REVIEW: Article

Enhance NATO Capabilities to Create a Bulwark Against Terror

The Chinese word for “crisis,” noted President John F. Kennedy in an oft-quoted anecdote, is written as two characters. The first signifies “danger.” The second—“opportunity.” This combination vividly describes the cross­roads at which the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) finds itself today. September 11 focused the world’s attention on the threat posed by international terrorism in the most shocking way imaginable. But that infamous day was also a catalyst for the United States (US) and its NATO allies to take on the challenge of this and other emerging threats.

The US faced such a defining moment before, with the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War a decade ago. Critics asked then whether an alliance designed for collective defense against the Soviet Union could adapt to a world with no clear adversary. Could it reshape itself from a purely defensive Alliance to one that could also provide for the collective security needs of a new era? Ten years later, NATO has not only succeeded in making this transformation, it has emerged stronger and more vital than ever.

NATO had a great decade in the nineties. It stopped the war in Bosnia in 1995, where our 18,000 allied soldiers in the Stabilization Force (SFOR) have kept the peace for six years. In the quick and decisive Kosovo air campaign in 1999, NATO stopped the savage killing of innocent civilians by Serb forces, and now NATO’s 34,000-person Kosovo Force (KFOR) is providing the stable and secure environment necessary to promote the development of democratic institutions. When civil war appeared likely in Macedonia in the summer of 2001, NATO helped broker a political settlement. Beyond the Balkans, NATO reached out to embrace new members Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic in 1997, developed a unique partnership with Russia and Ukraine, and established links with new partners from Tirana to Tajikistan.This record of achievements should make all NATO allies proud. But September 11 showed us that new threats are all too real and immediate for us to rest on our laurels. Hostile states and terrorist groups, fueled by extremist ideologies and seeking weapons of mass destruction, pose challenges that are no less deadly and much harder to defend against than the former Warsaw Pact.

NATO’s Support for the War on Terrorism

NATO has been quick to take up this challenge. Within 24 hours of the September 11 attacks, NATO invoked, for the first time in its history, Article V of the Washington Treaty. An attack on the US became an attack on Canada and our European allies. The Alliance’s commitment was not just rhetoric, and NATO has taken concrete steps to assist us in the war on terror.

Fourteen of our NATO allies have forces in Afghanistan or the wider theater. When US troops faced fierce fighting in Eastern Afghanistan in March, they were assisted by French air strikes and Canadian, Norwegian, German and Danish Special Forces. NATO airborne warning and control systems (AWACs) aircraft now patrol US skies, protecting Americans, and freeing the US AWACs fleet for important work abroad. NATO vessels patrol the eastern Mediterranean. NATO peacekeeping forces in Bosnia have uncovered and broken up terrorist cells. Through the Partnership for Peace, experts from NATO’s member nations are teaching the militaries of other nations the nuts and bolts of creating effective counterterrorist structures.

Some of our allied contributions to the war on terrorism have come through the formal mechanisms of the Alliance. Others are outside those structures. But all are the result of more than a half-century of positive, constructive relationships and habits of cooperation—both military and political—built through NATO.

NATO has clearly used its existing capabilities to good effect in the counter-terrorism fight. However, we must now begin an urgent and serious program to give us the right tools to confront the challenge of asymmetric warfare. Ad hoc adaptation is no substitute for an effective, credible defense against these new threats. We all must do much more.

Close the Capabilities Gap

In December, NATO Foreign Ministers agreed to strengthen the Alliance’s capa­bilities against the threat of global terrorism. But as we say in the US, “It’s not enough to talk the talk. We now have to walk the walk.”

The US faces a growing military capabilities gap with its European allies. Sizeable US investment in advanced technologies has given us a capacity to fight that many of our allies do not have due to falling European defense budgets. September 11 shows that all NATO nations need to make tough decisions about defense spending and reforms to modernize armed forces. Although we do not expect our allies to spend at the same level the United States does, they have not kept pace with us, and we now risk an Alliance that is so unbalanced that we may soon be unable to fight effectively together. America’s proposed $48 billion defense spending increase alone is far greater than the total annual defense budget of any individual ally, and is also greater than the combined annual defense budgets of 12 NATO members.

It is vitally important that our allies accept the need for increased spending. NATO can and should narrow its priority list to those that are truly essential. Without dramatic action to close the capabilities gap, we face the real prospect of a two-tiered Alliance. Such a division of labor would break the fundamental commitment to both shared risk and shared responsibility for NATO actions that is critical to the Alliance’s cohesion. It would also keep NATO from living up to its commitment to defend its citizens from the real threats that confront us.Frankly, allies need to do a better job of living up to their commitments to provide the capabilities that NATO’s military leadership says it needs. Many of our allies still do not have what is absolutely necessary in modern warfare—in both equipment and command structure—to get to the fight and win once they are there.

During the Cold War, NATO shaped its forces against specific threats. But September 11 teaches us we cannot predict which enemy the Alliance will confront years from now, or where wars may occur. We must focus on the capabilities our adversaries could use against us, correcting our own vulnerabilities, and exploiting the most modern new technologies to extend our own military advantages. This is the essence of capabilities-based defense planning. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has committed the US military to this new approach. NATO allies need to make the same choice.


NATO has the opportunity to meet this challenge and others by the time of the Prague Summit in November 2002. This year, the Alliance will deepen its relationship with Russia through the new NATO-Russia Council, and maintain peace in the Balkans while continuing to draw down troop numbers and transferring authority to civilian rule. We will also take in new members. But what is most important, NATO must redirect its focus toward the emerging threats posed by terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.

In November, the heads of state of the NATO allies will meet in Prague to consider these questions and chart the Alliance’s future. I have every confidence that, at that summit, we will make a significant down payment on closing the gap with our allies and transforming our Alliance to one capable of addressing these new realities so that NATO will remain as effective in defending Europe and North America in this century as it was in the last.

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United States Permanent Representative to NATO