In the words of the new U.S. ambassador at NATO, Victoria Nuland, the U.S. wants the alliance “retooled for the 21st century.”
The United States has in recent months indicated it wants the NATO’s next summit to discuss transforming the alliance. The summit is scheduled for the fall of 2006 and is, according to NATO sources, likely to take place in the Latvian capital of Riga.
Nuland said yesterday that the summit will be followed 18 months later by another that will look at further NATO expansion.
She said the United States has already begun talks with allies on how it would like to see NATO change. She said a key U.S. wish is to turn NATO into the world’s “multilateral security trainer of first resort.”
“We think NATO has huge untapped potential as a security trainer," Nuland said. "The United States [and] many other allies are committing a lot of resources nationally to meet the training needs of lots of our partners. The U.S. and France, for example, now are working with Lebanon to strengthen its security services. We believe that NATO can do more of this collectively, as we have started to do in our training center at Rustamiya for Iraqis. How much better is it to train others to manage their own security than to have to send troops in a crisis?”
Nuland noted that NATO’s partners in the Mediterranean region -- mostly Arab countries -- have shown great interest in training assistance.
Nuland also said the United States wants NATO to reach out to other world democracies such as Japan and Australia in its global activities.
More traditional concerns also feature on the U.S. “wish list.” Nuland said Washington wants the NATO Response Force (NRF) -- scheduled to become fully operational in October 2006 -- to become more deployable, modern, and responsive. Nuland said the NRF must be given capabilities to meet threats “wherever and whenever they may arise.” She noted some parts of the NRF have already been used to secure elections in Afghanistan and to transport supplies to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
However, a number of countries led by France have long argued that the use of the NRF should be confined to meeting genuine threats to the allies’ own security.
Nuland noted that funding also remains a “real problem” in transforming NATO.
“We’re also convinced that our great alliance is woefully underfunded," Nuland said. "Too few allies have met the call for a 2 percent floor in defense spending. Meanwhile, our level of ambition as allies has never been greater. Over the coming year the United States wants to work with allies on many creative, new ideas, including increasing common funding, building more common assets, to put struts of steel into NATO’s transformation and ensure we can meet the commitments that we’ve made.”
Nuland said, however, she sees a greater understanding now among European allies that the post-Cold War honeymoon is now over.
The U.S. ambassador reiterated Washington’s belief that the United States needs a strong European Union to partner it in world affairs. However, Nuland said that the structures the EU has for cooperation with the United States are too “cumbersome.” She said there are too many interlocutors, and went on to suggest that NATO could become the main forum for U.S.-European discussion of important global issues.
“Just as important as developing the right military capabilities, however, is expanding and deepening the political dialogue within the alliance. If the divisive debate over Iraq taught us one thing, it is that NATO must be the place where we talk about all the issues affecting our future -- the Middle East, Iraq, North Korea, China, Iran, just to name a few,” Nuland said.
Nuland’s comments indirectly rebut a suggestion made earlier this year by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. He said NATO had lost its relevance as the primary venue for trans-Atlantic discussion. German politicians later noted that the alliance fails to discuss many of the most pressing global issues.
Nuland said Afghanistan will remain NATO’s most important mission for the foreseeable future. She said the NATO-led ISAF stabilization force will by next spring extend its activities to the south of the country.
She also criticized some allies for rejecting U.S. requests for a possible future combat role for NATO in the country.
“We do have a couple of allies, who are not yet sure that they are ready to participate in the highest end of the counterterrorism mission that U.S. forces and others are pursuing primarily now through Operation Enduring Freedom," Nuland said. "I would say that as we talk to the NATO countries who are getting ready to deploy with us in the south -- those will be Canada, [the] Netherlands, the United Kingdom [and] a number of others -- they all understand that the mission in the south is going to be manifestly more high intensity than the mission in the north or the west has been. They are preparing for it very well.”
Nuland said the planned integration of ISAF with the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) remains an open issue.
NATO sources say France and Germany oppose a complete merger of the two forces, arguing this would undermine NATO’s role as a stabilizing factor in Afghanistan. Britain has also voiced doubts, indicating it would like to see the combat and stabilization functions kept separate after an eventual OEF-ISAF merger.
Nuland also noted yesterday that NATO-Russia cooperation has greatly improved and now takes place “in a completely different environment.” She said Russia is training a battalion for interoperability with NATO forces. Russia will also provide ships for NATO’s patrolling mission in the Mediterranean -- the first Russian contribution to a NATO operation since Kosovo. Collaboration in theater missile defense is blossoming.
Nuland praised a recent meeting of NATO and Russia antiterrorism experts as a successful and promising harbinger of future cooperation.