Jones Says NATO Healthy, Adapting to 21st Century
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2006 The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is healthy and its best years lie ahead, Marine Gen. James L. Jones said today at the Europe Atlantic Council here.
Jones stepped down as NATO’s supreme allied commander earlier this month.
While some aspects of the alliance may need work, Jones said that, on the whole, it is an “incredibly healthy organization.”
Jones assumed his office in January 2003 after serving as the commandant of the Marine Corps. During his time in the position, the alliance has changed dramatically.
“Perhaps the highlight of the last four years was witnessing the accession of seven new nations into the alliance in 2004,” he said. “It was a very emotional moment for seven former Warsaw Pact countries.”
Membership in NATO meant acceptance in the free world to the former communist countries, Jones said.
“There was a sort of palpable enthusiasm for freedom, democracy, rule of law and just the vast potential for those people that had been unleashed,” he said. “You feel every day their enthusiasm from these new members.”
During Jones’ tenure, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan grew from a force providing security in and around the Afghan capital of Kabul, to providing security for the entire country. The NATO commander in Afghanistan now commands 32,000 troops from 32 different countries, Jones said.
The NATO mission in Afghanistan and NATO training mission in Iraq are just two operations that show the term “out of area operations” is obsolete, he said.
During the Cold War, NATO’s job was to defend Western Europe from the menace of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. There were no “out-of-area operations, nor was the possibility even really contemplated," he said.
“It is a given that NATO is operating today on three different continents with more than 50,000 troops committed to NATO missions,” he said.
Troops under NATO command operate in Asia, Africa and Europe, and Jones said the alliance is also embracing change. “Nowhere was that more in evidence than in establishing the NATO Response Force,” he said.
The force – 25,000 personnel ready to deploy at a moment’s notice – is now fully operational and capable. The general said the force is NATO’s greatest commitment to transformation.
The force is ready to “take on missions at a strategic distance, but in an expeditionary manner,” he said.
The NATO Response Force’s first real deployment – to Pakistan to help with humanitarian relief following the earthquakes in January 2005 – is a prime example of this, Jones said.
The fact that the force’s first mission was a humanitarian operation has also caused some reassessment in NATO, he said.
“NATO is reinventing itself and re-explaining itself because in this world NATO is thought of, correctly, as principally a warfighting organization,” he said. “This transformation of NATO – going from a reactive 20th-century force, which it needed to be, to a 21st-century more expeditionary and agile force – brings with a whole lot of things” that countries didn’t realize when they signed up for the process in 2002.
“It has caused a lot of pain because it gets you into such things as multinational logistics (and) organic intelligence, which NATO has never had,” he said.
Other transformational aspects during Jones’ command included eliminating duplicate NATO headquarters, disestablishing the Alled Command Atlantic and replacing it with the Allied Command Transformation and placing all operations under Allied Command Europe.
This is not to say there are not problems that NATO must address, Jones said. First and foremost is money. The per capita share of many countries has actually gone down since the Prague Summit in 2002. NATO nations agreed during that summit to spend roughly 3 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.
Another problem is national caveats, Jones said. This is where troops assigned to a mission has such stringent restrictions placed on them, that commanders can hardly use them.
But the alliance is remarkably adaptable and resilient, Jones said. “The other bit of evidence that the alliance is healthy is that I know of no countries that are trying to leave the alliance," Jones said. "And I know quite a few that are trying to queue up and measure up to become members by as early as 2008."