really the way in which we intend to respond to any sort of threat, particularly from Russia.

In 2015 seven nations, as you mentioned, signed the agreement of establishing the JEF. Are there any indications that more NATO states are going to join and does the Force need it?

When the Memorandum of Understanding on foundation was signed at the end of the last year it was signed by the countries we named before. At that particular event all of our defence ministers who signed that agreement were clear that if any other nation wished to join, then the prospect of joining would be absolutely opened. At the moment, it is an agreement between seven nations and if any other nation was to ask to join then the UK and the remaining JEF partner nations would consider that application in a normal way.

But that hasn't happened yet?


As I understood, the plan is that the JEF is fully established and operating by 2018. Could you elaborate what is the current state, its current structure?

All the partner nations within the JEF have now designated force elements that they would be prepared to allocate towards any JEF deployment. Now, the beauty about the JEF agreement is that, firstly, there is no obligation on any partner nation to participate in any operation, it is purely a matter for that individual nation. And, secondly, there is no requirement for complete consensus amongst all seven partner nations for deployment to happen... So if, for example, a crisis occurs and only three, for or five partner nations wish to contribute forces to that particular response, then that is absolutely fine, it can still be done under the banner of the JEF. The way in which we developed the coalition over the course of the last year, also, gives me absolute confidence that it will be entirely successful, and we have achieved a very close level of cooperation, deep understanding of each other's capabilities and very close relationships.

But to answer your question directly, the JEF capability is improving - quite literally - week by week and month by month. My headquarters achieved its initial operating capability back in the summer, in June and in July we held a command-post exercise without any field troops but certainly with partner nation contributions within my headquarters and we were able to put ourselves through our paces and produce a highly capable headquarters at the end of that. The most important aspect of that is that it is the headquarters that provide the direction, the necessary command, and the necessary information activity to shape environment for the components to manoeuvre and to operate. So we are very much on track, very much on the right trajectory to achieving a full operational capability in the early part of 2018.

For the benefit of the readers, how are all of these forces going to co-operate, how are they going to be supervised?

Yes, that is a really good question. What the JEF is about... Firstly, it is a global response force so it is able to operate anywhere in the world. The second point is that the JEF is also about providing options for our military and political leaders. If the circumstances are right, if the situation demands it, then JEF can become an option for deployment rather than any other force, whether it be a national force, whether it be another coalition force under the United Nations (UN) or African Union or even NATO. So this is about creating as many options and opportunities as required because - let's face it - we are at very uncertain times, the threats that we face, not only around Europe, but also around the world are very significant and in many respects they are very novel and they will require different, novel responses and that in the JEF is what we aim to provide across the spectrum.

What do you mean by novel?

What I mean by novel is, for example, if you are facing a threat which could be a disease, a civil threat, it could be an insurgency, it could be terrorism, what the JEF is designed to do is to tailor the force in order to response to that threat. So it would be horses for courses, so to say - a different type of response which is entirely dependant on the type of the problem that we are looking at. There is no one size that fits all, it will be individually tailored and depending on a particular operation.

If we are talking about operations, what role do you see for the JEF in UN, NATO and European Union operations all around the world?

You know, the requirement of the JEF is to be ready for any kind of operation and that includes potentially combat operations. We would be able to respond to something like Ebola crisis and in many respects many of the JEF partner nations took part in that operation already. It could also be a stabilisation operation in any number of countries where there would be a request for our support and it would be a matter for our political leaders to decide.

You also mentioned this "no obligations" policy in case something does happen. We know that Great Britain and other countries have bigger defence budgets, better arms in contrary to Latvia and other Baltic states. Would these countries be something like a stumbling block?

No, I don't think so at all. This is all about sharing capabilities. There are some capabilities that the UK and the Netherlands might have that other partners don't have. There are already some capabilities that Norway has but Great Britain does not. And there are absolutely undoubtedly areas of expertise and capabilities that Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have which we don't have either. So this is about the power of combination, the ability for individual partner countries to come together and share their perspectives and their expertise, and produce a greater output as a result.

So what would be the strong points of Latvia, for example?

One of the great strengths that we have in our bilateral relations is the fact that we share a common background and a common heritage, we have history together, we have operated together in operations recently and I would say, from what I have seen from Latvian forces in Afghanistan, we share a determination to fight when it is necessary. That is extremely important in a coalition.


Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Caleb Barrieau - MaJ. Gen. Stuart R Skeates, Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst talks with cadets after completing the final evaluation and validation training at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, March 20, 2015. The intent of the certification exercise is to train and evaluate cadets on decision-making, planning, field craft expertise and operations in a tactical environment in order to prepare officer cadets for commissioning into the British Army.