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Changing World Leads to NATO’S Transformation

By Carol L. Bowers
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2008 – NATO’s creation in 1949 provided a unique framework for Western military cooperation in an era of Soviet expansion, and subsequently throughout the Cold War.

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U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert D. Bishop Jr., the commander of 3rd Air Force, answers questions from the media while meeting with Bulgarian air force officials at Graf Ignattevo Airfield, Bulgaria, Oct. 18, 2007. Over 250 U.S. Air Force Airmen from AvianoAir Base, Italy, trained with Bulgarian air force airmen during exercise Rodopi Javelin 2007 at the airfield. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The North Atlantic Treaty’s defining feature is the agreement of member nations to provide mutual defense. In a pledge known as “Article 5” for its place in the treaty, member nations agreed to treat an attack against one as an attack against all, and to respond with force as necessary.

But for most of its life, NATO had no cause to flex its military arm or test its warfighting capabilities. Although countries pledged troops, money and supplies to create a NATO fighting force, the organization’s broad approach to collective security involved dialogue, cooperation and self-defense -- a strategy that stood NATO in good stead through the Cold War and well into the 1990s.

The eruption of Bosnia’s civil war in the early 1990s prompted a shift in NATO’s strategic view of security and planted the seeds of NATO forces’ military transformation. Alarmed by the human rights violations and “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia, NATO members saw that in the interest of collective security, they would need to consider military engagements outside NATO nations’ borders. Under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty, members often had consulted one another on matters of concern or potential threats to member nations, but until 1993 no Article 4 consultation had resulted in a military engagement.

Operation Deny Flight launched in April 1993 as a mission to prevent aerial intrusion over Bosnia and Herzegovina, and nearly a year later, on Feb. 28, 1994, NATO aircraft shot down four war planes violating the no-fly zone in the alliance’s first military engagement.

In August 1995, allied air strikes on Bosnian-Serb positions were used to help compel the warring parties into peace negotiations, which followed with the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement on Dec. 14, 1994.

After the signing of the Dayton agreement, NATO deployed its first peacekeeping mission, sending an implementation force into Bosnia that soon was replaced by a stabilization force to help facilitate the country’s reconstruction and train Bosnian military forces. The stabilization force’s mission ended in December 2004, with the European Union peacekeeping force taking over. In 2006, Bosnia and Herzegovina joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program.

NATO was driven to act again when violence erupted in Kosovo. NATO’s aim was to achieve a peaceful resolution of the crisis and promote stability and security in neighboring Albania and Macedonia. In pursuit of these objectives, Albania and Macedonia became members of the Partnership for Peace program.

The operations in Bosnia and Kosovo taught NATO that Cold-War style logistics were no longer viable. Modern military operations call for rapid deployments, and NATO began to consider strategic and military transformation that would create an expeditionary force. That process sped up with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, with the realization that attacks may come from many quarters and NATO needed a fast, technologically superior and sustainable force that also could stand ready to meet the new challenges of the new century.

The NATO Response Force was in operation by Oct. 15, 2003, barely one year after members had approved its formation. By October 2004, the force had 17,000 troops and was declared ready to take on a full range of missions. By the NATO Riga Summit in November 2006, the force was declared fully operational with 25,000 troops.

Through the NATO Response Force, member countries commit land, air, naval or special operations units for six-month rotations. Participation in the NRF is preceded by a six-month training program that includes complex exercises of both a military and peacekeeping or humanitarian aid nature.

The response force is configured to deploy as a stand-alone force for NATO nations’ collective defense under Article 5 of the treaty and for crisis support including evacuation, support of disaster consequence management in the event of chemical, biological or nuclear attacks, humanitarian crisis support and counterterrorism operations as well as a quick response team to support diplomacy and deter crises.

Elements of the force helped to protect the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, and were deployed to support the Afghan presidential elections in September 2004.

The force also has been used in disaster relief, including in response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the United States and humanitarian aid to Pakistan.

The last few years have seen a dramatic evolution in NATO’s thinking and in its posture, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said recently. “With all the new capabilities we have forged in the heat of battle – and with new attitudes – we are seeing what it means to be expeditionary,” he said. “We must now commit ourselves to institutionalize what we have learned and to complete our transformation.”

Gates said the alliance must find the resolve to work together through a new set of challenges “so that, many years from now, our children and their children will look back on this period as a time when we recommitted ourselves to the common ideals that bind us together -- a time when we again faced a threat to peace and to our liberty squarely and courageously, a time when we again shed blood and helped war devastated people nourish the seeds of freedom and foster peaceful, productive societies.

“That mission drew us together in 1948 and keeps us together today,” he said.

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Robert M. Gates

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