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U.S. Ambassador To NATO Says Alliance Ready To Meet 'Global Threats and Challenges'

US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder says the Lisbon Summit answered the question, "What should NATO do in the 21st century?"

US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder says the Lisbon Summit answered the question, "What should NATO do in the 21st century?"

On November 19 and 20, the heads of state of NATO member countries came together in Lisbon for their annual summit, at which they adopted a new strategic charter that will guide the alliance for the next decade. The charter repositions NATO to meet 21st-century threats like insurgencies, cyberattacks, and terrorism.

The military alliance also took the historic steps of including Russia in its meeting -- in hopes of what NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called "a fresh start" in relations -- and agreed to develop a missile-defense system to protect all NATO territory.

Less than 48 hours after the summit ended, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder sat down with RFE/RL's chief Washington editor Christian Caryl to talk about the alliance's achievements and the challenges that remain.

RFE/RL: What do you consider the most significant achievements of the NATO summit and NATO-Russia Council meeting in Lisbon?

Ivo Daalder: Well, there really were three big issues that we were confronting as we were trying to rebuild this alliance. One was to make sure that NATO was ready to deal with 21st-century challenges. The second was to make sure that the alliance and its partners remain united in their path toward success in Afghanistan. And the third was to "reset" the relationship between NATO and Russia.

We've had the reset bilaterally -- what we needed now was the reset between the organization of which the United States is a leading member and Russia. And I think in all three of those areas we got what we needed. We got a NATO that is now ready to confront 21st-century security challenges, both by a new strategic concept that lays out a vision of how we ought to deal with the world as it is, and as it is likely to be. We built a decision on key capabilities to deal with 21st-century threats -- most importantly, of course, the decision to deploy a territorial missile-defense system to deal with the threat of ballistic missiles coming from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and other places -- and to reform the alliance and its institutions in order to be more flexible and agile for the world as it is today.

That, in and of itself, was step one. Step two was to make sure that we were on a path of success in Afghanistan and to lay out a transition strategy for where we're going to go. We want to start the process of transitioning responsibility for security from the international community to the Afghans in early 2011, and we adopted, as an alliance, the goal set by [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai to complete the process by which Afghans are in the lead in security throughout the country by the end of 2014.

And then, finally, the meeting with [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev, the first time since the Georgian war that the leaders [have gotten] together, was a reaffirmation of the need for Russia and NATO to cooperate on 21st-century security challenges, including, and in particular, on the issue of missile defense, where President Medvedev said, "Yes, let's resume the kind of exercise that we've been dealing with until the Georgian war. And let's look at some of the issue of how we can take the NATO system -- and whatever Russian capabilities there are -- inward to cooperate to deal with the threat we share, which is from ballistic missiles coming from the south.

RFE/RL: The report by the group of experts who advised NATO on its new strategic concept includes the following observation: "Although NATO is busier than it has ever been its value is less obvious to many than in the past." That gets at the issue of perception. How relevant is NATO today?

Daalder: Well, the whole purpose of the summit was to answer that question, in many ways. And the group of experts was part of a process -- a very open and quite new process -- in which we spend about a year talking about what is NATO's role, how should NATO evolve, where does NATO go? And the group of experts led that process through the summer of this year. And at that point, it became a more closed process led by the Secretary-General [Rasmussen], which worked very closely with all the 28 countries in the North Atlantic Council to draft what became a crisp, concise, and concrete strategic concept that says, "This is what NATO's role is," and answers the question, "What should NATO do in the 21st century?"

What NATO should do is provide for the collective defense of all its members against all kinds of threats, both new and old. That was reaffirmed in a very strong and important kind of text and language that put first and foremost -- central -- the Article 5 commitment of "the defense of one is the defense of all," including of all of our new allies. Remember, this is the first strategic concept in which the new allies were active participants in the drafting process. They wanted to be reassured that this alliance is about their defense as much as it is about anything, and the strategic concept did that.

But at the same time, it also said, "We need to build security together with others around the world, starting in our neighborhood, but then looking out towards other parts of the world, given the global context in which NATO operates." And here, too, a debate about whether NATO ought to be a global actor, or just a regional actor, was settled: NATO is going to be involved in the world as it is, which now is a world of global threats and global challenges, which require partnerships with global actors.

So those two issues were confronted head-on, developed, frankly, over a period of a year of debate, and a consensus was reached in the course of that process, which allowed us to come up with a strategic concept that, I think, people will recognize as answering the question, "What is NATO for?"

RFE/RL: You've used the phrase, "NATO affirmed it's ready to deal with all kinds of threats." Surely one of the problems is that NATO's mission has become very diffuse, perhaps because the world of threats is very diffuse. Can you give us a concise statement of what NATO really stands for today?

Daalder: NATO stands first and foremost for the defense of the territory and populations against security challenges from around the world. The problem is that the security challenges today aren't just armies crossing borders, which has been the focus of NATO for so long, but they can come from, frankly, anywhere, at any time -- on top of a ballistic missile, shot from long range; through the cybernetworks that connect NATO countries together, but also connect NATO to the rest of the world; through failed and fragile states that are havens for terrorism and terrorist attacks [that] can come to our countries. Those are the challenges we face today. NATO needs to have the capacity to respond to those challenges. And at Lisbon, we decided that that indeed was something that this alliance not only can do, but must do.

RFE/RL: Germany, France, and Great Britain are all cutting defense spending. Can NATO retain its credibility as a military alliance when several of its major members are cutting their defense expenditures?

Daalder: Cutting defense spending is a reality of the fiscal climate that we live in, and therefore, it's a challenge to NATO, but it's also, frankly, an opportunity, because one way you can cut spending is to start doing more together. And one of the things that NATO allows you do to is provide that core capability -- that core joint-ness -- that allows a lesser investment by nations to lead to a bigger and better output at the end.

Let me take the example of missile defense: NATO decided this weekend [that] it was going to build a command-and-control system for NATO, which would allow for the territorial defense of NATO territory. Each individual country can now plug their radars and sensors into that NATO system and thereby, gain data, not just from their own systems, but from all the systems that are plugged in to this command-and-control and battle management network. That's how, for a little investment, they are working jointly. They are going to be able to build more capability and acquire more capability, than they could if they were just investing alone.

So the challenge here, and I think, the recognition by leaders, is that if we do a little more together, we get a lot more individually than if we just spend individually on the capabilities that we need. That is a recognition that France and Britain, frankly, came to when they decided to procure major equipment together, and now within NATO, we are doing this within the context of 28 countries, where a little investment for a common funding will get you a lot more capability together.

RFE/RL: From the outside, though, it does look as though NATO has increasing ambitions -- these global problems and threats that you were talking about -- and yet it's going to have to deal with them on the basis of diminished resources.

Daalder: We have to be very clear that our ambitions match the resources that we're willing to put in, or better still, that we resource our ambitions in the right way. If you look at what we're doing in Afghanistan, where we have 150,000 troops -- including almost 50,000 non-American troops in the field -- we know that on this one, our ambitions are matched by the resources. And importantly, that commitment will remain.

Before we decide to do another mission, before we get engaged in other parts of the world, we need to be very clear: Are we willing to provide the resources necessary to do those missions? That is now part of our decision-making process. We are no longer in the business of doing A, B, or C and then figuring out how to pay for it. As part of our decision-making process, we're looking at [the questions of], "If we're going to do this, how are we going to fund it? How are we going to pay for it?" That's the kind of way in which we prioritize not only our goals and ambitions, but also our ability to fund them.

RFE/RL: NATO has approved a plan to hand over security responsibilities to the Afghan government in 2014. Can you talk about that transition a little bit? And then specifically, could you also address the question of whether this means that the Obama administration's timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces starting in 2011 has been shelved, or is that still part of this transition?

Daalder: Well, what the leaders decided is that the transition, on a district-by-district and then province-by-province basis -- there are 34 provinces in Afghanistan -- will start in early 2011. So, the first provinces in which the responsibility for security is going to change from ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] to the Afghans will start in early 2011. It will take 18 to 24 months for a province to complete the process of having fully transitioned, in which the Afghans are in effective control. In that time frame, NATO and ISAF forces will remain in support.

Polish soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stand at attention at Kabul International Airport.
This is a rolling process, so we will see the first provinces go in early 2011 and then, over time, as the security situation and the governance capacity increases in other parts of Afghanistan, other provinces will go through this transition process. And we hope to complete that process within four years -- that is, by the end of 2014. If we start in 2011, the end of 2014 is four years. Within that process, by the end of it, we would like to see Afghan security in the lead throughout the country. And at that time, the primary role for ISAF would be to support the Afghans through enabling forces, continuing training, advising, and assisting, in order to make sure that the Afghans retain the capacity and sustain the capacity to provide for their own security.

As the transition goes through this four-year process, the composition and size of the international community's military contribution will inevitably change. And indeed, as transition starts in early 2011, the drawdown of forces, based on the conditions prevailing on the ground, can proceed. So very much the Obama administration's timetable of starting to think about a drawdown in July 2011 of the surge that was approved in December 2009 is very consistent with this overall pattern of transition. The composition will change over time -- more and more trainers, less and less combat -- particularly in parts where transition has already taken place, and by the end of this process, we would expect to have the primary responsibility for international forces -- the reduced numbers of international forces -- to be focused on training, assisting, and support of Afghan capabilities.

RFE/RL: So the U.S. will still be starting the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan in 2011?

Daalder: As the president has said, in July 2011 the drawdown of forces will start. The pace, scope, and extent of that drawdown will depend on the conditions on the ground, and indeed, the way that transition proceeds is one of those conditions, or, in fact, reflects those conditions, and in that way, we'll start to determine the pace, extent, and scope of that drawdown. That we don't know.

We won't know until we are in July 2011, which is still eight months away, in which time there is still a lot of fighting left to be done, a lot of change still to be accomplished, and it is that fighting and that change over those eight [or] nine months which will determine the extent and pace of the drawdown. But that forces will start to leave is a commitment that the president made and is a commitment that the president will keep.

RFE/RL: So even as this process goes ahead we're going to be seeing, I assume, an overall reduction in NATO troop levels in Afghanistan, if the United States continues with its schedule as planned, and other allies are reducing their forces in Afghanistan, since the training mission will ultimately coincide with a steady reduction of overall forces?

Daalder: Again, the extent, scope, [and] nature of the changing force posture is something that will depend on what happens on the ground. As transition proceeds, as the Afghans became more capable, more independently able to provide for the security, the need to rely on international forces will go down. How fast it will go down, how quickly it will happen, how the forces will change, and the composition -- less combat, more trainers -- are all issues that commanders on the ground will determine.

It's not for ambassadors in NATO or even political leaders in capitals to make those choices. We now have a strategy. W have an agreed way forward. We embraced again at the Lisbon summit [at] the level of heads of state and government that we need to start this transition process over the next four years, and as we move down that path, we will hear from the commanders -- from [U.S] General [David] Petraeus [and] from others -- what it is that he needs in order to sustain this capability. And as [he] comes forward with those recommendations, the political leaders in capitals, the political leaders in NATO, the political leaders of the ISAF coalition -- which is now 49 nations, the largest coalition since World War II -- will have to decide how they're going to respond to the request for forces that will, no doubt, continue throughout this entire period.

RFE/RL: And President [Hamid] Karzai has, of course, signed off on this, as well? He's okay with this?

Daalder: President Karzai is very much part of the process of transition. Indeed, the decisions to transition provinces is a decision that will be taken by the joint Afghan-NATO Transition, or "Inteqal," Board -- "inteqal" is the Dari word for "transition" -- that meets in Kabul, which the government of Afghanistan is fully and completely a part of, as well as the ISAF, and other civilian folks. And they're going to make recommendations that the Afghan government will then have to endorse for this process to continue. So this is a process not about Afghans regaining sovereignty. It's about Afghans, who already have sovereignty, taking more and more responsibility for security within their provinces. And President Karzai has not only endorsed that process, he's the one who set the goal of the end of 2014 as the completion of that process in his inaugural address a year ago, and that was reaffirmed both in London and then in the Kabul conference as a goal that the international community endorses.

RFE/RL: President Medvedev's participation in this summit has been deemed in many quarters as historic -- could you comment on that? What do you see as the primary fruits of his participation?

Well, it certainly was a word that was resonating throughout Lisbon. In fact, I think it was [a] word that President Medvedev used himself. What was important, of course [was that] this was the first NATO-Russia Council summit meeting since the Georgian conflict. It was the first time that President Medvedev came to a NATO meeting, [and] it was the first time since we had really resumed a dialogue, which had stopped at the time of the Georgian conflict, at the highest level.

We had had a couple of ministerial meetings to prepare for this event, -- one last December and another one in September -- but this was really the time in which the question was put: Are we ready to move forward as an alliance working with Russia in a cooperative framework on the issues that we confront together, or are we going to be talking about all of our differences? We will talk about our differences. This is, after all, an all-weather forum. But at the same time, we are also going to look at areas in which we can cooperate. And President Medvedev's decision some three weeks ago to say, "I actually want to send a signal that we're moving into a new relationship with NATO, [and] therefore, I'm going to come to Lisbon," really meant that we are now focused on that practical agenda. For the first time, we had a joint statement, embraced by all 29 leaders, -- not a chairman's statement, which is what we hadn't had since 2002 -- and we laid down a whole series of future areas of practical cooperation, the most important of which, and perhaps the most consequential of which, is working together on missile defense, not only in-theater missile-defense cooperation, which we've long done with the Russians, but importantly, on defending territory.

RFE/RL: Russia has of course accepted NATO's plans for a European ballistic missile system, which in itself is an interesting development, but are we any closer to saying how this cooperation will work in practice? It seems like at this point all we have is an overarching agreement without that much detail.

Daalder: The details are [what] we're now going to work out together. And we're setting up -- and in fact have -- a NATO-Russia Council working group, which has now been tasked by the leaders to start asking the questions that need to be asked and start looking for the answers on how the modalities of cooperation can proceed. And we put a deadline on it; we want a progress report by June, 2011. And the defense ministers of the NATO-Russia Council will meet in Brussels in order to answer all those questions: What kind of architecture does one have in mind? How do you cooperate among very different systems? How do you move those kinds of issues forward? Those are the questions that are on the table.

What is important, and what is critical to understand, is that NATO made the decision to build a NATO ballistic missile-defense system to defend all of NATO's territory, all of NATO Europe's territory, and the United States against [a] ballistic missile attack. And the offer to cooperate, and now the effort to start to cooperate, is not part of that decision - that decision is made. NATO will defend NATO. Not Russia, not anyone else. It's on that basis that we proceed with cooperation.

And it is important that NATO needed to make the decision to do this before it decided to reach out the hand of cooperation to Russia, in order then to cooperate on the basis of the decision that was made in Lisbon on [November 19], NATO is in the business of defending NATO's territory.

RFE/RL: Yet Medvedev, in the past day or so, has started talking about the idea of NATO and Russia sharing responsibilities for different theaters, different parts of the missile-defense system.

Daalder: There are many different ideas on the table - we'll explore all of them. One of them is clear: when it comes to the defense of NATO territory -- all of NATO territory -- that responsibility will lie with NATO.

It will lie with the United States that is deploying the European phased adaptive approach as a central component of this NATO system, and it will lie with all the other NATO countries. We are not in the business of handing over defense of NATO to anybody else.

Through cooperation, we can have an even better, even more effective, perhaps even less costly, system to do that. Those are the kinds of issues we will now discuss with Russians, as we move forward on doing our joint analysis that their heads of state and government have tasked. But the central reality of this is [that] when it comes to the protection of NATO territory, that is a responsibility that NATO has now taken upon itself, and that NATO will now execute, because the territory of NATO will be defended by NATO systems.

RFE/RL: Can you envision a scenario in which Russian authorities would also have a say over missile-defense decisions or would participate in command and control of a NATO missile-defense system?

Daalder: I can see a scenario in which the Russians and NATO would work together. But never in such a way in which one country, or one non-member state would have a veto or a control over a NATO system. Because what we decided was for NATO to have a defense of NATO. We'd love to cooperate. We're trying to figure out ways to cooperate with Russia -- and that may need to expand and enhance the capacity of those systems -- but when it comes to the defense of NATO, that is a responsibility that the alliance has taken upon itself, that it will execute as a result of it, and that will be in the hands only of the NATO countries.

RFE/RL: The principle of collective defense, which was reaffirmed at the summit in eloquent terms -- an attack against one is an attack against all, Article 5 -- however, NATO is now also defending against cyber attacks, one of its new priorities. Can you tell us anything about the extent to which cyber attacks would count as an attack under Article 5 -- is that something that's been discussed?

Daalder: We discussed many things about what would constitute an Article 5 attack -- after all, the one time that NATO invoked Article 5 was against a very different attack than anyone had conceived when the article was written. It was on September 12, 2001, after the attacks on New York and Washington and Pennsylvania by airlines [that were] turned into weapons of mass destruction. No one had conceived of Article 5 in that context. So we had a long debate and discussion about how to think about this.

Presidents Barack Obama (C), Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Nicolas Sarkozy agree to greater cooperation and defense planning during the Lisbon summit.
First, Article 5 is about an armed attack. An armed attack against one is an armed attack against all. So the question then becomes, what is an armed attack in the 21st century? And we decided not to define that. We decided not to get into the business of trying to reinterpret the treaty. The treaty itself is clear. It says that if there's an armed attack against one, it will be considered an armed attack against all, and we will respond accordingly. So in the case of [a] cyber [attack], the issue is not, do we say, this is an attack that requires an Article 5 response? It will be if there's an attack that has consequences that are so vast, then we would, as a council, just as we did on September 12, 2001, come together and decide how will we respond to that. And it is at that time that the question would be raised: is this the kind of attack that is sufficient to warrant an Article 5 response, an invocation of Article 5, or not? Rather than doing that before hand, and saying, by definition, it will or won't be, we're going to have to decide on the spot, in a case by case basis whether, in a cyber case, this is an armed attack.

What's clear, for example, on ballistic missiles, if armed with anything -- conventional, nuclear, or any other warhead -- it's armed, and therefore, a ballistic missile heading toward NATO territory is by definition, an Article 5 contingent. A malicious cyber event is something that we will have to look at in terms of when it happened, and how it happened, and what its impact is, in order to respond.

That said, NATO can respond even if it's not Article 5. We are able to come together at any time, at the request of any state, to discuss any threat, to the security or to the political independence of any one member, and therefore, under Article 4, we can decide whether we want to respond and if so, how to respond, which means that this is an organization that is primarily about making sure that we work together, consult together, in order to enhance the security of all, together, and that's really what this new strategic concept and this new decision that we put forward in Lisbon, are all about.

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