'New NATO' Will Reach Important Milestones in 2006, General Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 6, 2006 This may be "the most important year in the history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization," that body's commander said here today.
U.S. Marine Gen. James L. Jones, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, said 2006 is pivotal for what NATO has the potential to become.
During a Pentagon news conference, Jones said the alliance will reach a number of important milestones this year. In the process, the alliance is being transformed.
Jones called the alliance today a "new NATO," one in which member nations have the political will to do new things. The biggest change from the Cold War NATO is action in Afghanistan. By November 2006, Jones said, NATO will own the Afghanistan mission.
"This is arguably NATO's most ambitious operation, perhaps in its history," he said. "We'll have essentially 36 nations, 26 from the alliance and 10 partners, working together to bring peace, stability, reconstruction to Afghanistan."
A second milestone is the NATO Response Force. NATO leaders approved the concept in 2002, and it is due to reach full operational capability by Oct. 1, Jones said. "The reason this is important is because it is the first time in the alliance that we've had a roughly 25,000-man force composed of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and special operations working under one, single command," he said.
The unit is designed to be NATO's most responsive force, ready to move out within five days of receiving orders. Jones said pieces of the unit have already deployed to help following the October earthquake in Pakistan. NATO can tailor the force to meet the specifics of the situation.
The force is also a proving ground for experimentation, he said. "One of the key experiments that are going on in the alliance right now is how do we pay for our operations and how do we fund these operations," he said. "So you'll hear things like 'common funding' being discussed during the course of the year as the alliance searches for new ways to be flexible and to be adaptable to meet the new realities of the new NATO."
Jones said people on both sides of the Atlantic need to understand this "new NATO." In the 20th century, people understood the alliance stood against the Soviet Bloc. "The new NATO is a completely different organization in terms of its capabilities and its disposition," he said.
It is important that people understand that there is a cultural transformation and a philosophical shift for the 21st century.
It "says that the new NATO is going to be more proactive, more involved at greater strategic distances than it was in the past, and has the capacity and the will of the member nations to be involved, to look at new missions and new ways in which the alliance can be utilized," Jones said. "And this is vastly different than the reactive, static, defensive alliance that was successful during the Cold War."