A Transformation Gap: American Innovations and European Military Change


NATO member states are all undergoing some form of military transformation. Despite a shared vision, transformation has been primarily a US-led process centered on the exploitation of new information technologies in combination with new concepts for "networked organizations" and "effects-based operations." Simply put, European states have been unable to match the level of US investment in new military technologies, leading to the identification of a growing "transformation gap" ...

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NATO member states are all undergoing some form of military transformation. Despite a shared vision, transformation has been primarily a US-led process centered on the exploitation of new information technologies in combination with new concepts for "networked organizations" and "effects-based operations." Simply put, European states have been unable to match the level of US investment in new military technologies, leading to the identification of a growing "transformation gap" between the US and the European allies.

This book assesses the extent and trajectory of military transformation across a range of European NATO member states, setting their transformation progress against that of the US, and examining the complex mix of factors driving military transformation in each country. It reveals not only the nature and extent of the transatlantic gap, but also identifies an enormous variation in the extent and pace of transformation among the European allies, suggesting both technological and operational gaps within Europe.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The scholarly research and descriptive analysis in this book are beyond reproach. The authors utilize important NATO and government source documents and top-tier scholarly journal articles and make effective use of interviews with top-level country officials in conducting their assessments. This insightful book is best read by senior European or U.S. military leaders and government officials, international relations or political science scholars, and anyone else interested in a detailed understanding of the dynamics shaping the military capabilities gap between the United States and its European NATO counterparts."—David A. Anderson, Military Review

"[T]his is a valuable and substantive, if somewhat sobering stocktaking of the Alliance's progress towards military transformation."—Survival

"Through a set of theoretically informed case studies of seven European countries, this volume provides new empirical insights into contemporary military transformation. It advances theory on how alliances influence transformation, and how diverse approaches to transformation impact coalition operations. Understanding the 'capability gap' between the United States and Europe—in technology, doctrine, concepts and organization—is critical for practitioners involved in current operations like Afghanistan and for those planning for the future."—Emily Goldman, United States Central Command

"A Transformation Gap? represents a valuable and much needed contribution to the literature on military innovation and adaptation. The authors' exploration of NATO's transformation track record should be interest to scholar and practitioner alike."—Thomas G. Mahnken, Professor of Strategy, U.S. Naval War College

"This is a must-read for politicians, military officers, and journalists on both sides of the Atlantic. This book explains and analyzes 'transformation' and its progress in NATO through six national case studies. It contains important insights for scholars, practitioners, and publics."—Grant T. Hammond, Dean, NATO Defense College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804763783
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 4/26/2010
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Terry Terriff is the Arthur J. Child Chair of American Security Policy at the University of Calgary. Frans Osinga is an Air Commodore in the Royal Netherlands Air Force and a Professor at the Royal Netherlands Defence Academy. Theo Farrell is Professor of War in the Modern World at King's College London.

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Read an Excerpt

A Transformation Gap?


Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-6378-3

Chapter One

Military transformation in NATO: A Framework for Analysis

Theo Farrell and Terry Terriff

Across the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), member states are undergoing military transformation. For new member states from the former Eastern bloc, there has been transformation with the introduction of democratically controlled military organizations. Some existing member states have also been transforming their militaries to phase out conscription and move toward all-volunteer professional forces. On top of these de facto transformations in military professionalism across Europe, NATO undertook a commitment at the 2002 Prague Summit, to transform its capabilities for, and approach to, military operations, and to lead that effort a specific NATO command was created, Allied Command Transformation (ACT).

Notwithstanding the establishment of ACT, military transformation has been a US-led process centered on the exploitation of new information technologies in combination with new concepts for "networked organizations" and "effects-based operations" (EBO). European states have simply been unable to match the level of US investment in new military technologies, and so for some time critics have warned of a growing "transformation gap" between the United States and the European allies. In recent years, this process of developing transformational technologies and concepts for war has been reoriented toward tackling counterinsurgency (COIN) and stability operations. Here, the experience (especially from colonial times) of states such as Britain and France gives some European militaries a possible transformation advantage over the big war orientated US military.

This study assesses the extent and trajectory of military transformation across a range of European NATO member states. It considers cases of the major European military powers (Britain, France, and Germany), smaller Western militaries (Spain and The Netherlands), and one new member state (Poland). This study offers a more nuanced picture of the much touted transatlantic "transformation gap." It shows the enormous variation among the European allies on the extent of transformation, suggesting that there may be both technological and conceptual gaps within Europe. It describes how a complex and contingent mix of international and local drivers is operating to push forward military transformation in each country. And, accordingly, it provides insight into the variable trajectories of military transformation among NATO member states.

In this chapter, we introduce the common analytical framework for the book. Essentially, this centers on breaking transformation down into three discrete elements — namely, network-enablement, effects based operations, and expeditionary warfare. The extent and trajectory of military transformation in each case-study is assessed in terms of these respective technological, doctrinal, and organizational innovations. A secondary goal of this volume is to assess the process of military transformation in each country. This involves an enormously complex interaction among international, national, and organizational factors in each case. Nonetheless, three discrete scholarly literatures considered in this chapter, on military innovation, norm diffusion, and alliance theory, respectively, do provide pointers for analyzing the processes of military transformation.


At the turn of the twenty-first century, the United States officially embarked on a process of military transformation. Chapter 2 of this volume discusses the rise of military transformation in detail, and thus we provide only a brief introduction in this section to orientate the reader. In the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the US Department of Defense (DoD) declared transformation to be "at the heart" of its "new strategic approach." Military transformation is rooted in the US-led Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) of the 1990s, when it became apparent that advances in information technology (IT), as harnessed by a resource-rich US military, offered the potential to revolutionize the conduct of warfare, in much the same way that mechanical transport, metal steam-powered ships, and manned flight all revolutionized warfare. The spectacular American victory in the 1991 Gulf War also seemed to suggest that a US-led RMA was underway and that US forces were leaping forward in military capability. Indeed, while a number of NATO states provided air and naval forces to support the US-led coalition, only Britain and France provided significant ground contingents. Moreover, the French 6th Light Division was allocated to the far left flank, well away from the main coalition land offensive, because, unlike the British 1st Armoured Division, it was not deemed to be up to major combat operations. In large part, then, the Gulf War appeared to be a success for the RMA, and militaries around the world began to look closely at the new US military model based on the exploitation of IT. However, no state could hope to match the level of US investment in IT-enabled military capabilities. So while the rhetoric of the US RMA spread rapidly to other militaries, actual emulation of the new US military model, insofar as it occurred, did so selectively and on a surface level only.

By the end of the 1990s, the term "military transformation" had begun to replace that of RMA in describing the program of change in the US military. This shift in terminology highlighted that this process of revolutionary military change involved as much new thinking as new technology. Whereas RMA was focused mostly on IT, transformation was equally focused on the new operational concepts and organizational forms that would enable the US military truly to revolutionize the conduct of warfare. Hence, in 2003 the US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, defined transformation in this way:

[A] process that shapes the changing nature of military competition and cooperation through new combinations of concepts, capabilities, people and organizations that exploit our nation's advantages and protect against our asymmetric vulnerabilities to sustain our strategic position which helps underpin peace and stability in the world.

Thus, for Rumsfeld, transformation could conceivably involve all manner of things, including a return to cavalry—with US special forces operating on horseback in Afghanistan calling in precision air strikes. Crucial to transformation was new agility in doctrinal thinking, organizational form, and operational approach. In short, transformation involved nothing less that a paradigmatic shift in the US approach to warfare. Accordingly, Rumsfeld called on the military to foster "a culture of creativity and prudent risk taking."

Just as the 1991 Gulf War focused worldwide military attention on the future of conventional warfare, so ongoing coalition operations following the 2001–2 Afghan War and 2003 Iraq War have focused Western military minds on the return of irregular warfare. This, in turn, has had an impact upon the transformation debate, resulting in divergent perspectives within the US on the content and direction of military transformation. Broadly speaking, it is possible to discern two strands—one focused on conventional warfare, the other on COIN and stability operations. The first strand, more commonly called "Force Transformation," has been the most prominent. As noted above, it has involved innovating concepts, organizations, and technologies for major combat operations. At the same time, in November 2005, the Undersecretary of Defense (policy) issued a directive requiring the (DoD) and military service to give stability operations "priority comparable to combat operations." In truth, it is hard to imagine the army, air force, and navy giving equal weight to forms of operations (such as stability operations) that essentially threaten the purpose of traditional prestige weapon platforms: heavy armor, strategic bombers, and aircraft carriers. Nonetheless, operational demands and experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and new US military doctrine on small wars and COIN, reinforce the genuine interest in the US military in what some have called "Second Generation Transformation."

Both strands of US military transformation are producing innovations—both in terms of technology and ideas—that are of interest to the European allies. As suggested above, the Europeans have been concerned for a number of years about the "transformation gap," and this is leading them to consider how they need to transform their own militaries in order to be able to continue to fight alongside the US military in conventional wars. At the same time, European militaries (especially those with colonial and peacekeeping experience) will be naturally drawn to COIN and stability operations. And here there has been some two-way transatlantic traffic of military ideas. In 2004-5, the US Army was keen to learn from the European (especially British) experience of COIN. Since 2006, the US Army and Marine Corps have developed new concepts, doctrine, and organizational capabilities, building on lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan. The new joint US Army/US Marine Corps doctrine on COIN (FM 3-24) has greatly influenced doctrinal development and the conduct of operations by European militaries.


This study adopts a focused, structured comparison approach to examining military transformation in six NATO member states. Accordingly, we focus on specific aspects of each case and analysis is structured by a common set of research themes concerning the extent, process, and trajectories of military transformation. Our case selection provides for analysis of military transformation in a range of European member states. Britain, France, and Germany, as the major powers in Europe, have similar potential to resource military transformation. At the same time, these three cases offer variation in terms of political and military ties to the United States, recent operational experience, and national military culture. We have also selected two additional existing member states—one northern (The Netherlands) and one southern (Spain), and one new member state (Poland). In all three of these additional cases the states are (or have until recently been) sympathetic to US grand strategy, and the militaries have recent operational experience with US forces.

At the heart of both transformation strands are two innovations, network-centric warfare (what the Europeans call network-enabled capability) and effects-based operations. There is also a major organizational change—namely, the shift from predeployed forces for territorial defense of Europe to forces configured for expeditionary warfare. Assessment of the extent of transformation in each case concentrates on these three elements of transformation. Empirically, this involves looking at change in doctrine, training, and force structure, as well as at future force development and systems acquisition plans in each country.

Network-Enabled Capability (NEC)

This innovation originates in the US concept for network-centric warfare (NCW). This is the notion that a "system of systems," connecting sensors, information processing centers, and shooters operating as one network across the whole of the battlespace, will replace platform-centric warfare conducted by large, self-contained military units. The Europeans prefer the term "network-enabled capability" (NEC), with "enabled" intentionally replacing "centric"; this indicates the more modest expectations (itself reflecting the more modest resources) of the Europeans in terms of the transformative effect of networking on military organization.

Effects-Based Operations

This concept originated in US Air Force thinking in the early 1990s about the future of striking air power. In its original formulation, EBO was about reconsidering how operational effects could be most efficiently produced through air strikes. Thus, whereas previously the focus had been on destroying targets, under EBO, it may be sufficient or indeed preferable to disable targets. In the late 1990s, the meaning and scope of EBO changed considerably. It was adopted more widely by all the US services and increasingly by US allies, and was redefined more broadly in terms of focusing military operations on the campaign objective—that is, the strategic effect. Arguably, this broader definition is rather meaningless (because military operations should always concentrate on campaign objectives), though it does have the virtue of focusing military attention on how the conduct of the campaign (particular in terms of the level of destruction) contributes or retracts from campaign objectives. The language of "effects-based" operations is now widely used in NATO even if there is some differing on precise terms and meanings. Indeed, NATO's Military Committee formally adopted the concept of the effects-based approach to operations (EBAO) in 2006. Like EBO, EBAO focuses attention on the strategic effects of operations but also places priority on the integration of the various instruments of the alliance and coordination with other international organizations.

Expeditionary Warfare

This element involves the most change—in organizational structure and capabilities—for the land forces. Expeditionary warfare has always been a core mission for the US Marine Corps. But now it has become a core mission for the US Army. This is most evident in the US Army's program for restructuring from ten divisions to forty-three brigade combat teams (BCTs). There will also be a sizable number of support brigades, but essentially BCTs will be self-sufficient combat formations. A typical army division had around 15,000 troops, whereas a BCT has between 3,000 and 4,000. Thus this new modular force structure promises to give the US Army a more agile force structure, and one that is better suited to expeditionary warfare. It so happens that a number of European militaries undertook similar restructuring programs in the mid to late 1990s, to do away with unsustainable legacy force structures and to introduce new self-sustainable and deployable units; hence Britain began to fold army regiments into battalions, while France broke up its divisions into maneuver regiments. The development of expeditionary forces needs also to be viewed in light of the innovative Combined Joint Task Force concept (CJTF), adopted by NATO in 1994. Introduced to NATO by the US military, CJTFs were the early version of the current drive to create modular expeditionary forces. So we would expect to find considerable evidence of this aspect of military transformation in many of the case studies.


Military transformation involves both external processes of military emulation and internal processes of military innovation. To be sure, a central concern of this volume is with the question of whether, and to what degree, European military transformation has been influenced by new military concepts and ideas from the United States. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been the unquestioned dominant military power. Moreover, as noted already, the 1991 Gulf War was an apt demonstration of US military prowess. Hence, the US military has provided an exemplar, or template, for European states seeking to transform their militaries for the information age. Driving this European interest in transformation is also a traditional concern with sustaining their alliance with the United States. European states recognize that, should they fail to keep up with the Americans, they will become militarily irrelevant.

In this section we consider three scholarly literatures that are relevant to our analysis of the process of military transformation in individual European states. First is the literature on military innovation, which suggests the factors that shape domestic processes of military transformation. Second is the literature on norm diffusion, which explores the transnational processes whereby US ideas and innovations spread to European militaries. Third is the literature on alliance politics, which points to traditional intra-alliance concerns with interoperability and burden sharing.

Military Innovation

Since military transformation involves a number of innovations, the military innovation literature is of obvious relevance to case studies in this volume. This literature broadly suggests three main factors that shape the trajectory of military innovations: threat, civil-military relations, and military culture. Related literatures on bureaucratic politics and weapons procurement suggest that entrenched institutional interests can also be a barrier to military innovation.


Excerpted from A Transformation Gap? Copyright © 2010 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Contributors ix

1 Military Transformation in NATO: A Framework for Analysis Theo Farrell Terry Terriff 1

2 The Rise of Military Transformation Frans Osinga 14

3 Innovating within Cost and Cultural Constraints: The British Approach to Military Transformation 1 Theo Farrell Tim Bird 35

4 From Bottom-Up to Top-Down Transformation: Military Change in France Sten Rynning 59

5 The Rocky Road to Networked and Effects-Based Expeditionary Forces: Military Transformation in the Bundeswehr Heiko Borchert 83

6 Innovating on a Shrinking Playing Field: Military Change in The Netherlands Armed Forces Rob de Wijk Frans Osinga 108

7 The Innovation Imperative: Spain's Military Transformation and NEC Antonio Marquina Gustavo Díaz 144

8 Transformation through Expeditionary Warfare: Military Change in Poland Olaf Osica 167

9 The Diffusion of Military Transformation to European Militaries Terry Terriff Frans Osinga 187

Notes 211

Index 251

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