TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
International military cooperation is here to stay and despite the challenges is a source of strength for the goals of coalition partners, a Netherlands army officer and a NATO leader said at Tinker Air Force Base.
Dutch Maj. Gen. G.W. van Keulen spoke July 20 in the Oklahoma Room of Bldg. 3001 at the Logistics Officer Association Tinker Crossroads Chapter luncheon.
The director of operational readiness for the Netherlands Ministry of Defense spoke about the benefits and hurdles of multinational cooperation and his opinions about how leadership could be improved.
His coalition experience ranges from serving during the Cold War in a Leopard II main battle tank crew on the border of the former East and West Germanys to command as the combined joint logistics officer for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force—Afghanistan.
At its height, ISAF-Afghanistan included more than 130,000 personnel with troops from 51 NATO and partner nations, according to NATO. Van Keulen also served with coalition forces in Bosnia.
A typical Dutch lieutenant currently serving in Afghanistan may be plunged into situations in which he or she may be guarded at a camp by Slovaks, mentored by Australian and French trainers, escorted by Afghan police on missions — all a reflection of how multinational partners integrate with each other, the general said.
“That’s the reality for our junior leadership,” van Keulen said. “Therefore, it’s important we realize this because you and I have the obligation to ensure that our personnel are prepared for this type of cooperation. And this must be done during their training and education.”
Coalition military forces today are more likely to be asked to support civilian functions such as re-establishing courts, banking systems, power generation and other civil society basics in nations recovering from conflict.
“This means that commanders in the field will have to mobilize all the cultural and intellectual skills of their personnel in order to resolve these complex issues,” van Keulen said. “If those skills are supplied by military and civilian personnel from different countries, and therefore different cultures, they are bound to be better suited for their job than the skills of a purely national military staff.”
International cooperation also needs new types of leaders, the general said, who have more education in different languages and their subtleties and knowledge of cultural differences to overcome misunderstandings. The word “redeployment,” for example, has different meanings for American and European commanders within NATO and can lead to the wrong understanding on both sides.
Coalitions also depend on each partner contributing quality personnel and a willingness to share risks equally, he said. “You have to be able and to be willing to fight shoulder to shoulder and to suffer together,” the general said.
The general said all nations, including the United States, would benefit from more varied cultural awareness education about coalition partners and host nations. United States personnel share a common cultural trait.
“The attitude of the U.S. military is enormous,” van Keulen said. “Their will to work and to perform is immense.
“I hope I’ve made clear that I don’t see working in a coalition as a ‘necessary evil,’” van Keulen said. “There’s a tremendous source of strength and military power where we have to tap in. This will not only make the commanders better commanders, or staff officers better staff officers, but at the end you will be a better person. What I briefed you today is not official, but my honest true and professional judgment based on my experiences.”