Updated: 11-Jan-2002 NATO Review

Web edition
Vol. 49 - No. 4
Winter 2001
p. 6-7

Aiding America

Christopher Bennett (1) examines how the Alliance has assisted the United States since 11 September and its contribution to the campaign against terrorism.

Take-off: Five NATO AWACS aircraft have been deployed in the United States to help with counter-terrorism operations
( © Reuters - 35Kb)

In the months since terrorists crashed hijacked airliners into the Pentagon and World Trade Center, NATO Allies and Partners have lined up behind the United States in an unprecedented display of support and solidarity. From invoking Article 5 in the immediate aftermath of the attacks to lending the United States the Alliance's airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) aircraft and preparing for a possible role in humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, actions have demonstrated louder than words the unity of Europe and America in the face of what are common security challenges.

The decision on 12 September to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, the core clause of NATO's founding charter which states that an armed attack against one Ally in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all, remains the most profound expression of Alliance solidarity. Initially invoked provisionally, pending determination that the attacks on the United States were directed from abroad, the decision was confirmed by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson on 2 October after US envoys briefed the North Atlantic Council (NAC) on the results of investigations into the attacks.

Few of the Alliance's founding fathers could have imagined that the first invocation of Article 5 would come in the wake of an attack on the United States and not on a European Ally. However, all would surely have been impressed by the speed of response and the degree of unity it represented. Moreover, the NAC's historic decision was but one of many demonstrations of support for the United States and condemnations of the attacks made at NATO headquarters in the days following 11 September.

Also on 12 September, the 46 members of the Euro- Atlantic Partnership Council - 19 Allies and 27 Partners - unconditionally condemned the attacks as brutal and senseless atrocities and an attack on their common values. Moreover, they agreed that they would not allow these values to be compromised by those who follow the path of violence and pledged to undertake all efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism. On 13 September, the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council condemned the attacks and agreed on the need for NATO-Russia cooperation in combating international terrorism. And on 14 September, the NATO-Ukraine Commission condemned the attacks on the United States and, in a statement following the meeting, Ukraine announced that it stood ready to contribute fully to ensuring that those responsible for the attacks were brought to justice.

Having invoked Article 5, the Allies agreed on 4 October - at the request of the United States - to take eight measures to implement it and expand the options available in the campaign against terrorism. Specifically, they agreed to enhance intelligence sharing and cooperation, both bilaterally and in the appropriate NATO bodies, related to the threats posed by terrorism and the actions to be taken against it; to provide individually or collectively, as appropriate and according to their capabilities, assistance to Allies and other states which are or may be subject to increased terrorist threats as a result of their support for the campaign against terrorism; and to take necessary measures to provide increased security for facilities of the United States and other Allies on their territory.

The Allies also agreed to "backfill" selected Allied assets required to support operations against terrorism; to provide blanket overflight clearances for US and other Allied aircraft for military flights related to operations against terrorism; and to provide access for the United States and other Allies to ports and airfields on the territory of NATO nations for operations against terrorism. In addition, the NAC agreed that the Alliance was ready to deploy part of its standing naval forces to the Eastern Mediterranean and five AWACS planes to the United States to support operations against terrorism.

On 8 October, five NATO AWACS aircraft, together with their crews - including personnel from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States - flew to the United States to assist with counter-terrorism operations. The deployment is for an initial six months with a first rotation after six weeks. During this time, French AWACS aircraft have taken over responsibility for those tasks, which would normally have been performed by the NATO planes, in particular over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

NATO's Standing Naval Force Mediterranean, which consists of eight frigates and one logistic-support ship from eight countries, set off for the Eastern Mediterranean on 9 October. These forces, which are under UK command, have not been involved in combat operations, but have demonstrated Alliance resolve and participation in the campaign against terrorism. Moreover, they are available for other missions, including participation in diplomatic initiatives, such as under the Alliance's Mediterranean Dialogue, NATO's forum for discussion and cooperation with countries in the wider Mediterranean region. These ships were later joined by the Standing Naval Force Atlantic.

The United States and the United Kingdom began military operations against the al-Qaida terrorist network and the Taliban regime, which has been harbouring it in Afghanistan, on 7 October. Although this ongoing action is not a NATO operation, it is supported by all Alliance members, many of whom have also pledged ground troops and other military assets to support the campaign and to assist with humanitarian relief for the Afghan people. NATO forces in the Balkans have also contributed to the fight against terrorism. They have arrested several suspected terrorists with links to the al-Qaida network and are continuing to investigate the activities of foreign nationals who came to the region as volunteer soldiers during the fighting and have remained.

In response to a potentially grave humanitarian situation, the NAC tasked NATO's military authorities on 13 November with preparing contingency plans for possible humanitarian operations in and around Afghanistan. The Alliance has both expertise and experience in this field, as well as significant logistical capabilities, as demonstrated during the 1999 Kosovo crisis. A possible contribution by NATO in the context of the current crisis would be at the request of the United Nations, and in close coordination with UN agencies and other humanitarian organisations. The unique cooperation among NATO's armed forces that underpinned the success of both the coalition campaign against Iraq a decade ago and the ongoing peace-support operations in the Balkans could prove extremely beneficial in difficult conditions.

In the wake of 11 September, the Alliance has considerably increased its efforts against the dangers of terrorism by weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in all fields, including political, military and medical ones. The Allies are exchanging information on issues related to WMD terrorism more extensively and more frequently. And the WMD Centre (see interview with WMD Centre Head Ted Whiteside on pages 22 and 23) is contributing to improved coordination of all WMD- related activities at NATO Headquarters.

On 25 and 26 October, heads of Alliance and Partner countries' civil-emergency planning organisations met at NATO to discuss the implications of the 11 September attacks. They agreed to prepare an inventory of national capabilities, including transport, medical and scientific assets, which could be made available in the event of a biological, chemical or radiological attack to be better able to protect civilian populations. If required, the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre, which is based at NATO and staffed by experts from several NATO and Partner countries, could act as a clearing house for international assistance - in the same manner as it has done in response to several natural disasters in recent years.

Since 11 September, NATO has been developing increasingly close relations with the European Union to help address the terrorist threat. At a 24 September meeting between the NAC and the European Union's Political and Security Committee, ambassadors agreed the importance of close consultations and cooperation between the two organisations. On 12 October, Lord Robertson briefed EU defence ministers on steps NATO had taken in response to US requests or recommendations by NATO military authorities. And the campaign against terrorism was high on the agenda of the joint meeting of EU and NATO foreign ministers held in Brussels on 6 December.

The events of 11 September have also given new momentum to the NATO-Russia relationship (see article by Willem Matser). Responses to the terrorist attacks have become a regular theme of meetings of the NATORussia Permanent Joint Council. Moreover, Lord Robertson met Russian President Vladimir Putin both in Brussels on 3 October and in Moscow on 22 November to discuss ways that NATO and Russia can work together to fight terrorism and develop a closer relationship that reflects cooperation in this and other areas.

  1. Christopher Bennett is editor of NATO Review