NATO Continues to Shed Cold War Mentality, General Says
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 26, 2006 NATO is in the process of transforming itself to meet asymmetric threats that did not exist during the Cold War, the alliance's supreme allied commander in Europe said here yesterday.
U.S. Marine General James L. Jones, NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, speaks during a luncheon held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on May 25. Jones spoke to members about "NATO: New Capabilities for Emerging Global Challenges" and the continuing global war on terrorism and took questions from the audience about numerous defense related topics. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"With the demise of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world changed a little bit, and for a few years we looked around at each other and people were saying, 'Well, what do we do now?'" U.S. Marine Gen. James L. Jones said at the National Press Club. "And what we decided to do ... is to transform this alliance and turn it into something that could meet the threats that we face today, the family of asymmetric threats, and in a way that spins the entire alliance almost 180 degrees."
Jones, who is also the head of U.S. European Command, said some major changes were put forward at the Prague Summit in 2002, such as creating a NATO rapid response force and replacing the Supreme Allied Command Atlantic in Norfolk, Va., with Supreme Allied Command for Transformation.
The summit also dealt with other NATO shortcomings, such as its poor strategic lift capability and weak air-ground surveillance systems, he said.
"The alliance today is poised, I believe, to fully enter the 21st century in ways that we would not have thought possible as recently as 2002-2003," Jones said.
But the general emphasized that the alliance still faces many challenging problems. For instance, "we are beset by declining budgets in the alliance," he said.
NATO forces are expected to take over the entire operation in Afghanistan by year's end, and Jones said this proved that the alliance has not become irrelevant.
The general also spoke about increased violence in Afghanistan. "There's no question that there is increased violence," he said. But "we have to be extremely careful, it seems to me, that we don't default to the very easy headline that says 'The Taliban is back; the insurgency is back.' I don't believe that to be the case."
He said he thinks violence in Afghanistan comes from al Qaeda and Taliban remnant fighters and criminal narcotics cartels.
"I'm more concerned in the long term about the results of the drug war in Afghanistan than I am about resurgent Taliban, because the linkage to the economy, which is somewhere around 50 percent of the country's gross domestic product, is tied to the narcotrafficking. It also bleeds over into the system of law and order, the police system, the corruption and the like," he said.
NATO operations in Afghanistan run the gamut from defensive force protection to offensive counterterrorism.
But he stressed that creating a fully stable and prosperous Afghanistan depends on more than just foreign military forces. He pointed to a fully trained Afghan police force and a corruption-free legal system as essential to this cause.
"Until such time as we are able to stitch up the capabilities of the (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai government, which deserves our support, to meet the very high expectations of the people of Afghanistan, we're going to have those areas of instability," he said.