Seal of the Department of Defense U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
On the Web:
Media contact: +1 (703) 697-5131/697-5132
Public contact:
or +1 (703) 571-3343

Preserving History’s Greatest Alliance
By Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, As Printed in The Washington Post, Monday, January 08, 2001

As President-elect George W. Bush completes the appointment of his foreign and defense policy teams, our allies and partners – scrutinizing campaign pledges -- express either cautious optimism or modest anxiety. During the confirmation hearings of Colin Powell for secretary of state and Donald Rumsfeld for his second tenure as secretary of defense, the Senate will seek clarification on both the direction and substance of what America's role is to be in global affairs. Among the many pressing issues deserving the new administration's prompt attention will be the

preservation and strengthening of NATO, which has ensured transatlantic peace and security for a half-century.

The likeliest threats to NATO no longer emanate from external forces beyond its borders. Last year's air campaign over Kosovo proved that 19 democracies could act in unison to confront a threat to their common interests and values. Paradoxically, that campaign highlighted stark disparities in military capabilities across the alliance -- such as critical airlift, sealift, aerial refueling and precision-guided munitions – that could undermine what has been described as the greatest alliance in history.

Fortunately, at the 50th anniversary summit in Washington last year, the alliance committed itself to rectifying these imbalances. Regrettably, progress since has been less than brisk. At a time when the United States is embarking on the largest sustained increase in defense spending in 15 years, some allies have announced only modest increases, while others are either barely maintaining spending levels or are reducing investments in defense. While reform and restructuring efforts can achieve savings, such inequities in defense commitments inevitably will yield political consequences that are likely to subvert rather than strengthen NATO solidarity.

NATO's European members have expressed a desire to play a stronger role in European security. As a commitment to greater burden sharing, his is a welcomed step. The United States supports the European Union's efforts to develop its own security and defense policy backed by a force of 50,000 to 60,000 capable of deploying rapidly and sustaining itself for up to a year.

A stronger Europe would mean a more balanced transatlantic relationship. A stronger Europe would improve the ability of its forces to operate in future coalition operations. Indeed, the EU's desire to create such a force, and NATO's commitment to improve its defense capabilities, can be mutually reinforcing. Yet, invigorated and more balanced forces can be achieved only if both institutions proceed in a spirit of cooperation rather than competition.

First and foremost, there must be agreement that NATO remains the principal forum for political and military cooperation on transatlantic security. Today's threats may be less visible than those of the Cold War, but they are no less lethal or catastrophic in destructive capacity. In

addition to destabilizing threats posed by ethnic hatreds, virulent nationalism and economic deprivation, cyber-terrorists seek the ability to cause mass damage in nanoseconds, while others plan for the release of anthrax, Ebola or other genetic monsters.

Any European force therefore must not result in the diminution of the alliance. To avoid a squandering of resources or confusion in a crisis, there should be no redundant bureaucracies or divergence of efforts. Both NATO and the EU should be guided by the same capabilities, doctrine, standards and transparency. In this regard, recent steps taken by the European Union at the foreign ministers' meeting in Nice are a starting point for a common, coherent and collaborative approach that meets the defense planning needs of both NATO and the European


Second, any effort to ensure a stronger Europe militarily must not rupture Europe politically. The six NATO allies currently not members of the European Union -- Turkey, Norway, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Iceland -- must be participants, not spectators in the planning of European-led operations that will affect their security. Likewise, the four members of the EU that are not members of the Alliance -- Ireland, Austria, Finland and Sweden -- must be permitted to consult closely with NATO. There can neither be a "NATO Caucus" within the EU nor an "EU Caucus" within the alliance. Both must evolve into integrated, transparent, complementary structures rather than autonomous and competing institutions.

Finally, Europe's efforts to play a stronger role in security matters must be matched by a meaningful and sustained commitment in capitals across the continent. Determined leadership must convince parliaments, publics and finance ministries that we face real dangers that demand real responses. A sound military force structure cannot fall victim to a form of political-military trichinosis that creates jobs for generals instead of promoting war-fighting efficiencies. Rhetorical pronouncements about force commitments must not mask hollow capabilities, which would leave North America and Europe to rely on uncoordinated, inefficient and ad hoc responses to destabilizing threats.

NATO faces a contest between those who favor an alliance that remains strong and flexible enough to conquer the uncertain challenges of the future and those who believe that greater European burden-sharing inevitably must lead to an independent EU security structure. With the future and fate of transatlantic security at stake, this is no sporting event. Who wins this contest really matters.