NEWS

Alliance capable of global action

In recent years, NATO has changed a great deal. But I’m not sure that it is clear to the public in Europe what these changes mean. You have raised a very good question. It is not well understood on the other side of the Atlantic either. I don’t mean that as a criticism, but it is logical to think that our public understands what NATO was in the 20th century and we now need to educate our public as to what NATO can become in the 21st century. My reference is the Prague summit of 2002, which really gave great military guidance as to what nations wished NATO to become. Since then, we have done quite a bit to change the face of NATO. We have now embarked on a path that shows the transformation away from the traditional NATO alliance, which was a static, linear defense of Western Europe, to a more global capability. We have reformed the NATO command structure significantly, we have responded aggressively to the establishment of the NRF from idea to implementation within less than a year. We have created a new command structure with an operational commander and we have embarked upon moving the alliance toward achieving high-end military capabilities. This will not be achieved in a year or two years, but we are making step-by-step progress, all the while embarking on and managing three very sophisticated global operations simultaneously, one in the Mediterranean, one in the Balkans and one in Afghanistan. These all have the same goal – terrorism. Is that why NATO exists today? The main idea is to combat the asymmetric threats that face us and that would include counteracting those who wish to acquire weapons of mass destruction, terrorism in its classic sense, and in its most radical sense. I would include narco-trafficking – narco-terrorism is a better word – because I think that is what it is, and that is a problem that faces us all. I think the illegal trafficking of people is also a source of concern and so we have to reshape ourselves to combat this very dedicated threat because it moves very quickly; it respects no borders; it doesn’t wear uniforms, normally. The force has to be responsive, agile, expeditionary and capable of going long distances very quickly and staying there for a while in order to do things, so it has to be more proactively used in order to be effective. Are states around Europe willing to accept NATO’s help in this, because they mostly believe this is something they can do alone? We are still in the embryonic stages of discussing these things. It is clear that quite apart from NATO, the future of Afghanistan, for example, has to be concerned with what we do about the growth of poppies and export of narcotics which not only make their way into the US and Europe but also support terrorists. Now whether NATO does that or not is a political decision. But nonetheless, Operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean, and the task force we have in the Straits of Gibraltar in some ways must be regarded as one of NATO’s expressions that we are looking at those things carefully. We have had a 50 percent decrease in a year in illegal immigration in the Western Mediterranean, which I believe is because of the effectiveness of the standing naval forces that are participating in those two operations. We probably will expand that operation some time this year to include perhaps more member nations who have interests in making sure the Mediterranean, and perhaps ultimately the Black Sea, are as free as possible of these kinds of shipments. I wonder if it would be an interesting idea for Cyprus to become a member of NATO. There are any number of emerging possibilities that address themselves politically to those kinds of issues. For example, we have a NATO- Mediterranean dialogue… Which Cyprus is not a part of… No, but if you look at the rapid changes the region, in Libya, for example… At the political level NATO is going to be talking about these things. That is one avenue that is going to be more developed as we get toward the summit in Istanbul. The second one is the future of the Partnership for Peace program. We have now «lost» seven nations who are now full members of NATO and so we should look at that and decide what is the future of that – again, that is a political decision. But there are avenues by which we can transform from what was essentially a closed club, if you will, in the 20th century to a more open process where we engage in the Greater Middle East initiatives that NATO is now talking about. So, I think this is a time of great change. Regarding this new terminology about a «Greater Middle East,» there are many who are opposed to this idea, even the Israelis. I don’t mean it to be offensive to anyone. I just mean it essentially to be a reality that a large part of the focus of our collective security and economic viability is going to be dedicated toward a Greater Middle East which is not defined. It can be defined in many ways, but there is certainly an orientation for the things that are truly important for the stability of the world, economic vitality and security initiatives. We will have to do more in Africa as well. I think there are quite a few members of NATO, countries that have had long histories in Africa but also believe that from the standpoint of future security and stability, we must make sure the global war on terrorism doesn’t migrate to Africa How can we do that? NATO is not currently involved in that kind of initiative, I have to be clear here, this is not one of my NATO jobs, but in my US job as commander of US forces in Europe, we are working with a number of nations who have similar concerns, to raise the collective capabilities of our African friends and allies to make sure they can defend their borders, to exchange intelligence with them as to what is going on inside their borders – they may not have the means to determine that – and to essentially raise the collective awareness that we (have to) discourage terrorists and radical fundamentalism from moving into Africa, if they believe they can go there and hide. Unfortunately, there are many countries that are not economically very viable, where democracy is very fragile, It doesn’t take much to incite the passions of young people who see no future or hope economically, to blame the US or Europe for their problems. So I believe that across the family of nations, we should not take our eye off Africa, which is of looming importance.