NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization

24 Jun. 2013

Challenges facing NATO and the Transatlantic Community post-2014

Address by Ambassador Alexander Vershbow NATO Deputy Secretary General at the 30th International Workshop on Global Security, Hôtel national des invalides – Paris, France, 24 June 2013

Ministers, Vice Minister, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by saying how happy I am to be joining you at this year’s Workshop.  Although the setting is a bit more elegant than what we’re used to at NATO headquarters, I feel very much at home here.  Back in 2000, when I was U.S. Ambassador to NATO, I spoke to the Workshop about prospects for Missile Defense, a topic that has become even more topical since then.  Three years later, when you held your first Workshop in Moscow, I had the privilege as U.S. Ambassador of talking about global security challenges in the 21st century. 

Today, I again find myself looking to the future, because I want to address the ”Challenges facing NATO and the Transatlantic Community post-2014”.  Why have I chosen that date?  Quite simply, because it will be a major inflection point for the Alliance.

Our world today is very different from the one in which NATO was founded, well over six decades ago.  During that period NATO has had to reinvent itself several times – after the Berlin Wall came down, in the wake of 9/11 – and it has always done so successfully.

This time, however, the challenge is very different, because the next adjustment will require that the Alliance achieve a new balance in the contributions made on the two sides of the Atlantic.  To put it bluntly, it will require the Europeans to do more – both individually and collectively – at a time when financial conditions are bleak on both sides of the Atlantic.

It is for this reason that Secretary General Rasmussen and I have warmly welcomed France’s new White Paper on Security and Defense, the Livre Blanc.  It lays out clearly and succinctly the challenges that lie ahead for France, and it identifies a clear and pragmatic path to address them.  I believe this can provide lessons for many other European nations and for the Alliance itself.

2014 represents a key date for NATO because it is the year when we will end our combat mission in Afghanistan.  Just last week, we reached an important milestone in that mission when President Karzai announced that Afghan security forces will now take the lead for security across the whole country.  Afghan forces are already showing that they have the capacity and the professionalism to plan and conduct operations and to take the fight to the Taliban.  As a result, ISAF will shift from a combat role to a support role, and we are on track to complete our mission at the end of next year, as planned.

We are already preparing a new, smaller mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces beyond 2014.  And while I have no doubt NATO will undertake other operations and missions in the future, their size and duration is likely to decrease.  Post-2014, our operational tempo is likely to reduce, and that will require a change in focus for the Alliance. 

Instead of being deployed on operations, we will need to be prepared for operations and other contingencies.  We will need to find new ways to maintain the readiness and interoperability that we have gained during nearly two decades of operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Libya and other theatres.  

Let me hasten to add that, while NATO’s operational tempo is likely to reduce, the transatlantic need for NATO certainly won’t.  The risks and threats we face will not miraculously disappear.  As a transatlantic community, we will still need a full-spectrum capability ready to deal with the whole spectrum of possible threats to our interests and our security, whether in our own neighborhood or beyond. 

The United States will still look to Europe as its partner of choice.  Europe will still need the United States to help it conduct some of the more demanding and complex military operations.  And the United States and Europe, as a community of nations united by common values and a shared history, will look to each other to defend and promote those values in an increasingly complex, globalized world. 

For all these reasons, the transatlantic community will still need NATO.  And NATO will need to be ready.  We cannot afford to pause or take a rest after a successful transition in Afghanistan!

So what must NATO do to retain and sustain its operational edge, and to ensure that it is operationally ready?  First and foremost, it needs the right capabilities.

Last week, at the Air Show at Le Bourget, many of the types of capability we need were on public display.  What was not so publicly displayed was the price of acquiring them.  As we continue to struggle with the consequences of the financial crisis and its adverse impact on Allied defense budgets, acquiring the high-tech, high-cost equipment we need will be a major challenge.

If the Alliance is to have available the essential capabilities it needs – such as reconnaissance and surveillance assets, or strategic lift aircraft – then it is clear that many individual nations will be hard-pressed to provide them on their own.  It is only by working together – multinationally – that nations will be able to afford such capabilities.

That is the logic behind a number of initiatives we are currently pursuing at NATO.  In terms of equipment and logistical support, our Smart Defense initiative encourages multinational cooperation – it can be European or Transatlantic.  The Franco-British Lancaster treaty, as well as regional cooperation arrangements such as the Višegrad and Weimar groups, or the Nordic Defense Cooperation group (NORDEFCO), are all excellent examples of the Smart Defense way of working.  And these initiatives are already bearing fruit. 

We have agreed on around 30 multinational projects – in such diverse areas as protection against improvised explosive devices, and reconnaissance and surveillance – and more are in the pipeline.  And we are working closely with the European Defense Agency to ensure that our respective work is fully coherent and complementary.

Similarly, when it comes to retaining the ability to conduct demanding operations, multinational training is key. We saw that in Libya but also in Mali.  Even though the French-led operation was outside NATO, it was the Alliance’s multinational standards that enabled Allied and partner nations to connect their contributions together, quickly and efficiently.  Here again, through our Connected Forces Initiative, we are encouraging nations to exercise their forces together on a more regular basis post-2014 so that we can maintain the readiness and interoperability gained in recent years through operations.

Taken together, these two initiatives – Smart Defense and Connected Forces – underpin the development of what our leaders, at last year’s Chicago Summit, called “NATO Forces 2020” – the modern, tightly connected forces we need that are equipped, trained, exercised and commanded so that they can operate together, and with partners, in any environment.

At the same time, these initiatives will also create the conditions to address the other fundamental issue for the Alliance post-2014, namely, burden-sharing.  Complaints about burden-sharing are as old as the Alliance itself, but this time they can’t be swept under the carpet.  

Currently, too many key operational capabilities have to be provided by the United States – as we saw during our Libya operation in 2011, and as France saw during its Mali operation this year.  This over-reliance on American assets – surveillance drones, aerial refueling tankers, heavy transport planes, electronic warfare capabilities – is unsustainable in the long term, especially as the U.S. rebalances to Asia and grapples with fiscal challenges of its own.  Multinational approaches will be key for getting a bigger bang from our defense Euros, and also for helping Europe deliver more of the key capabilities that we need as an Alliance. 

But it is not just within NATO that nations can help to redress this balance.  There is a clear role, too, for nations within the European Union, because there is also an over-reliance on a few key nations within Europe.  The European Council meeting dedicated to security and defense at the end of the year is an excellent opportunity for nations to make concrete commitments to do more to boost European military capabilities.  With 21 (and soon, 22) nations members of both the EU and NATO, a stronger “Europe de la défense” is also a benefit to Euro-Atlantic security.  In addition, the December meeting is an ideal occasion to promote greater cooperation among our defense companies so that we can sustain a strong defense industrial base on both sides of the Atlantic.

Alongside well equipped and well trained deployable forces, NATO also needs to develop new capabilities to deal with the new threats we face – such as ballistic missile proliferation and cyber threats.

As far as protection against potential attacks from missiles is concerned, we are already making good progress.  Just over a year ago, in Chicago, we declared an Interim Capability for our NATO missile defense. This protects our Allies in Southern Europe.  Within a few years, we will expand the system to include missile defense interceptors in Romania and Poland, and achieve Full Operational Capability for NATO’s command and control system.  This will then ensure the full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory and forces that our leaders pledged to provide three years ago. 

We continue to work on making sure that Allies are able, at all times, to exercise full political control, while allowing for swift military action when necessary.  And we are constantly assessing the potential threats on a regular basis, so that we can adapt our missile defense plans if necessary.

There are two very important points I would wish to make about missile defense.  First, there is a clear and agreed understanding among Allies that missile defense can complement the deterrent role of nuclear weapons, but not replace those weapons.

And second, our work has been, and will remain, true transatlantic teamwork. Many different assets are being brought together with sizeable U.S. assets to deliver a common, integrated and shared NATO capability.  Several European nations are providing Patriot units, and others are adding missile defense radars to their ships.  France’s plans to develop an early-warning capability and long-range radar will play an important part in our overall system.

In sum, our work on missile defense demonstrates a strong commitment, on both sides of the Atlantic, to address this particular emerging security challenge.

Another emerging security challenge we are addressing is the cyber threat.  Earlier this month, our Defense Ministers had a first, thorough discussion of cyber defense.  Protecting our own computer networks is NATO’s primary task.  But that is the minimum I believe we should aim for.  Indeed, I would argue that our ability to defend against cyber attacks will be central to NATO’s role as a collective defense alliance in the coming years, especially given the fact that cyber attacks could have consequences for our societies on the scale of armed attacks.

For this reason, I would like to see NATO do more.  For example, we could share best practices among Allies.  We could coordinate with the European Union and other organizations on the standards necessary for protecting national infrastructure.  And we could develop ways to help Allies who request assistance in strengthening their cyber defenses or mitigating the effects of cyber attacks if they occur. 

So far, I have focused my remarks on forces and capabilities.  But a second vital element to NATO’s ability to provide security in the coming years is its ability to project stability beyond its borders.   Key to carrying out this role will be NATO’s relations with its partner nations. 

In recent years, our partnerships have been most visible when it comes to NATO operations.  Indeed, it is quite extraordinary to think of the dozens of nations – from Europe, the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific region, and even South America -- that have put their soldiers in harm’s way under NATO command in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Libya.  This has added capability – and political legitimacy – to our operations.   We intend to retain this by offering partners the chance to join our Connected Forces Initiative so that, like us, they can stay operationally ready and able to operate alongside Allied forces.

But the original purpose – and the enduring purpose – of our partnerships has been to promote reforms and enable the development of strong security institutions so that partners can become sources of stability in their own regions.

This approach was particularly successful in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in the Western Balkans, in the framework of Partnership for Peace.  In fact, it was so successful that many of our former partners are now valued Allies in NATO and members of the European Union. 

As we look beyond 2014, we need to identify where – and how – NATO’s partnership experience can help other countries cope with the difficult transition to democracy.  In this regard, I see particular scope for NATO to assist partner countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa, where the Arab Awakening has brought new opportunities, but also new uncertainties. 

Indeed, many countries in this region – on NATO’s doorstep – are undergoing changes as dramatic as those that Eastern Europe experienced at the end of the Cold War.  Although the situations are very different, NATO’s expertise could be very helpful to Middle Eastern countries in transition in several ways:  helping them to modernize their security sectors; training their forces to cope with internal challenges; or enabling them to operate together with their neighbors’ militaries to manage crises together.  (In this regard, NATO could complement and reinforce the capacity building efforts of the EU.)

We are already looking into a request by the Libyan Prime Minister for NATO to provide advice in the development of Libya’s national security forces, in tandem with ongoing efforts by the EU, the UN and individual nations.  I believe more of our southern neighbours could benefit from NATO’s experience and expertise.  Down the road, NATO might also be able to assist regional organizations – such as the African Union or the Arab League – as they seek to assume greater responsibility for regional peacekeeping and crisis management. 
In this context, let me say a few words on Syria.  We all want to see a quick political resolution of this crisis, and a transition to a new leadership that can gain the support of the Syrian people.  NATO has no plans to get involved beyond the steps we have taken to protect Turkey.  But once the fighting is over, there will need to be a strong international effort to get the country back on its feet.  The UN will likely be in the lead, but I believe NATO nations – and perhaps NATO itself – should be prepared to play their part.
I have tried to give you some food for thought on how NATO should meet the security challenges of the coming years.  As we look to the future, we must, at the same time, protect the investments we have made in recent years.  This includes continued support for a peaceful, stable, and multi-ethnic Kosovo.  It includes continuing efforts to counter terrorism, curb piracy, and prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  And it includes, above all, staying engaged in Afghanistan so that it can secure and govern itself and never again become a haven for terrorists. 

One area where NATO has made considerable investment is in our relationship with Russia.  But here, I have to be honest and say that the return has not been as substantial as we would have wished.  Russia has provided some valuable assistance in countering terrorism and in support of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan.  We want to build on that as we seek to bring lasting stability to Afghanistan and the wider region post-2014.

But I also hope that we can do more to tap the full potential of the NATO-Russia partnership.  In this regard, all of us at NATO believe that cooperation on missile defense could be a real game-changer for our relationship with Russia.  We both face the same dangers from the proliferation of missile technologies and WMD to states like Iran and North Korea.  It makes eminent sense – for political, practical and military reasons – to combine our missile defense capabilities and thereby protect our territories and populations more effectively. 

Moreover, by building a cooperative missile defense system, Russia could see – from the inside – what our leaders have said at the highest level:  that NATO’s missile defense system is not directed at Russia, and is incapable of undermining Russia’s strategic deterrent.  Missile defense would, in short, transform the NATO-Russia partnership, and bring greater stability and security to the entire Euro-Atlantic area.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have laid out for you the work that NATO – and the transatlantic community – needs to undertake as it looks beyond 2014.  And I could not have found a better place to do that. 

Paris was NATO’s first permanent home.  In the last few years, France has resumed its full place in NATO – and, as the recent Vedrine report concluded, this is good news both for France and for NATO. 

This International Workshop on Global Security has, over 30 years, established a reputation for supporting NATO and the transatlantic relationship.  It’s an ambitious agenda I have laid out.  But with your help, it’s an agenda I am confident we can achieve.

Last updated:: 24 Jun. 2013 16:58