New dean of NATO Defense College: Our perception of what presents a threat sometimes differs


Brigadier General František Mičánek, head of the Centre for Security and Military Strategic Studies at the University of Defense in Brno, was recently elected Dean of NATO Defense College in Rome. He is the second Czech to secure a high post in NATO defense structures, following General Petr Pavel’s appointment as chairman of NATO's Military Committee. In this edition of Panorama General Mičánek talks about his own studies at NATO Defense College, the qualifications that got him the job and what he hopes to contribute to this prestigious institution.

František Mičánek, photo: archive of University of Defense in BrnoFrantišek Mičánek, photo: archive of University of Defense in Brno “My specialization was defense planning, long-term planning, mid-term planning both in human resources and financial resources, I was responsible for NATO-Czech Republic cooperation and I also worked as a capability director for the European Defense Agency.”

You yourself studied at NATO Defense College in Rome and later served as faculty adviser –what are your memories of those days?

“The best ones. You know two and a half years in Rome sounds marvelous, but the five months I spent there as a student in a senior course was a real school of life – great opportunity to meet other students not only from NATO member states but Partnership for Peace countries, from contact countries, more than 80 people from some 28 to 35 states. And then I was posted there for two years as a mentor, as a faculty adviser. So I had the opportunity to see the college from both sides –as a student and as a staff member. And when I left NATO Defense College the school was in really good shape, great curriculum, great staff, great commander, then German General Löser, so it is an honour and a great opportunity for me to go back and stay there for three more years.”

So you know what awaits you in the post?

“Yes, definitely.”

As dean you will be able to shape the curriculum, in what direction are you planning to make changes –if any?

“NATO Defense College is quite a modern school and its flagship is the senior course, which normally starts with the global security environment, moving slowly though international organizations up to crisis management, so there is very little to be changed in the curriculum. But there is one thing that I would like to contribute - it was only in 2014 that the college got its first commander from the Central and East European region –that’s General Bojarski – and then the first dean from this region, Daria Skodnik was posted there. I am only the third representative from this region, so what I would like is to bring more insight into how this region thinks, how we understand and see different security threats, I would like to introduce the logic, the history and the culture we have in this part of Europe, because sometimes I feel that we do not reach a sufficient level of understanding on different critical issues of the day.”

“Sometimes I feel that we do not reach a sufficient level of understanding on different critical issues of the day.”

Can you be a bit more specific in where the differences lie?

“Yes, the perception of a threat is different in Western and Eastern Europe. For instance the Baltic states, and even the Czech Republic or Slovakia, we see Russia as a threat, but people in France and Great Britain see Russia differently and we have to explain why we perceive Russia as a threat. Or take the threat of ISIS or DAESH – for Southern Europe the threat and the consequences of the threat in terms of a big migration wave are more visible and they see the threat differently, like we see it in the center of Europe. So that is a great opportunity for discussion and greater understanding. ”

How does this different perception of threats affect cooperation? Does it create problems –this lack of understanding?

“I think we are willing to invest enough time into better understanding so that we can cooperate really well. Now we have a similar perception of future threats –Russia, DAESH, the changing environment (climate) and huge changes in demography –so we can create a portfolio of similarities and we can create mutual understanding, but we have to talk to each other.”

So why do you think there are so few Central and East European representatives high up in NATO ranks?

“I think that is probably due to national policies, not politics, the requirements for such high ranking positions are pretty high and we sometimes have a problem based on the rotation principle. If we get a one, two or three star position somewhere in the command structure of NATO we have to find a replacement and sometimes that is a challenge for the new NATO countries, because a smaller army means a smaller staff, fewer highly qualified people, so sometimes we play a less important role than the bigger countries. And, of course, those positions are also allocated according to the importance of a country and the amount of money it invests into defense. Lots of things play a role and we have to follow the rules.”

NATO Defence College in Rome, photo: NATONATO Defence College in Rome, photo: NATO Have the newcomers to NATO managed to win the respect of the former member states?

“Yes, definitely, some are more successful than others and the size of a country is not decisive in most cases. Of course, the role of Poland is bigger, because the country is bigger and has a bigger army than the rest of the newcomers, but it really depends on national policies. Now I am more than happy that the current government has reversed the unfortunate trend of cutting costs in the military and are paying more attention to its needs. As far as I know, we are one of three NATO countries which have been commended for improving defense spending. So that is good. But long-term development and stability is more important than short-term investments so we need to invest more not for five years or ten years but in the long-term perspective and that is what must be improved, especially here in the Czech Republic.”

We should say that you are still head of the Centre for Security and Military Strategic Studies at the University of Defense in Brno. What is the present defense capability of the Czech Republic and is it adequate do you think?

“That is a question for the Chief of Defense. But we carefully calculated how big an army we need, how many units, how robust a command control system we need and a new strategy on the development of the armed forces was approved by the government at the end of last year. So we have a concept, we have the money and the size – approximately a 27,000 strong force –should be sufficient for the tasks and ambitions and goals of the Czech military.”

NATO Defense College in Rome trains future diplomats as well as high ranking military officers –what is the level of cooperation between these professions in most states – because we have seen military interventions where the military may be frustrated by being sent somewhere and then being withdrawn, leaving anarchy behind. How does the military feel about this?

“In every single military operation you need to have defined not only the military goals and means, but you must have a clearly defined political ending.. .that was not a success story in Afghanistan or Iraq.”

“My view is that there must be cooperation between the military and politicians and diplomats. We have to create a bridge of understanding and in every single military operation you need to have defined not only the military goals and means, but you must have a clearly defined political ending. That was not a success story in Afghanistan or Iraq because those two phases of the same operation were not given. We could not win. The military goals were met, but reaching the political goals was a different story – that requires long-term dedication to the country in question and we do not have such strategic “patience” I would say.”

Are we learning from past mistakes?

“Yes, and it is always better to learn from someone else’s mistakes and the great tool for that is education. That is why I dedicate my time today to education and I am really looking forward to going to Rome to learn something new and then bring it back again to the Czech Republic.”