Center for Strategic Decision Research


The New NATO and Global Security

Ambassador Nicholas Burns
United States Permanent Representative on the North Atlantic Council

Ambassador Nicholas Burns
"European allies need the U.S. and continue to rely on the U.S. for the nuclear and conventional defense of the continent...The United States also needs Europe."


The list of distinguished guests at this workshop is long and impressive, but I would like to acknowledge Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu of Romania, Minister Nikolai Svinarov of Bulgaria, Minister Gela Bezhuashvili of Georgia, Minister Vecdi Gonul of Turkey, and Colonel General Aleksandr Skvorzov, Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff, as well as Acting U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Mike Wynne and former Supreme Allied Commander General George Joulwan. 

It is an honor to be with you and to be again among friends of NATO. Germany is an important and valued NATO ally. With some 7,600 troops deployed abroad, Germany contributes significantly to NATO’s current peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, to Active Endeavor, NATO’s counterterrorism operation in the Mediterranean, and to NATO’s top priority mission in Afghanistan. There, under NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, Germany has taken a key leadership role with its deployment of a provincial reconstruction team in the northern Afghan city of Konduz. The U.S. welcomes Germany’s contributions. As the second largest country in the Alliance, Germany’s active participation and leadership and its strong voice in NATO will remain vital to the health of the Alliance as it undergoes an exciting transformation.  


Since I arrived at NATO in August 2001, the Alliance has weathered two significant historical events that are having—and will continue to have—a profound and lasting impact on transatlantic relations. The first was, of course, the September 11 attack on the U.S., which brought the Alliance together under Article 5 for the first time in our history. NATO allies reacted by launching the most revolutionary reforms in our history, creating a new organization ready to stand on the front lines of the war on terrorism. The second event was the Iraq War, which plunged the Alliance into a crisis of confidence and disunity in 2003. That crisis has subsided and NATO has emerged strengthened in 2004 for its new peacekeeping roles. 

The United States, Germany, and all of our allies can be proud of our 55-year alliance in NATO. Times have changed, but NATO’s mission is the same today as it was in 1949: to defend the peace and the territories and citizens of all allied countries. However, NATO’s task for this year is twofold: to advance the political and military reforms that September 11 triggered within the Alliance, and to restore the transatlantic unity so badly strained by the Iraq War but so essential to NATO’s success as we seek to build a peaceful world and confront the new security challenges of our era. 

Today NATO faces a new challenge far different than any we have confronted before. It is not a confrontation between states, as it was during the Cold War, but a threat from failed states and, especially, small but fanatical terrorist groups. The violence that Al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups are inflicting upon innocent people in every corner of the world is truly appalling and truly dangerous for all of us. We see terrorism as an existential threat to all who prize freedom and security. We must confront it, not just by military means but through soft power, through a broad international effort to cooperate in intelligence and law enforcement, and through diplomatic and economic means to protect our peoples and to promote a more peaceful future. 

The surest path to success in this new campaign is to make full use of the major institutions upon which international stability is based: the United Nations, the G-8, the European Union, and NATO. 


From 2002 until the present time, NATO has accomplished its most fundamental re-tooling since its creation in 1949. Now the Alliance is active, strong, and fully modernized for the challenges ahead. We are creating a new NATO, one that is different in mission, membership, and capabilities from the Cold War NATO or even the NATO of the 1990s. NATO allies answered the September 11 wake-up call, agreeing on the blueprint for change at the Prague Summit in 2002. The results of our transformation efforts should be evident at NATO’s Istanbul Summit. 

NATO’s most profound change has been its transformation from a defensive and static military alliance, which massed a huge, heavy army to deter the Soviet threat to Germany and Western Europe, to a more flexible, modern, and agile force focused on responding to threats from well beyond the European continent and focused on a new vocation—peacekeeping and stabilization efforts. Simply put, NATO’s past was focused inward, on Cold War threats directed at the heart of Europe. NATO’s future is looking outward, to expanding security in the Greater Middle East, that arc of countries from south and central Asia to the Middle East and North Africa, where the new challenges to global peace are rooted. 

This transition is happening as we speak. While the majority of deployed NATO forces are today in Bosnia and Kosovo, the majority could well be in Afghanistan and Iraq one year from now. History has given NATO a new challenge and we are responding to it with a new strategic vision. The changes are most evident, most comprehensive, and most impressive in our military capability. The result is that NATO remains today the strongest military alliance of our time. 

Military-Related Changes

Consider the military changes that have occurred during the last two years: 

1. NATO allies agreed to acquire the new military capabilities necessary for expeditionary missions far from Europe—modern airlifting and refueling, precision-guided munitions, combat service support—redefining the way we plan and think about our national and collective defense.

2. Our priorities in 2004 are to acquire capabilities to give NATO’s political decision makers and military planners additional technological tools, such as Alliance Ground Surveillance, an integrated Air Command and Control System, and missile defense, to defend against new global threats and enable decisive action when we need it. Mindful of export controls and technology transfer issues, the Alliance is already taking important steps to acquire such new systems.

3. NATO adopted a leaner and more flexible twenty-first century military command structure and created a new Alliance Transformation Command in Norfolk, Virginia.

4. NATO created a new Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear Defense Battalion, spearheaded by the Czech Republic along with 12 other allies, to protect our civilian populations in the event of an attack using weapons of mass destruction.

5. In our most important and decisive shift, we are building a NATO Response Force to give us a powerful capability to deploy our troops within days to perform any mission—whether hostage rescue, humanitarian relief, or response to a terrorist attack—in another part of the globe.

Politically Based Changes

These revolutionary changes on the military side of NATO have been complemented by equally creative political changes within the Alliance: 

1. Seven Central European countries joined NATO on March 29, 2004, completing the Alliance’s greatest enlargement since our founding in 1949 and strengthening us with more countries to jointly promote peace and freedom in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. NATO enlargement extends our sphere of security eastward, virtually across two continents, and helps to consolidate the democratic revolution in the former Warsaw Pact countries. Forty percent of NATO’s members were formerly communist countries. The new members add real value, both militarily and politically, to our collective strength. 

2. NATO has changed in one other important respect. We know that our greatest strategic aim is to help create, in President Bush’s words, “a Europe whole, free, united, and at peace”—everything Europe was not during the tumultuous twentieth century. NATO launched the Partnership for Peace in 1994, and the emerging democratic peace in Europe is a major, historic achievement for which NATO deserves much credit. But a united Europe will be sustained only if we build partnerships with those countries that are outside NATO and the EU but are nonetheless critical for Europe’s future.

3. To that end, NATO has begun important partnerships with Russia, Ukraine, central Asia, and the Caucasus. The new NATO-Russia Council is redefining our relations with Moscow, promoting closer relations between our militaries. In addition, in NATO’s partnership with Ukraine, we are seeking stronger and sustained initiatives for domestic and military reform. In central Asia and the Caucasus, the U.S. has called for new strategic outreach and engagement, including expanded political and military activities with that vital region.  


These substantial changes in our military capabilities, membership, and partnerships have positioned NATO for an ambitious future. But we would be well advised to learn from the lessons of the Iraq crisis that engulfed NATO in 2003 as we promote a future of broader transatlantic defense cooperation. We would be wise not to overreact to U.S. and European differences on Iraq for several important reasons. 

First, this is not the only disagreement we have had with some European countries in NATO in the last half-century. NATO survived arguments over the Suez, Vietnam, Pershing missiles—even differences over strategy in Bosnia in the early ‘90s—by learning about, adapting, and compromising with each other. And we emerged strengthened and changed each time. Ours is a strong but flexible alliance, durable enough to sustain different points of view. NATO is, after all, a democratic alliance that does not require the ideological uniformity of the Warsaw Pact to remain successful and united. 

Second, the great majority of Europeans and Americans understand a central fact—our security is indivisible. Terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and more recently in Istanbul and Madrid have proven that. We need each other’s support in one alliance to meet the security challenges of the modern world. 

NATO will stay strong because our mutual interests demand it. European allies need the U.S. and continue to rely on the U.S. for the nuclear and conventional defense of the continent. Of the many issues Europeans are debating for their new constitution, for example, what is missing is the call for an overarching European security umbrella to maintain peace on the continent. No such initiative is needed because NATO and the U.S. provide that now, as we will in the future. 

The United States also needs Europe. We Americans cannot confront the global transnational threats that go under, over, and through our borders and that are the greatest challenges of our time without Europe. Weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, the huge increase in international crime, narcotics flows, trafficking in human beings, global climate change, AIDS—there are no unilateral solutions to these challenges. Instead, we can hope to succeed only through multilateral cooperation, including with Europe. There is a saying in the U.S., “We all live downstream.” In an era of globalized threats, no matter where we are in the world, we live downstream from them. What happens in one region of the world affects all others. 

Therefore, when all is said and done, the U.S., Germany, and other European nations are natural allies. We are the most like-minded peoples on the planet, sharing a common history, common democratic values, and an interconnected economy. NATO will stay together because we need each other. 


As we look toward the Istanbul Summit, here are the top goals for all of us in NATO: 

Reinforcing NATO’s Peacekeeping Role

Our first goal is to reinforce NATO’s long-term peacekeeping role in Afghanistan. I returned from Kabul and Kandahar recently and I was impressed by the positive difference we are making in that great but impoverished country. Currently there are nearly 2,000 German troops deployed in Afghanistan under NATO’s UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force. In NATO’s effort to expand the ISAF mission beyond Kabul, Germany has taken a lead role with its Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Konduz. NATO now aims to establish five more PRTs before the Istanbul Summit to bring stability to important provincial cities. As ISAF expands, the U.S. hopes conditions will allow for NATO to take command of all PRTs in its new area of responsibility. 

There is no international goal more important than helping the Afghan people to rebuild their shattered country. To be successful, NATO will need to commit even more troops and military resources in perhaps the most difficult mission we have ever undertaken. We must help the Afghan government to extend its authority outside Kabul and to prepare for nationwide elections. To do that, the U.S. calls on other European nations to contribute more troops and resources to join the 15,000 American troops already there, in order to construct a more vigorous and effective NATO presence in the country. 

Collective Military Role in Iraq

Our second aim for 2004 is to examine how NATO might take on a collective military role in Iraq, as President Bush has suggested. No matter our differences on the war itself, Europeans and Americans now share a common interest in fighting terrorism and seeing democracy take root in Iraq. We know that the coalition must continue its efforts in Iraq lest chaos and even greater violence ensue. 

NATO is currently providing support for the Polish-led multinational division in Iraq, where 17 NATO allies are contributing forces to maintain security. President Bush recently said—along with Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, and a number of NATO foreign and defense ministers—that we should explore a more formal role for NATO in Iraq, such as turning the Polish-led division into a NATO operation and giving NATO functional responsibilities. Defining such a mission, after the passage of a new UN Security Council resolution, will be a leading issue for NATO at the Istanbul Summit. 

Expanding Our Engagement in the Greater Middle East

Third, NATO must expand its engagement with the Muslim world and Israel to help those countries find their way toward a more peaceful future in the Greater Middle East. Germany’s foreign minister and other German leaders have spoken out on the need for Western democracies to engage with the Muslim world, and the U.S. wants NATO to be one of the building blocks for our long-term engagement in this vast region. Since 1994, NATO has developed relations with seven countries in the Mediterranean Dialogue—Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia—and the U.S. continues to support this effort today. However, while we believe this is a valuable framework for cooperation, we also believe that there are opportunities for even more fruitful cooperation with Arab countries in a wider, more energetic initiative. 

When NATO’s heads of state and government gather in Istanbul, the United States hopes that NATO will do its part to support the broad effort to reach out to the Greater Middle East by announcing an Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. This initiative should complement the other elements of support for indigenous reform in the Greater Middle East by engaging interested countries in the region in fostering security and stability. 

At NATO, we have identified a number of security goals that Europe and North America share with many countries across the Greater Middle East: fighting terrorism, stemming the flow of weapons of mass destruction, improving border security, and stopping illegal trafficking of all kinds. Our focus should be on practical cooperation with those countries that wish to have a closer relationship with NATO. Modernization in these countries is not Westernization, and they will evolve according to their own traditions and history. But the Greater Middle East, Europe, and North America must chart a common path to defeat terrorism, create peace, and promote democracy for the future. 

Long-term change in the Middle East will help to attack the foundations of the terrorism crisis and give democracy and justice a chance to take root and grow. It is a challenge that none of us, neither Europeans nor Americans, can avoid, and that all of us must embrace as one of the critical foreign policy tests of our time. 

Improving NATO-EU Relations

Our fourth goal is to improve relations between the two great institutions responsible for Europe’s future—NATO and the EU, especially to consolidate peace in the Balkans. The EU’s enlargement on May 1 was a great day for Europe. We in America applaud the EU, wish you well, and support a strong and vibrant EU on the world stage. The twin enlargements of the EU and NATO advance our common goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace, and integrate Europe East and West for the very first time in Europe’s long history. 

NATO is now ready to consider our peacekeeping mission in Bosnia a success and conclude it in December 2004. We have done an outstanding job there, having stopped the war and kept the peace for nearly eight and a half years. Our leaders will consider supporting a new EU mission under the Berlin Plus framework for military cooperation agreed to by the two organizations. And in Bosnia, NATO should maintain a military headquarters in Sarajevo to help authorities bring Radovan Karadic and Ratko Mladic, two indicted war criminals, to justice, and to advise Bosnia on defense reforms. However, the U.S. wants NATO to maintain an effective presence in Kosovo to prevent any repetition of the violence we saw in March of 2004. Together, we must continue to support the transition to stable, market-oriented democracies in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Macedonia so that the Balkan States can take their rightful place in an integrated Europe. 

NATO and the EU sometimes differed in 2003 in theological disputes over Berlin Plus and EU defense plans. We can improve relations between the two organizations by avoiding rivalry in the defense sphere, improving defense trade cooperation, and cooperating to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. NATO, of course, should remain the core of Europe’s defense; the United States will always defend NATO’s centrality. The choice is not, however, as some in Europe would suggest, between a Europe under the U.S. yoke and a Europe completely detached from the U.S. We can instead choose a future of cooperation between NATO and the EU. 

Improving Relations with Russia

Finally, our fifth aim is to elevate NATO’s relations with Russia. Constructive engagement with Russia, through the NATO-Russia Council, has helped make our citizenry safer and more secure today than at any time in the last 50 years. There is so much NATO can do with Russia, from search-and-rescue at sea to theater-missile defense to greater cooperation in the Black Sea to joint peacekeeping. Our NATO-Russia Council is a good forum, but we can set our sights higher on a closer relationship that will put our past rivalry behind us forever. 

These are our top five goals at NATO for 2004. It is an ambitious and vital agenda and one that we must fulfill in this time of great challenge for all of us. NATO’s prospects for achieving such an ambitious 2004 agenda will depend on how successful we are in removing the current major obstacles to good U.S.-European relations. 


A significant obstacle to good relations is the persistent gap in military capabilities between the U.S. and the rest of its allies. If NATO is to field long-term missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and remain in Kosovo, our European allies will need to spend more—and more wisely—on defense, as well as produce more effective militaries. The capabilities gap between the U.S. and all its allies is huge and growing. The U.S. will spend $400 billion on defense in 2004; the 25 other allies combined will spend less than half of that. The problem is not just the spending gap but the fact that the U.S., by devoting more to research and development, is yielding far more from its defense investments than our allies, who still devote a considerable portion of their budgets to territorial defenses and high personnel costs. 

In addition to the technology gap between us, there is an even more critical “usability gap.” Of Europe’s 2.4 million men and women in uniform, only roughly three percent can now be deployed on our priority missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Declining budgets, poor training and standards, and a continued reliance on conscription account for a Europe that cannot put a sufficient percentage of its troops into difficult missions against twenty-first century threats. 

Defense Minister Struck has announced an ambitious plan to transform the Bundeswehr to enable German troops to deploy more quickly. If those reforms are successfully implemented—and if appropriate resources are forthcoming—Germany can become a leading player in NATO’s military transformation and a key contributor to the new NATO response force. 

However, with Germany’s defense budget frozen, it is uncertain whether the necessary resources will be provided to successfully transform the military forces and acquire modern military capabilities. Ultimately, this is a political decision for Germany as well as for several other countries in the Alliance. 

Finally, there are two other barriers to a healthy transatlantic relationship that all of us must overcome in 2004 and beyond. A few leaders on the Continent have called for Europe and the European Union to become a counterweight to the U.S. This suggests that our future should be one of strategic rivalry and competition—the very antithesis of the transatlantic community we have built together since the end of the Second World War. Such a reversal would amount to a colossal strategic error. It would repudiate the primary factor that has produced two generations of peace and unparalleled security and unity in Europe—the presence of the United States military on this continent and the existence of NATO. I do not believe that the vast majority of Europeans would support such a future or that it will occur. But Europe’s responsibility to preserve healthy transatlantic ties, it seems to me, is to reject this competitive view of our common future and to avoid the gratuitous anti-Americanism that was all too evident in European public discourse during the past year. 

Americans have an equal obligation to reject unilateralism and to work instead to preserve the great multilateral institutions such as NATO that are so important for our common future. For the U.S., President Bush and Secretary Powell have emphasized repeatedly our commitment to “effective multilateralism.” The U.S. commitment to working within NATO has never been clearer than in the past year. Nonetheless, many European critics have accused the United States of losing interest in NATO since September 11, 2001, and using it as a toolbox. 

Ironically for these critics, it is the United States that has proposed nearly all of the initiatives that have reformed NATO’s structure and mission in the last two years. And it is the United States that now calls for ambitious NATO deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, and outreach to the Greater Middle East. The United States has demonstrated its genuine desire to see the new NATO act collectively. We hope now that our European allies will agree to use NATO as dynamically as we wish to do in 2004 and for years to come. 


It is true that acting in alliances is not as efficient as acting alone. Alliances do not move as fast, and they may complicate decision-making and even the tactics used in the field. But alliances are very effective in producing sustained, long-term commitment in the most difficult crises, as we have seen NATO do so successfully in the Balkans. 

When the new Secretary General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, made his first official visit to Washington, President Bush assured him of NATO’s centrality in the U.S. national security strategy. The United States will continue to voice America’s abiding commitment to multilateralism and to NATO. NATO’s numbers tell the story: we are a forum with 46 countries in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, a partnership with 41 countries in the Partnership for Peace program, a dialogue with seven Mediterranean states, and an alliance with 26 members. Where else but in NATO could any of us replicate this vital web of multilateral relationships? 

NATO remains today the world’s most powerful and important alliance, dedicated to preserving peace and freedom for all of our peoples. While it took 55 years for Europeans and North Americans to build this alliance, it continues to serves as our bridge across the Atlantic, our principal forum for working together and for our mutual protection in a dangerous world. In President Kennedy’s words, NATO allies will continue to be the “watchmen on the walls of world freedom.” We have many challenges before us, but the U.S. remains dedicated to working with our allies and partners alike to keep NATO at the center of the great effort to build a democratic, peaceful, and secure world in the years ahead.


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