In a series of events in Washington this week, the Obama Administration has laid out its vision for the future of NATO. As part of NATO’s on-going review of its Strategic Concept, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates have each made public speeches outlining what NATO should look like in the future. And for the most part, their recommendations follow The Heritage Foundation’s Principles and Proposals for NATO Reform:

  • The Alliance needs a new threat perception to address asymmetrical threats such as terrorism, cyberterrorism, ballistic missile attack, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
  • As a pillar of the international security system, NATO remains indispensable, and its enlargement needs to continue;
  • The Alliance needs new, more flexible decision making procedures;
  • Article V remains the heart and soul of NATO;
  • NATO must confront security challenges both in and out of area; and
  • NATO needs more equitable sharing of risks and responsibilities within the alliance.

Secretary Gates’ comments were particularly hard hitting, decrying Europe’s demilitarization and pitiful defense spending. Just four (Bulgaria, France, Greece, and the U.K.) of the 21 EU-NATO members spend the NATO benchmark of 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense, and this simply has to change. NATO needs to find a more equitable solution to the questions of manpower, equipment, and resources because in today’s challenging economic environment, the United States should not be expected to carry Europe’s load.

However, there are two elements of the Administration’s vision for NATO’s future which are particularly worrisome. Secretary Clinton once again stated the Administration’s support for a separate EU defense policy and for the Lisbon Treaty. The EU’s existing defense policy has provided NATO with little or no valuable complementarity, and serious questions remain about the EU’s motivation in pursuing a military identity. NATO’s primacy in the transatlantic security alliance must remain supreme and the Administration should make this a central element of NATO’s Strategic Concept.

Secondly, neither Ambassador Daalder nor Secretary Clinton gave a clear answer on the question of whether U.S. nuclear weapons will remain in Europe. Ambassador Daalder is a well-known arms control enthusiast, absolutely committed to President Obama’s vision of a nuclear-weapons-free world. It is rumored that Daalder wants to see U.S. nuclear weapons removed from Europe in their entirety. However, a withdrawal of America’s nuclear arsenal from Europe at this time would send the message that the transatlantic alliance no longer matters. It would be premature and profoundly destabilizing, inviting the worst kinds of provocation from regimes such as Iran.

NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept is a big opportunity for the alliance to rally around a new security and defense vision for the 21st Century. NATO Secretary General Rasmussen is a strong leader who will ultimately draft the document. However, he will need a will of iron to make it meaningful.