NATO Sec Gen: „No choice but to succeed“

Posted in Europe , NATO | 04-Feb-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

NATO Sec Gen (right) and Admiral Feist, DSACEUR (left) at the Delvina Plastic Bag factory in Obelic
NATO is back on stage. That’s the clear signal from this year’s conference at the National Defense University in Washington D.C.

The “2004 European Symposium: NATO and the Challenges of Global Security” brought together more than one hundred experts on security policy from both sides of the Atlantic.
They covered a wide range of topics relating to NATO, including Afghanistan, Iraq, the relations between NATO and Europe and the Partnership for Peace.

In spite of dissenting views, the majority came to the conclusion that there is clear evidence of NATO’s recovery after years of neglect and disuse. USA’s lessons learned from Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the growing willingness of European partners to share the burdens of world wide stability and security bode well for the future of the Alliance. The takeover of command in Afghanistan by NATO HQ has already improved the situation drastically. Collection of weapons and the protection of the “ loya jirga” are seen as symbols of progress. The same is true with the improved willingness of the population to work together with NATO and US forces. The Taliban are under permanent pressure. The “Provincial Reconstruction Teams” are key to more stability and security “beyond Kabul.” Twelve to fifteen teams with about 400 members each are expected to be deployed until summer 2004 with a total strength of about 6000. The Command and Control issue is still under discussion. It would make sense to bring all these teams under command and control of NATO HQ to ensure unity of command. Some NATO nations still face problems “to bring the tools to do the job”. The USA has already increased its financial support for Afghanistan.

All experts agree that the commitment of NATO and USA will be a marathon. It will take years to get more stability and security in this war-tired country. Bur Western countries have no choice but to stay there. Any improvement in Afghanistan will have positive impacts on the whole region of the “Greater Middle East”.

The above is especially true for Iraq. The conference made it clear that time will come this summer to give NATO a role to play in Iraq. This will be difficult because of the fact that NATO nations are pushed almost to their limits because of their commitments in the Balkans and in Afghanistan as well as their involvement in anti-terror activities. It is expected that the NATO Summit of summer 2004 in Istanbul will decide about the “When?” and “How?” NATO will be involved in Iraq.

High ratings were given to the NATO Response Force (NRF) which has proved initial operational capability in an exercise in Turkey in the Fall of 2003. NATO nations – including France – invest heavily in this high-tech military fire brigade. There are still doubts whether the political decision making process in NATO and NATO nations will allow the rapid deployment of the NRF.

The unchallenged highlight of the conference was the speech of the newly elected NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer from Netherlands. He was introduced by US Ambassador to NATO Niklas Burns – himself a strong supporter of NATO. Burns underlined the fact that NATO’s new mission asks for new capabilities. In his view NATO is still the most important alliance for USA. After years of irritations he recognises a “Renaissance for NATO”.

NATO Secretary General gave his first speech on US territory in his new capacity prior to meetings with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He pointed to common values and common interest as the basis for NATO. In his view, the new century belongs to NATO. He was clear about his priorities:
  • Afghanistan
  • Iraq
  • Improving NATO’s forces capabilities and usability
  • NRF’s operational readiness until 2006
  • Transformation of NATO – meeting new challenges
  • Improving co-operation within “NATO at 25”
  • Developing Europe as strong partner of USA avoiding any rivalry

    As threats to NATO and NATO nations he defined terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and their illegal proliferation, and failed states. The threats have to be met wherever they occur. As his main task as SecGen he declared “to keep the flocks together.” Answering questions he pointed out that “NATO at 25” should stick in decision-making to the principle of consensus and that “NATO at 25” “will be more continental, but not less Atlantic”.

    The newly elected SecGen proved himself as a guardian of the transatlantic relations. Time will show whether NATO nations on both sides of the Atlantic allow the SecGen to deliver what he has promised.

    The NDU conference was a clear success. European institutions should try to mirror those conferences of experts to enhance the mutual understanding of the risks and the opportunities in the common way ahead.