WASHINGTON — Far from being a pact that has had its day, the major contributions of the NATO alliance may lie ahead, said the Supreme Allied Commander Europe before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Feb. 7.
Marine Gen. James Jones said NATO is redefining itself in a world where terrorist networks, not single threats, are the enemy. Challenges, he said, will come from non-state actors, and the NATO nations understand the need for "more proactive activities, security, stability and reconstruction to deter future crises from developing."
The military portion of the alliance is well on its way to as new infrastructure and command set-up, Jones said to the senators. With 26 nations in the alliance, which is operating outside its traditional area of operations, all have bought into the need for transformation.
NATO troops have taken over the security mission in the northern and western portions of Afghanistan and are taking over responsibility in the south. NATO is training Iraqi officers in Baghdad and in NATO command and general staff schools in Europe. NATO initiatives are looking at missions in Africa and NATO is in a dialogue with the nations of the Mediterranean rim.
"This collective will signals that NATO is becoming more proactive than reactive, more expeditionary than static and more diverse in its capabilities," Jones said. "And while this emergent NATO is to be celebrated, encouraged and supported, one cannot fail to emphasize that the political will to do more is as yet not completely accompanied by an equal political will to resource in men, money and material this newfound appetite."
In 2002, NATO nations agreed to maintain defense expenditures at 2% of gross domestic product. Only seven of the 26 nations meet that goal. They are Bulgaria, France, Greece, Romania, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.
"Similarly, in terms of manpower pledges of nations for support to headquarters and operations, we are currently not meeting our goals in that regard," Jones said.
The general said that efforts to beef up NATO capabilities such as strategic lift, a ground surveillance system, computer information systems and such have not been funded adequately. This has perpetuated critical shortfalls in the alliance, Jones said.
Communications is part of the problem too, he said. During the Cold War, Jones said, people on both sides of the Atlantic clearly understood what the alliance represented.
"We were united, despite occasional family disagreements, around a central anchor point of prevailing over the threat posed by the former Soviet Union," he said.
"Regrettably, I doubt that our publics today on either side of the ocean fully understand the need, nature and purpose of the alliance in the post-Cold War era of the 21st century," he continued. "On that score, we can and must do better."
Given all of NATO's needs, the alliance is also busier than ever, Jones said. More than 28,000 NATO and non-NATO troops from 42 nations serve in operations under the NATO flag.
"We are conducting operations on three continents and I believe that this operations tempo will continue to increase in 2006," he said.
NATO's forces in Kosovo are undergoing a transition to a lighter, more mobile and deployable structure that exploits technology in a more agile and better trained force to manage the security situation, Jones said.
"As the Kosovo status talks develop over the coming months and consensus is hopefully reached between ethnic Kosovo, Albanian and Serbian communities, NATO should be postured to reduce force levels significantly in the province and in the Balkans in general," he said.
Jones discussed the transformational aspects of the NATO Response Force. He said the force will be used to meet crises across the full spectrum of military missions at strategic distance and in the most challenging of environments. For example, that force deployed for operations in Pakistan following the earthquake.
But the force faces challenges, he said.
"Force generation efforts for future NATO Response Force rotations are not producing a complete and balanced force, which is a cause for concern," Jones said. "The principal reason for this problem, I believe, is that NATO has not reformed its 20th century funding mechanisms that require nations to pay all costs associated with the transport and sustainment of their deployed forces."
With operations being conducted today at great distances from home bases, NATO's current approach to resourcing operations "actually acts as a disincentive for nations to contribute forces for deployments," he said.
NATO is making some progress, but without reform "full operational capability for the NRF by October of this year is still at risk," he said.
Overall, he is encouraged by progress in NATO. The changes the nations are considering would go a long way toward helping NATO enhance its increasingly critical role and providing collective security and strategic stability.
"NATO has been and needs to remain a great alliance," Jones said. "Great alliances should be expected to do great things. It is possible — even probable, in my view — that NATO's most important contributions and most important missions still lie in its future."