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Kurt Volker - NATO: Where Is It Headed?

NATO: Where Is It Headed?

Kurt Volker, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Naval Postgraduate School
Monterey, CA
March 28, 2006

As prepared

Good afternoon. I want to thank the Naval Postgraduate School for the opportunity to be here. And thanks in particular to my friend John Feeley for arranging it.

We have worked together in rainy Brussels and workaholic Washington. So I know he takes particular pleasure in showing off his sunny and sane surroundings here in Monterey. Rubbing it in, I think, may be more accurate.

But it really is wonderful to be back in Monterey, and I can see the attraction of teaching here some day. Remembering exactly what it is you're supposed to teach may be the only hard part.

Right now, though, I have been blessed with an exceptional opportunity to work at transforming transatlantic relations and retooling NATO for the 21st century. It's an opportunity that doesn't come along everyday, so I'm delighted to take advantage of it, and equally delighted to share some of my thoughts with you today.

Let me say flat out: I am extremely optimistic about what we can accomplish by the end of the President's second term of office.

I know this is a big statement given the state of the transatlantic alliance a few years ago and indeed, given the challenges we face today. But I believe we have got a few big things right.

First, we know that our relationship with Europe is not principally about Europe itself, but rather about how well we work together with Europe on our global strategic agenda from Iran to Afghanistan to the contest of ideas, of freedom versus fanatacism.

Second, we know that our policies must be anchored squarely on our core values, the values of freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law, economic freedom. Advancing freedom, promoting democracy this is at the heart of our foreign policy.

Third, we know the value of the world's core democratic community speaking with a united and clear voice. We need to work together with Europe as a single democratic, transatlantic community not just for our combined resources, but for our combined political weight, which embodies a critical mass of moral authority that exceeds what each of us can provide individually.

And fourth, we are reinvesting in NATO, the most successful and most promising Alliance in the history of the world. And this is where I'd like to spend the balance of my time today.

NATO's Core Accomplishments

NATO's has had three fundamental accomplishments over the past fifty years-eight years. Each has resulted in unexpected consequences which have had enormous and unexpected positive implications for transatlantic and global security.

First was helping end the Cold War, and allowing for the creation of a Europe whole, free and at peace. NATOunited the transatlantic community, allowing it to stand against an existential threat.

In a period of time when Europe was divided, when a hostile Soviet Union and the ideology of communism threatened Western Europe, NATO was the means by which we gathered the key democratic allies from World War II and said, "We're going to form a permanent alliance to stand together for freedom, democracy, and other values we share." Our goal was to strengthen and protect our societies so that we could withstand the challenges that we face.

It took a very long time. And although it wasn't NATO that pushed over the Berlin Wall or that drove the Soviet Union out of power, it was NATO that guaranteed basic security, making the political and economic development of Europe possible, and creating the transatlantic democratic community we see today.

NATO's second core accomplishment was stabilizing and securing freedom in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of communism.

NATO started as an alliance of 12 countries in 1949, and grew gradually. First with Greece and Turkey in 1952. Next with Germany in 1955 and again with Spain in 1982. So in nearly 50 years, NATO had added only four countries. Then in just five years, we added ten more members three at the Madrid Summit in 1997, and seven more at the Prague Summit in 2002 securing a future of freedom, democracy, market economy, human rights, and the rule of law for over 100 million people.

It is easy to forget today, but back in 1989 and 1991, people spoke of a "security vacuum" in Central and Eastern Europe, and debated how it could be filled. With American leadership, NATO acted boldly, and the security vacuum never came to be. The democratic future of the Central Europe was secured.

The European Union played an enormous and irreplaceable role in this development. But NATO blazed the trail. And the development we have seen would not have been possible without NATO.

And it was not just membership, but the realistic prospect of membership that made the difference. In their pursuit of NATO and EU membership, these countries pursued reforms that improved the lives and opportunities of their citizens in ways far beyond basic security and defense. These reforms strengthened individual rights and freedoms, institutionalized democratic systems, fostered market economies, resolved border disputes, and protected minorities.

This process continues today as Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Georgia and Ukraine pursue reforms and seek NATO membership.

NATO's third core accomplishment was transforming itself from a static alliance engaged in planning the territorial defense of its members, to an effective instrument for putting the vast political and military resources of its members to work in ending conflict and promoting security, stability, and humanitarian good well beyond transatlantic geography.

NATO helped win the Cold War without firing a shot. After the Cold War, NATO has realized that it must be willing to fire shots against terrorists and extremists whether in the Balkans or Afghanistan as security and development in conflict zones go hand in hand.

Four Observations about NATO's Future

So those are NATO's great achievements to date. But where does NATO go from here. I would like to offer four observations.

Number 1: NATO Transformation Never Ends

As I noted already, NATO has gone through an enormous transformation. The NATO of the Cold War the NATO that was a static collective defense alliance that NATO is gone. That NATO was successful, but that's not the NATO that we look at today. But that transformation is not over.

If you think about 1994, NATO was an alliance of 16 countries that had done a lot of exercises but had never conducted a military operation. It had no partners.

If you look at the NATO of 2005, you see an organization that was running, eight military operations simultaneously, which had 26 members, and partnership relationships with another 20 countries in Eurasia, 7 in the Mediterranean, and a growing number in the Persian Gulf.

To be honest, many of us hoped that NATO's transformation would happen faster, while others hoped that transformation would eventually end. We set goals at the Prague Summit. We refined them at the Istanbul Summit. But the reality is that transformation doesn't end not because we fail, but because, in a changing world, the challenges facing NATO change. And this requires new approaches to meeting them.

This means more missions across a wider geography from Afghanistan to Louisiana. Missions that span a wide array of activities, from high-intensity peacekeeping to airlift in support of other humanitarian or peacekeeping goals. And missions that therefore demand a broad and dynamic set of military capabilities.

And this trend will only going to continue, because our leaders, when faced with daunting security problems, always ask, "who can help deliver a solution." And despite the tensions over the Iraq war, they have turned to NATO with increasing frequency when they want to get something done.

Developing the capabilities so that NATO can launch and sustain these missions takes political will and money. So far, the will has been in the hand-off to NATO but not necessarily in the will to give NATO more resources to do the job.

As we approach the Riga Summit in November, this needs to begin to change. Our aim is to embark on several initiatives aimed at ensuring NATO can do its job well into the future.

So that's the first observation: NATO is in the midst of a massive transformation, and transformation doesn't end.

Number 2: NATO is a Political Alliance not just a Military Alliance

I am constantly surprised at how NATO's capacity and role is frequently misunderstood. Many people tend to think of NATO's role as being solely military. The United States has always thought differently about this. We've always viewed NATO as both a political and a military alliance.

It is a place where the transatlantic democracies gather, consult, forge a strategic consensus, and take decisions collectively on joint action. Whether on developments in Afghanistan, Africa, energy security or Iran, NATO is the place where the transatlantic democracies can engage in strategic consultations.

It is not the case that every problem requires a NATO solution. On this we are clear: just because Allies talk about something at NATO doesn't mean that NATO is the right instrument for taking action. But there is no issue in the world which should not be discussed among Allies if it affects the interests of its members.

Number 3: NATO Will Enlarge Again

As I mentioned already, NATO has enlarged successfully a number of times, and we don't believe that that process has run its course. There are countries in Europe and Eurasia that seek to join NATO that are strengthening their democracies, their economies, and their militaries through reform and through working together with NATO. But it is also in NATO's interest to add new members who meet its performance-based standards because they strengthen the alliance, and our collective security in Europe and Eurasia.

We don't see enlargement happening this year, but we do believe that it's time to start talking among the Allies, taking stock of the countries that are interested in membership, and planning for decisions on membership invitations in 2008, when NATO will have another Summit.

And just as in the past, the realistic prospect of NATO membership has the potential to inspire countries to make difficult reforms that benefit their own citizens. And just as in the past, we anticipate NATO will again lead, especially as the EU sorts out its own views on the extent of its future enlargement in the wake of the 2005 referenda against the EU Constitution.

Number 4: As NATO Adds Member and Builds Partnerships, it Gets Stronger

During the NATO enlargement debates of the 1990's, it was often suggested that enlargement would somehow "dilute" NATO. Or that reaching consensus would be more difficult at 26 than at 16 or 19. I never believed this. In my view, any issue that commanded consensus among France, the United States, Greece and Turkey and the existing 16 Allies was likely to command consensus in Europe as a whole.

Moreover, the addition of like-minded democracies committed to collective defense and the advance of freedom would only strengthen NATO. And this has indeed been the case. Rather than being diluted, NATO at 26 is stronger as a result.

Partnership has also not only been an outward transfer of security. The existence of strong partnerships beyond NATO members has strengthened NATO itself.

In 1994 not only was NATO an alliance of 16 nations instead of 26, it was also an alliance without partners. NATO realized that to protect its own members, it needed to cooperate with countries on and beyond its borders in order to build security for all of us.

This started with the Partnership for Peace, for Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and neutral countries in Europe to work together with NATO to build understanding and a common sense of the role of military in a democratic society and cooperation on peacekeeping issues, and which evolved into participation in operations such as in Bosnia or in Kosovo.

At the same time we created the Partnership for Peace, we created the Mediterranean Dialogue which has seven countries from North Africa and the Middle East as participants. That was a rather sleepy relationship for NATO until the last few years, and as NATO has begun to take on more and more operational activities in the broader Middle East, whether the Mediterranean or Iraq or Afghanistan, these relationships have begun to grow and have become more practical.

In 2004, we created the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative which reaches out to countries in the Persian Gulf to develop practical cooperation.

And as we look ahead to the Riga Summit this fall, we are finding that as NATO is active in places like Afghanistan or Iraq or Darfur, we are working side-by-side with countries that share NATO's values and that are capable of contributing to security, such as Australia or Japan and others. Given the tempo of demands placed on the Alliance, we are working to identify ways to strengthen our cooperation with these countries and other security contributors beyond the alliance as well.

The Riga Summit

These four observations highlight the fact that NATO is and will remain at the core of our global democratic security community.

These observations also shape our agenda for NATO's Summit in Riga this November. Recognizing the demands that will be placed on NATO now and in the future, we want to see NATO deepen its capabilities for current and future operations, build new partnerships, and prepare for future enlargement. NATO is where our leaders turn when they want to get something done. We need to make sure our leaders are not disappointed.

Let me be clear that the United States fully supports the strengthening of the security and defense capabilities of the European Union, which is now leading operations in Bosnia and active in Darfur, Aceh, the Congo and elsewhere.

But we also share the perspective that German Chancellor Angela Merkel laid out in Munich in early February that NATO should be our primary forum for strategic dialogue with Europe. And when Europe and America act together on security and defense, we should act through NATO.

Our first priority for Riga is to ensure that NATO succeeds in Afghanistan as it prepares to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the South and thereafter to the East. At that point NATO will be responsible for security throughout Afghanistan, with a remaining U.S.-led coalition pursuing the counter-terrorism mission. As part of this transition, NATO has changed its Operations Plan and rules of engagement to meet greater challenges in those regions.

We believe NATO should do more to assist the United Nations and African Union in Darfur, in accordance with the recent UN Security Council Resolution and a request from the UN Secretary General.

NATO's 2005 humanitarian missions in the Gulf Coast and Pakistan are unlikely to be its last. NATO must have the manpower and means to be as generous and responsive as it can when disaster strikes. It must also reform further to ensure it has the capability and flexibility it needs to meet threats wherever and whenever they arise.

NATO activated the NATO Response Force (NRF) for the first time after the earthquake in Pakistan. In the run-up to Riga, our goal is to ensure that the NRF is strengthened, trained, and funded (as well as opened to capable partners) to make sure that it is usable.

This process will likely require creative new approaches, including common funding to ensure that the financial burdens of NATO operations are shared more equitably. And it may require a long-term, reliable and cost-effective solution to the perennial question of airlift one of the critical capability gaps NATO needs to fill in nearly every operation.

We have good experience over the past few years in the special operations forces of NATO allies working together in Afghanistan. We believe that at the Riga Summit, NATO should establish a special forces coordination mechanism to build on these cooperative relationships.

NATO's Training Mission in Iraq has trained almost 200 mid- and senior-level officers, and by Riga we want to boost Allied support through progress on the ground that allows us to expand participation and course offerings. The Iraq training mission also highlights NATO's potential as a security trainer, using its expertise to help nations around the world improve the professionalism and accountability of their armed forces.

We believe NATO should extend its partnerships in training and education to its neighbors in the broader Middle East and in Africa. Following its assistance in Darfur, the Alliance has agreed to do more to assist the African Union in developing its own peacekeeping forces, and we are working with the AU to define its needs.

And I have already noted that we believe that at Riga, NATO should develop its relationship with global security partners, such as Australia or Japan, and set the stage for decisions on enlargement at its next Summit in 2008.

That is a big agenda. It reflects the increased tempo of operational activity at NATO, and the increasing frequency with which our leaders to NATO to tackle a wide range of problems. It reflects a core fact which has been true of NATO since the beginning: NATO is the essential venue for strategic dialogue and consultations, and operationalizing the collective will of the transatlantic democracies.

Thank you. I would be pleased to listen to your comments and take any questions.


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