The question confronting
NATO as it celebrates its 60th birthday, is whether this transatlantic
collective security institution can continue to make itself politically and
militarily relevant in the face of these and other threats that directly impact
on the security of its member states.
Central to that challenge will not be the Obama administration's commitment to security through multilateralism - that was never in doubt. It will be European commitment to the hard task of resourcing its fair share of the security burden if it wants a fair stake in the NATO of the future.
This is the Alliance's opportunity to re-affirm our commitment to Article 5 - through actions as well as words. All Allies have the responsibility to share the burden and the risks that come with them. It is not right to take the benefit of the insurance cover on offer, if you aren't prepared to pay the premium that goes with it.
The campaign in Afghanistan - every bit as important to European member states' security as it is to the security of United States - has exposed three things. A legacy of underinvestment by some European member states in their armed forces, significant variance in political commitment to the campaign and underneath it all a continued over-reliance on the US to do the heavy lifting. A hangover from the Cold War that is increasingly out of place.
The capability and capacity gap between two sides of the Atlantic has always been large. But today, the difference in absolute levels of spending between the US and European member states in NATO has never been larger. And it is European member states that lose from this. Contributing less doesn't reduce the risks we face. It only brings less influence.
The campaign in Afghanistan is evidence of the limited appetite amongst some European member states for supporting the most important active operation NATO has ever been tasked with. It isn't good enough to always look to the US for political, financial and military cover. And this imbalance will not be addressed by parcelling up NATO tasks - the ‘hard' military ones for the US and a few notable exceptions and the ‘soft' diplomatic ones to the majority of Europeans. Freeloading on the back of US military security is not an option if we wish to be equal partners in this transatlantic alliance. Anyone who wants to benefit from collective security must be prepared to share the ultimate price.
That NATO cannot work effectively with the European Union - particularly in Kosovo and Afghanistan - is incomprehensible to me. I do not disregard national concerns about the lack of formal agreements for contact between EU and NATO missions. But I do not accept that our armed forces should suffer the consequences. Nor that we should be hampered in addressing shared security concerns.
If we share a commitment to success on operations, Allies must address this issue now. I welcomed France's efforts to address this issue during their EU Presidency. Whilst 21 Allies share membership of these organisations, I hope that all Allies will contribute fully to finding practical ways to make them work better together.
We need to restate NATO's openness to relationships with countries and organisations, where this can benefit the security aims of the Alliance. A clearer vision of the relationship between the EU and NATO, and their relative roles in this relationship should be a priority.
This text provides extracts from Defence Minister John Hutton's speech at the "NATO At 60: Towards a New Strategic Concept," made in the UK on January 15. For the full speech transcript, please visit this website.
Photo © Crown Copyright/MOD 2009
Dear members of Atlantic Community...
Are Hutton's criticisms of Europeans' limited committments in Afghanistan justified?
Is an increase in troop commitment what's needed in Afghanistan?
Is the "Cold War hangover" a relevant issue in international relations?
Will Barack Obama take up Hutton's call and how are the EU member states likely to respond?
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