On a regular occasion, I find myself fielding questions from friends, family, contacts in various international organizations, and even some NATO colleagues about what exactly I do for Allied Command Transformation Staff Element Europe (ACT SEE). “What does your office do?”; “Is it even legal?”; “How do you transform NATO?”; are all commonly asked questions which I usually provide a brief reply about the nature of international law, a few of my daily responsibilities, and a quick summary of some of the office’s projects.
It struck me as odd, however, when the new Director of ACT SEE, Brigadier General Patrick Boubée de Brabont, proposed this very line of questioning to the deputy of our legal staff. As the Director of ACT SEE, he is responsible for supporting the coordination between the transformative and operational military elements of NATO. As such, he, in particular, is fairly aware of the transformative nature of the office and what it means to the future of the Alliance. So you could imagine our dismay to hear this question pouring out of our new commander’s mouth:
“Do you think you are truly a tool for NATO Transformation?”
Seeing how deeply this doubt is rooted is alarming, but it also gives an opportunity to display the transformative works produced by our staff in the ACT SEE legal office.
As an integral part of ACT SEE and the transformation of NATO, our legal office evolves with the current international environment. In accordance with our mission statement, we strive to be NATO’s leading agent for change. We drive, facilitate and advocate for the continuous improvement of the Alliance. We provide a venue for conversations and collaborations regarding new concepts and techniques, we shape future NATO doctrine, and we endlessly encourage awareness through ongoing education and training.
With our Comprehensive Legal Overview Virtual Information System (CLOVIS), we increase the precision, accessibility, and timeliness of legal advice by connecting over 50 NATO legal offices. CLOVIS is a unique capability that is tailored specifically to the requirements of the NATO legal community to ensure that legal advisers are equipped with the most accurate and current information available. CLOVIS facilitates the delivery of robust and coordinated legal advice to limit legal exposure during operations and to safeguard NATO and the Nations against possible claims and future investigations. It also provides a facility to house NATO’s institutionalized legal memory for the next generation of legal advisers to learn from.
Members of our office also chaired and organized the working group dedicated to the adoption of the NATO Standardization Agreement (STANAG) on the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC). This agreement establishes a minimum standard of training in LOAC to ensure that military operations are conducted in accordance with international law. The STANAG’s objectives include: providing enough knowledge necessary for the parties involved to comply; to reaffirm awareness of possible criminal liability and consequences of a breach; to provide ability necessary to properly apply LOAC; and to enable commanders to consider LOAC limitations and precautions during the planning, preparation and conduct of operations. Given the LOAC STANAG’s success, our office has also pioneered the development of another STANAG concerning the Rules of Engagement, which is currently in development.
One of the greatest contributions (in my opinion) the ACT SEE legal office provides to NATO is education and outreach. The ACT SEE legal office drafts and distributes the NATO Legal Deskbook, an educational resource for NATO legal advisers that reflects current NATO practices and policies, and the NATO Legal Gazette, a publication that aims to support civilian and military professionals serving in NATO’s legal offices by proving advice and exploring topics of use for NATO. Our office also organizes, attends, and often hosts conferences and workshops regarding international law as well as the NATO School, which provides legal advisers two week-long courses each year: the NATO Legal Advisers course and the NATO Operational Law course. In addition to the contributions made to the existing NATO community, it also welcomes interns into its circle to learn about international law first hand. Speaking from experience, it is a completely different animal to see the way international law plays out in person than how it appears on a page or in a lecture.
The ACT SEE legal office has continuously worked to support and promote ACT’s key function of leading the Alliance’s transformation to strengthen the link between ACT and the operational capability of the Alliance. So yes, our office is and will continue to be a tool for NATO transformation and we will accept any challenge that may arise. We are here, we are waiting…
Until next time,