Who Needs NATO? We All Do

Has the Atlantic alliance outlived its usefulness? The British journalist and historian Geoffrey Wheatcroft raised that question in an opinion article on Thursday, commenting on the speech by Robert Gates in Brussels last week in which the outgoing U.S. defense secretary accused other members of the Atlantic alliance of not pulling their financial and political weight. Ivo H. Daalder, the U.S. permanent representative to NATO, joins the debate.

“Who needs NATO?” asks Geoffrey Wheatcroft. A good question, with a simple answer: We all do.

NATO is, as President Obama has said, “the most successful alliance in human history.” During its first 40 years, it won the Cold War. In the next 20, it secured an enduring European peace — not least by welcoming 12 new members through the enlargement process Mr. Wheatcroft so derides. And today, as its 28 leaders declared in Lisbon, “the alliance remains an essential source of stability in an unpredictable world.”

Today, more than 150,000 troops participate in six NATO operations on three continents.

In Afghanistan, a NATO-led force made up of troops from 48 nations is helping to build security so that none of us will ever again be threatened by terrorists trained in secure safe havens in that war-torn country.

In Libya, 17 allies and partner nations have taken on the new responsibility of helping the Libyan people determine their own destiny in an operation that prevents illicit flows of arms by air and sea, polices a no-fly zone, and protects civilians in Libya against attack by Muammar el-Qaddafi’s brutal regime.

At the same time, NATO is countering the scourge of piracy off the coast of Africa, and conducting counterterrorism activities in the Mediterranean. NATO is also training Iraq’s security forces. And it continues its long-standing commitment to stabilize the Balkans.

Today’s NATO is an alliance that is busier than ever, an alliance that works with more partners than ever, and an alliance that is more needed by more people than ever.

The reasons are clear. We live in a world of complex and unpredictable challenges and threats to security. In this world, the local has gone global. Cyberattacks transit time zones in nanoseconds — disrupting bank operations, government activities and even teenage gaming. Weapons of mass destruction and the means to make and deliver them are proliferating wide and far. Instability in distant countries enables transnational terrorist groups to find safe havens and launch attacks close to home.

In such a world, we need strong alliances and partnerships — and none is stronger and more needed than today’s NATO. That is why it is so important that all of the alliance’s members invest in and possess the defense capabilities necessary to meet our collective responsibilities.

As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during his visit to Brussels last week, this should include serious efforts to protect defense budgets, coordinate procurement decisions, and follow through on our commitments to NATO and each other.

Which brings us back to Mr. Wheatcroft’s question. Although the Cold War is definitely over, we all still need NATO.

Just ask the citizens of Libya and Afghanistan, and the peoples of Europe and North America, who are among the hundreds of millions relying on NATO to secure a peaceful present — and a better future.

Ivo H. Daalder, U.S. Permanent Representative on the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since May 2009. He is a specialist in European security. He was a member of the staff of United States National Security Council (NSC) during the administration of President Bill Clinton, and was one of the foreign policy advisers to President Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign. Response to Who needs NATO?

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