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U.S. Hopes NATO’s Proposed Reforms Ready This Year

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2010 – U.S. officials hope a series of reforms envisioned for the 28-country NATO alliance will be available for review by member nations when they convene later this year, a senior defense official said today.

Those reforms, spelled out broadly by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates this week, include sweeping changes to a 61-year-old institution suffering from deep problems in how it perceives and responds to threats in an era when its scope has widened beyond traditional Cold War boundaries.

Providing further clarity on the timeline of those expectations, Alexander Vershbow, assistant secretary of defense for international strategic affairs, said today he hopes proposed NATO changes would be ready ahead of a NATO meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, slated for November.

“We are hoping that allies will have the chance to approve a package of reforms that will help us meet the vision and the ambitions set out in the Strategic Concept,” Vershbow told reporters at the Foreign Press Center here.

The remarks this week came as the alliance undergoes a self-assessment that will culminate in the Strategic Concept, a once-per-decade process of redefining and articulating the alliance’s purpose and capabilities in light of the often mercurial security environment that frames the organization.

While Gates said the new concept would not attempt to “reinvent the wheel,” he acknowledged dramatic changes in the security landscape since similar self-analyses in decades past. Threats such as transnational terrorism emanating from failed states, for instance, were mostly theoretical concerns when the collective security group outlined it in the 1999 concept paper.

In light of the altered security climate, senior defense officials have put under the microscope what has been characterized as shortfalls in NATO’s level of commitment to its mission in Afghanistan and responsible budgeting.

Speaking to NATO representatives at the National Defense University here about the culture of pacifism that emerged in Europe following World War II, Gates this week said “the continent has gone too far in the other direction.”

“The demilitarization of Europe -- where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it -- has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st,” he said.

Expressing similar concerns, Vershbow today said he hopes NATO members use the forthcoming meeting in Lisbon to recalibrate the alliance’s solidarity.

“We hope it will be an opportunity to recommit to one another's defense, to better understand the variety of new challenges the alliance is facing, and to prepare ourselves to face these challenges that lie ahead,” he said. “We want this to be a vehicle to help our publics, our parliaments, especially the rising new generations, to better understand what NATO means, what it's for, [and] what it can do in the 21st century.”

In his remarks this week, Gates praised the beefed-up troop commitment that member nations have pledged in Afghanistan, where non-U.S. troops will increase from roughly 30,000 last summer to 50,000. He urged NATO to muster the same commitment and willingness in its approach to a much-needed overhaul of its current institutional practices.

“All of this should be a wake-up call that NATO needs serious, far-reaching, and immediate reforms to address a crisis that has been years in the making,” he said. “And unless the Strategic Concept spurs operational and institutional changes like those I just mentioned, it will not be worth the paper it is printed on.”

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Alexander Vershbow

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