Lieutenant General Mart de Kruif
Commander of the Royal Netherlands Army
42nd member of the US Army War College International Fellows Hall of Fame
Address to Army War College Class of 2013: “Multinational Operations”
January 7, 2013
Your Excellencies, Generals, Ladies, Gentlemen,
Having just been inducted in the Hall of Fame, the opportunity to speak before you now is yet another great honor for me. And the year I spent in the Class of 2003 (…) together with my family it was really one of the best years of our lives.
But back then, I could not have imagined that that I’d be back here in 2009 and again today. Life is full surprises and some of them are actually quite pleasant.
The official reason for my induction in the Hall of Fame is the fact that I am an ex-student and commanding the Royal Dutch Army. I’m perfectly aware, though, that you are not particularly focused on the Netherlands or its armed forces. I will illustrate that. When I came here (…), I had to get a haircut. So I went into town, sat in the chair of the hairdresser, and she started talking to me. She asked: ‘where are you from?’ I said: ‘from Holland’. She said ‘That’s great. That’s in Indiana, isn’t it?’ It even gets worse. I said: ‘No, the Netherlands’. She said: oh, that’s great. I’ve always wanted to go to Scandinavia and visit Paris’. [Laughter]
But you shouldn't take this at face value because the Netherlands probably has more links with the United States than you may know, and I will tell you a few facts from a historical perspective. First, to disappoint you but the word Yankees has a Dutch origin, just like the word dollar. Up to 1664, Manhattan was a Dutch colony bearing the name New Amsterdam. Most of the boys were named Jan or Kees. If you put that together, you get Yankees. That’s why you won’t find many fans of the Boston Red Sox in the Netherlands. [Laughter]
We were a very important financier of your War of Independence. And actually, in July 1780, the United States dispatched John Adams to Amsterdam to guarantee the financial support. We are the 5th biggest trade partner of the United States and over 4 million Americans are directly depending on Dutch trade or industry for their jobs. We are the world’s 6th largest exporter and the 16th economy. Six of your Presidents had Dutch roots. It’s your job to find out who they were. [Laughter]
|General de Kruif during a VTC at RC (South),
2009. Photo: Hans de Vreij
I was born near Arnhem, the city that became famous through the movie ‘A Bridge Too Far’. When I was a child, we could receive only three television channels. One Dutch, and two German. In secondary school, English, French and German were compulsory subjects. Holidays with my parents were spent in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, England and Norway. This kind of background is not uniquely mine, but common to many people in the Netherlands. We are, after all, a very small country. If you don’t use the brakes of your car in time, you find yourself in Belgium or in Germany. [Laughter]
But global trade is also very deeply rooted in our tradition. During the 17th century and later, Dutch ships were sailing all around the world conducting trade. With the same aim, colonies such as New Amsterdam, South Africa and the Netherlands East Indies, today’s Indonesia, were established. In other words, our geography and our lifestyle forced us and still forces us to have a global outlook. When you’re a small country, the world out there is pretty big, I can tell you.
As an Army officer I had the fortune of course to study for two years at the German defense college, and attended German Army commanding General Staff course as shown, and in addition, I was deployed in numerous missions, as you have seen. But of course, the most important one and the most impressive one was commanding the ISAF forces in Regional Command (South). I can tell you this was not an easy job. During my command, we lost 282 lives of soldiers – 104 US soldiers and 102 British soldiers, 33 Canadians, 12 Australian soldiers and so on and so on. It was, and it still is a very tough fight in Southern Afghanistan. And it’s not the nicest thing to do when you see people dying in your hands and you have to write home to the family what happened. But that is what operations are all about and most of you gathered here know what it means.
It is unusual, however, for a Dutch general to command 45,000 forces on the ground. During one of my presentations, one of the students asked me: ‘when was the last time before you that a Dutch general commanded 45,000 coalition troops on the ground?’ My answer was: ‘probably Waterloo’. That was not the good answer if your presentation is at the École de Guerre in Paris, I can tell you. [Laughter]
I will not give you the official point of view, but I will give you [under] Chatham House Rules my opinion on international cooperation. It’s about how I think about this type of cooperation and my points of view are of course for a very important part influenced by my experience in Afghanistan and the years afterwards. I’ll make a couple of points on this type of cooperation.
First, whether you like it or not, international cooperation is a fact. It is reality. International cooperation follows directly from our shrinking defense budgets. Being a small country with a reduced budget, you are soon faced with the reality of having to get rid of capabilities that you actually need. This created dependence on partners.
A good example is the fact that that the Dutch armed forces have had to bid farewell to their tanks during the latest reorganization. Yet I continue to train my leadership and my units in integrating the effects of tanks in a scheme of maneuver. I do this by making use of German tanks in every exercise at battalion level and higher. (…) This is a real example of Pooling and Sharing being put into practice.
But there is also a more positive reason why we should aim for more cooperation, and this is operational reality. We can spend a long time talking about cooperation here, but to our junior leadership, that is just everyday reality. When I was a young Captain, my war position where I had to dig a hole was close to the Innerdeutsche Grenze [the border between West and East Germany, HdV] looking East. And I was defending in a position where the Dutch Army Corps would defend. We would fight shoulder to shoulder with only Dutch units. If you would see British or US tanks, one thing would be sure: you would be in big trouble, because that would mean that the reserve was lost and we never trained this.
Now, if you are a platoon commander, I will give you the example of a young Dutch platoon commander who operates in Uruzgan. When he leaves the base, he is accompanied by Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. They are mentored by Australians and by French. The camp is guarded by Slovaks. His top cover comes from Belgian F-16’s, Mirages from France and U.S. fighters from Bagram.
|General De Kruif visiting US Special Forces in
Uruzgan Province, 2009. Photo: Hans de Vreij
And therefore, it is important that we realize this, because you and I as strategic leaders have the obligation to ensure that our people are prepared for this type of cooperation, and this must be done during their training and education. Therefore, in the Netherlands, much of the curriculum of the Royal Military Academy is taught in English now. Future leaders are intentionally posted abroad (…) and incorporated in foreign staffs and units, and NATO doctrine is applied. And every exercise at battalion level and above, the only language used is English. The orders are written in English. The communication on the net is in English and the after action review is in English.
But also, when we train our brigades, they are not only trained by 1 (German/Netherlands) Corps, but also by the ARRC from England and the Rapid Reaction Corps of the French in Lille. So we force our people to have an international focus during their regular training program.
Secondly, international cooperation is a source of strength. The problems facing military personnel during missions today are highly complex, and they are different from those facing them in the past. There has been a paradigm change here. In the past, you would see civilian effects supporting a military operation and we would call this CIMIC. Today, it is completely reversed. Military effects are now used in support of civilian-led operations. And I have observed that particularly this civilian component is struggling with the roles it has to take on. And the failure, from my point of view, of UNAMA in Afghanistan on the main lines of operation – government and development - serves as an example.
But military personnel is struggling as well to make good the lack of civilian involvement, contributions and capacities. The problems facing our personnel in this process are often unknown, highly complex and very diverse. How do you get power from the Kajaki Dam down to Kandahar? How do you get a banking system? How do you train your judges? This means that commanders will have to mobilize all the cultural and intellectual skills of their personnel in order to resolve these damned complex issues. 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. The challenges for the commander is to tap into this intellectual richness and translate it into success.
Third. International cooperation requires a new type of leader. The basic qualities required by military leaders are largely universal and timeless. Vision, professionalism, courage, daring, integrity, role model, attitude readily comes to mind. (…) However, for a leader of an international coalition, some additional elements come into play. First of all, language skills. A good proficiency in English is, of course, necessary. But it’s not just regular English. There are two issues here at stake. First, like General Patton said: ‘English is very difficult because we have two nations that are divided by the same language’. So, are you talking English English, or American English? Secondly, you need to talk military English. What is the difference between to disrupt, to destroy, to annihilate or to suppress? If you don’t know the difference, you might find yourself in big trouble in an operation.
|Chairing a ISAF staff meeting at RC (South), 2009.
Photo: Hans de Vreij
That brings me to my second point, which I would call ‘intra-coalition cultural awareness’. It has always struck me that when we deployed to Afghanistan, we all teach our soldiers all the cultural issues of how to deal with the Afghans. Always give them your right hand, never show them your feet, never look a woman in the eye. But what about the cultural awareness of what it means to work with the U.S., with the French, with the Brits? We fail in training our people in what that means. Just look in the United States. I learned that if you talk to Army officers, you have to end your story with ‘Hooah’. [Laughter] But when you work with Marines (…), you have to end it with ‘Semper Fi’. Just knowing that is very important.
So we need to get better. And I think we as leaders should master these elements. And it should be taught in instruction and training. And therefore, I think it is important that we have these institutions like the U.S. Army War College. It’s a fantastic opportunity you have here during this year to work with cultural awareness. I think that is vital for the success of strategic leaders.
Fourth point. International cooperation requires mission command. Technology enables us to monitor combat activities closely and we've seen it. This creates opportunities but may in some cases run counter to the principles of mission command. Without a doubt, most of you have all been confronted with the long screwdriver… But alongside these general principles, international cooperation has two aspects relevant to the application of mission command. The first is technical. On my desk in Kandahar, there were seven telephones. United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands, Afghanistan and NATO. Only one never rang, by the way. That was the Dutch telephone. [Laughter] The thing was: we could not connect these different communication systems and that’s a bloody shame. And as long as we accept this, that these systems are not interconnected, we will not be able to conduct mission command the way we should do it.
The second aspect concerns the mental component of combat power and is directly related with trust. There is no mission command without trust. Cooperation can only be successful if there is a mutual trust in each other’s capabilities and intentions, and I have experienced that firsthand. Up to this day, I am extremely grateful for the freedom granted to me as commander in RC (South) by my commanding officers David McKiernan and Stan McChrystal.
Let me give you this one example. The practical implementation of the deployment of the additional 30,000 U.S. troops in 2009 was planned entirely by me and my staff, and approved by COMISAF. The decision to go to Helmand, instead of concentrating on Kandahar, was my decision and no one else's. General McChrystal supported me in this decision, which, from my point of view, was an example of great leadership. And for the insiders: Bob Woodward’s book ‘Obama’s Wars’ is incomplete with regard to this issue.
Fifth. International cooperation is not possible without guts. Countries in a coalition enter that coalition each with their own sets of Rules of Engagement and caveats. There are two ways of dealing with this. One extreme is to use the rules as an excuse to do nothing. The other end of the spectrum is having the courage to interpret the rules and act according to their spirit rather than on their letter. This is a precondition to working in a coalition. Trying to find out where the real boundaries are. Let me be absolutely clear: I’m not inciting you to break the rules. I only believe it’s necessary for a commander to sometimes push the limits of your mandate.
Sixth. International cooperation depends on quality and risk sharing. So far I focused on the practical aspects and consequences of cooperation. But at the political-military level, however, two conditions must be met for international cooperation to be effective. The first is quality. The success of every coalition is dependent on the quality of the contribution of its members. Quality does not refer merely to technology, but rather, and more in particular, to the quality of the people who are supplied by the partners. People with specialist knowledge, with open minds, language skills, who can work in a team and are respectful towards colleagues. Second condition is the unconditional `willingness to share risks. A coalition has no chance of surviving if its members are unwilling to share the risks during operations. You've got to be able and to be willing to fight shoulder to shoulder and to suffer together.
These two aspects are not just matters of technology and tactics, but rather belong to the strategic domain, to your domain. Quality must be assured in defense efforts of the various countries. Furthermore, the mandate and caveats in place must be formulated in a way that the troops are able to operate shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have taken you in very broad strokes from my experiences as a commander of a coalition complemented with my personal experience of 36 years of service. I hope I've made clear I don’t see working in a coalition as a necessary evil. There is a tremendous source of strength and military power where we have to tap in. Of course there are limitations to be reckoned with, ranging from minor obstacles stemming from regulations to political sensitivities. And no matter how you feel about it, as strategic leaders coalitions will be your future, so you have to deal with it. I would like to give you the following advice. Do not waste your energy on denying reality. Instead, commit all your strength and efforts to make the coalition you are part of better and more effective. This will not only make you a better commander, but also a better person.
Thank you very much [Applause].
[Transcript: Defensie weblog, The Netherlands]
(bron: Defensie weblog. Overname van de tekst is toegestaan, mits met bronvermelding. Source: Defensie weblog, The Netherlands. You may use and re-publish this text, provided you refer to its source)