NATO Has Transformed from Defensive Role to Expeditionary Force
Washington - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the greatest evolution that has taken place in NATO in the past 20 years is its transition from a static, defensive force to a force ready to take on security missions well beyond its traditional trans-Atlantic borders.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Washington — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the greatest evolution that has taken place in NATO in the past 20 years is its transition from a static, defensive force to a force ready to take on security missions well beyond its traditional trans-Atlantic borders.
“It was the attacks of September 11th  and the Afghanistan campaign that turned what had been theoretical analysis into reality,” Gates said February 23 at a NATO Strategic Concept seminar at the Washington-based National Defense University.
A 12-person group of international experts, led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, is working to revise NATO’s strategic concept, which is the core document that defines the trans-Atlantic alliance and its roles, missions, capabilities and strategy for managing security challenges in the 21st century. The strategic concept last was revised in 1999 before NATO began conducting active military operations outside of its traditional boundaries, such as in Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force and Iraq where NATO trainers are working to train the new Iraqi army.
Previous seminars addressed NATO’s role and missions, operations, and partnerships. This fourth and final seminar before the experts write the draft strategic concept is focused on transforming structures, forces and capabilities. The draft is expected to be presented at the 2010 NATO Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, in November.
“This change is a result of a new security environment in which threats are more likely to emanate from failed, failing or fractured states than from aggressor states; where dangerous, nonstate actors often operate from within nations with which we are not at war, or from within our own borders; and where weapons proliferation and new technologies make possible the specter of chaos and mass destruction in any of our capitals,” Gates told seminar participants.
“It is clear that our security interests are no longer tied solely to the territorial integrity of member states, as instability elsewhere can be a real threat,” he said.
Since the last revision of the strategic concept, NATO forces have undertaken missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, counterpiracy missions in the Gulf of Aden, counterterrorism missions in the Mediterranean Sea, training missions in Iraq, and active military operations in Afghanistan. Some of these missions have been the source of considerable debate within NATO about the direction and purpose of the alliance, which was formed in April 1949.
Gates said one of the most critical aspects of the North Atlantic Charter that formed NATO is Article 5 — the section that says an attack against one NATO member is regarded as an attack on all members. The predominant threat to Europe no longer is a massive land invasion by armored formations supported by massed artillery and waves of combat aircraft, he said. Instead, the threats have become more diffuse and more likely to emerge from outside NATO’s borders.
NATO must enhance, Gates said, its capabilities in missile defense in closer cooperation with partners and nonmilitary multinational organizations, and in providing training and advice to the security forces of other nations.
But one of the most significant issues facing NATO, Gates said, cannot wait for a final strategic concept. “The alliance faces very serious, long-term, systemic problems,” he said.
The problem is not underfunding NATO, Gates said, but since the end of the Cold War national defense budgets of many NATO members have fallen consistently even as NATO forces have taken on unprecedented operations. Gates said large segments of the general public and political leaders in Europe have become averse to the use of military force and the risks associated with it.
“Not only can real or perceived weakness be a temptation to miscalculation and aggression, but on a more basic level, the resulting funding and capability shortfalls make it difficult to operate and fight together to confront shared threats,” he said.
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder told reporters February 23 that the United States is placing considerable emphasis on four points in the reform process:
• The promise NATO nations make that an attack on one is an attack on all remains the bedrock of the security alliance. • A stronger cooperative relationship with Russia is essential. • Improved civil-military capabilities must be expanded within NATO because a military response alone is not enough to resolve security crises. • It is essential to make certain that the NATO institutions today are effective and efficient.
“We need to have an agile and flexible decisionmaking structure, in order to deal with the new challenges of the new world. And in order to do that, we will have to have a fundamental reform of the institutions and the organizations that are out there,” Daalder said.
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