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Diplomacy in Action

Revitalizing NATO: From Lisbon to Chicago

Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Washington, DC
April 30, 2012



Thank you, Steve [Flanagan].

Steve is a very old colleague and friend. Not old, a valued colleague and friend. And we have worked for so many years, in and out of government, on Europe and Alliance issues together. It is really a privilege to be here, and I want to thank you for the work you and your team do here at CSIS.

And I especially want to thank you for the work you did in support of NATO’s new Strategic Concept. You were a critical partner to Madeleine Albright as she led the group of experts who provided very important input to the development of that Strategic Concept which was agreed in Lisbon in November of 2010.

And I am also happy to see so many friends here today, colleagues, members of the diplomatic community with whom I work very closely. Thank you for taking time to come and join us for this conversation. Many of you know I have devoted much of my career to working on strengthening our Alliance with Europe, to ensuring that it is capable of meeting the threats we face together today, and that it is capable of adapting to a rapidly changing strategic environment.

This has already happened many times before in NATO’s history – and it is happening again today.

We are, as Steve said, now less than three weeks from the NATO Summit that the President will host in Chicago, and he’s been bragging about hosting this Summit in his hometown. This is the largest international event that he will host this year – with more than 60 delegations participating in this Summit

Revitalizing NATO

Because today’s program is titled “From Lisbon to Chicago”, I’d like to provide some context for that journey.

You may recall that a little more than two months after President Obama took office in 2009, he travelled to Strasbourg, France and Kehl, Germany, to attend NATO’s 60th Anniversary Summit.

On that first major overseas trip of his Presidency he also attended a G-20 meeting in London, he met with EU leaders and delivered a speech on nuclear arms control and non-proliferation in Prague, and he visited Turkey. This trip was designed to signal both the breadth and depth of the relationship that he intended to have with Europe.

I want to start with that point because it is important to understand how the President viewed NATO and our cooperation with Europe, and the overall role of alliances and partnerships in our foreign policy from the outset of the Obama Administration.

In the early days of an Administration, those you who have served in Government know you have the opportunity to set the trajectory for what will follow. In Strasbourg, the President was very deliberate when he said, “We cannot be content to merely celebrate the achievements of the 20th century, or enjoy the comforts of the 21st century; we must learn from the past to build on its success. We must renew our institutions, our alliances. We must seek the solutions to the challenges of this young century.”

So, from the start of this Administration, revitalizing our alliances has been a foundational element of our work. This includes our bilateral ties with Asia, but the best example that we can point to is our work with NATO.

As the President has said repeatedly, NATO is the most successful alliance in human history and together we have faced challenges that none could face alone.

But it is also true that NATO requires stewardship and NATO is at its best when it is based on mutual respect and guided by respected American leadership.

President Obama has provided the leadership that NATO needed to reweave the fabric of the Alliance, which had been badly frayed.

Today, NATO stands united and the Alliance is doing more than ever to advance security – within Europe, within the NATO Treaty area, as well as beyond.


The President views NATO as a unique American asset – and indeed it is an asset to every country that is a member of the Alliance.

No commitment is more solemn than the collective defense agreement we share with our NATO allies. The duty we have in each other to uphold Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which stipulates that an attack on one is an attack on all, serves as an unbreakable bond for the transatlantic community.

Perhaps the value of this commitment isn’t as apparent to some as it used to be, now that we no longer need to look across the hills of Central Europe toward looming danger.

But the truth is that we have to depend on each other now more than ever, in practical terms, because we live in a very dynamic world and the reliability of an Alliance is more important than ever. Afghanistan and NATO’s other operations are prime examples of this.

Currently, more than 125,000 allied troops are serving in Afghanistan, and that takes place more than 3,000 miles from NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, where troops from all 28 members serve with troops from 22 non-member partner countries who have joined in the ISAF mission. Only NATO has the integrated command and control structure that could manage such a complex undertaking.

And 7,000 more soldiers are maintaining security in the Balkans, where KFOR continues to play a crucial role – including providing the assurance of a safe and secure environment during the Serbian presidential elections that will take place this coming Sunday – presidential and parliamentary elections. NATO is also conducting maritime operations under a NATO flag.

And as you know, last year we successfully concluded a critical mission in Libya that saved countless lives.

There really isn’t an issue today that is of national security importance that we do not work on with our European allies: countering terrorism, dealing with weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile proliferation, addressing cyber-security, enhancing energy security, the list goes on and on.

When we act with our allies – with countries that share our values and that we can rely on – whether in Afghanistan or in the skies over Libya or combating piracy, it not only increases the international legitimacy of our efforts, but at the same time it reduces the burden to the United States.

So the belief the President set forth as a guiding principle for our foreign policy, that we are stronger when we stand together with allies and partners, has brought us to the place that we find ourselves today – with a reenergized and united NATO.

Lisbon to Chicago

At the Lisbon Summit in November 2010, the President tasked us to recapture NATO’s potential and focus it on the future.

As you know, in Lisbon France rejoined NATO’s military structures, allies agreed on a clear process for the transition of security in Afghanistan, and we defined the critical 21st century defense capabilities that NATO requires.

Perhaps most important, the Alliance also presented its current Strategic Concept – which is NATO’s roadmap for the future – essentially its updated mission statement.

This document set a solid course for future transformation. I can tell you that it hasn’t always been easy and those who know NATO understand that its transformation is perpetual, but that is part of its dynamism, and we have made tremendous progress in just the 18 months since the last Summit in implementing the goals we set for ourselves in Lisbon.

I want to provide you with some specifics examples of that progress and explain how we intend to carry it forward in a few weeks’ time in Chicago.

We have three main substantive dimensions of our Summit – which involve first, NATO’s military mission in Afghanistan, second, its development of defense capabilities for the future, and third, its efforts to increase and incentivize the contributions of NATO’s partners.

NATO Missions

So first, on Afghanistan: operationally, NATO has maintained the highest op-tempo the Alliance has ever experienced in the last few years.

In Afghanistan, while continuing to help the Afghans to maintain a secure environment throughout the country, we began to implement the Lisbon framework in July 2011 with the start of transition.

From that point to today, we have handed over security responsibility to the Afghan forces in areas that comprise more than half the population of the country. With our allies and partners, we have continued to train the Afghan Army and Police and we have witnessed growth in their size and their ability as we have worked with the Afghan Government to build capacity for the development of its institutions as well.

At the Chicago Summit, in line with what the President said in his speech on Afghanistan last June, we will shape the next phase of transition.

To be clear, this is not a departure from the Lisbon framework and the course that was agreed there by allies, partners, and the Government of Afghanistan to complete the transition by the end of 2014.

Setting forth the next phase of transition in Chicago is an important step that will ensure that we complete our work on time. In order to ensure a responsible transition of security, we have judged that it is necessary to develop milestones along the way, and it is our intention to do that in Chicago.

In addition, and very much in support of the transition process, we want the Afghan National Security Forces (the ANSF) to be able to maintain security once it is in their hands.

We have witnessed a qualitative improvement in the Afghan forces, as demonstrated in their response to the recent attacks in Kabul.

They are taking more of the lead in areas where NATO and ISAF forces are partnered with them and they have taken on greater responsibilities for training. These positive signs need to be reinforced in our judgment by a tangible commitment from NATO allies and partners to the sustainability of the Afghan forces beyond transition and we are working toward that goal for the Summit as well.

Finally, as transition progresses and as we commit to contributions that sustain the ANSF after that transition is completed, we have to look beyond the end of our combat mission in 2014 and, together with our Afghan partners, further define the long-term relationship between NATO and Afghanistan.

The conclusion of the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement is a significant step in demonstrating our enduring commitment.

Several other allied countries have also recently reached similar agreements with the Afghans.

NATO’s collective support for training, advising, and assisting the Afghans once they are fully responsible for their own country will add needed confidence.

Our work in Afghanistan is substantial and it requires our continued dedication. But NATO proved in March of 2011 that the Alliance also stands ready for new challenges, even unexpected challenges.

Then, the President judged that NATO should play a leading role in fulfilling the UN mandate in Libya – because he knew that only NATO had the capacity to provide the command and control necessary to integrate multiple allied and partner air forces in an effective operation.

Operation Unified Protector in Libya demonstrated the versatility, capability, and truly unique quality of NATO in its rapid response to conduct political consultations, perform military planning and preparation, deploy forces, and integrate partners into kinetic operations.

There is no other group of countries on earth that could do what we did so successfully for the Libyan people.

And I will underscore that in nine days – just nine days – we went from a UN resolution to putting aircraft in the skies over Libya.

We all know that NATO succeeded in protecting civilians and that change is now in the hands of the Libyan people. While the military intervention in Libya was successful, we also focused on important lessons to be learned from that operation. And that dovetailed with work already underway to learn the lessons of Afghanistan for the Alliance.

Defense Capabilities

This brings me to the second area of progress since Lisbon and the second key priority for the Summit, which is on defense capabilities.

The Libya operation highlighted heavy allied dependence on the United States for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets. We therefore seized the initiative and have worked to secure common funding for an allied Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capability called the Alliance Ground Surveillance program, or AGS.

This program will help NATO acquire a long-range UAV capability that would not be affordable for most allies on an individual basis and is a superb example of defense burden sharing, or what Secretary General Rasmussen calls Smart Defense.

We support his efforts as a useful means toward meeting the goals NATO has set for the development of the critical capabilities that it needs.

It allows allies to prioritize, to pool resources and share capabilities, and to specialize where appropriate. NATO as a whole will benefit, and the whole will be stronger than the parts.

This is not to say that we were not concerned about capabilities even before the Libya operation. Coming into the Administration, those of us who worked on NATO, and many of you are here today, were keenly aware of a growing gap between American and allied military capabilities.

From the start, the President directed us to place a high priority on NATO maintaining the military capabilities it needs to achieve its objectives, on doing contingency planning for all allies, and on developing new capabilities where they are required.

So at Lisbon, with his NATO counterparts, the President set a number of capabilities objectives for the Alliance to achieve. Work is ongoing in areas such as the protection of NATO’s computer networks and innovative ways to counter IEDs in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

But perhaps the best example of the President’s commitment to NATO’s capabilities of the future is our work on missile defense. The United States is heavily investing in Europe’s security through the development of a NATO missile defense capability.

At Lisbon, our leaders agreed that the Alliance would develop the capability to defend our populations and territories against ballistic missile attacks.

We offered and our allies welcomed the U.S. contribution of the European Phased Adaptive Approach towards realizing this important objective.

Its first phase includes the deployment of a radar in Turkey and an Aegis ship in the Mediterranean that can begin to defend European territory and populations. Since Lisbon, this phase was completed consistent with the commitment the President made to Congress at the end of 2011 and now additional work is underway on the next phase.

At Chicago, it is our intent to declare an interim capability for NATO missile defense based on the ability to employ U.S. assets under NATO command should conditions warrant.

We also will conclude the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review or the DDPR that was tasked by NATO Heads of State and Government at Lisbon.

The DDPR will identify the appropriate mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defense capabilities that NATO needs to meet 21st century security challenges.

We expect it to be approved by NATO Heads of State and Government in Chicago, and it will reaffirm NATO’s determination to maintain modern and flexible capabilities.

These are the concrete deliverables that the President has committed to achieving.

Fulfilling them will make the Alliance stronger and ensure that the Alliance can manage the challenges we all face on the fiscal front while fielding the forces it needs to meet the challenges of today and the future.


The third area of progress since the Lisbon Summit and the last area of our focus for the Chicago Summit is on NATO’s partnerships.

The Strategic Concept of 2010 presents a comprehensive view regarding the value of partners and the desirable and necessary role that they play.

Specifically, it notes that “the promotion of Euro-Atlantic security is best assured through a wide network of partner relationships with countries and organizations around the globe. The partnerships make a concrete and valued contribution to the success of NATO’s fundamental tasks.”

To put it simply, although NATO is regionally based, the threats we face are now global, and partners add real value to Alliance security.

All in all, more than 6,000 troops from partner countries support NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan and in the Balkans.

In Libya, for the first time, Arab state partners played critical roles in the strike mission. Partners also contribute financially to NATO’s operations, conduct training for local forces to help make them become more self-sufficient, and add political support and legitimacy to our efforts.

In terms of progress made since Lisbon, in April of 2011 when NATO’s foreign ministers met in Berlin, they agreed to a set of partnership reforms called for in the Strategic Concept and recommended by our partners. These included 3 major components:

First, they made additional tools and resources available to all of NATO’s partners – including training and support for security sector reform;

Second, they instituted a new system of consultations to allow allies to meet with partners in what is called in NATO-ese “flexible formats” – that is consultations can happen on specific issues with any configuration of partners who are interested in talking to one another; and

Third, the partnership reforms agreed in Lisbon helped to institutionalize early and regular cooperation between the Alliance and capable partners in a given operation.

Through its dynamic partnerships, NATO has been emerging as the hub of a global security network, and we will use the Chicago Summit to demonstrate the value added by partners and to incentivize increased participation and contributions from our global partners.

At the Summit, allies will meet with partners in several sessions to take stock of the work already underway in ongoing operations and to further enhance our relationships.

Let me mention Russia in this context. Russia is an important partner for NATO, and we have worked hard on developing that partnership since the time I served in the Clinton administration at the Pentagon. In fact, we just marked the 15th anniversary of NATO-Russia ties.

Russia has provided substantial support as a major conduit for supplies and personnel to Afghanistan, with over 42,000 containers of cargo transiting Russia to date in support of U.S. troops and our ISAF partners.

It also conducts important counternarcotics training for Afghans. 2,000 officers have been trained under the NATO-Russia Council program. For these reasons, we have invited Russia to participate in the ISAF Summit at Chicago.

Unlike at Lisbon, NATO’s leaders will not hold a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Chicago. President-elect Putin and Secretary General Rasmussen made that decision based the timing of the event, but President Obama continues to support our work to enhance NATO-Russia cooperation going forward.

He also supports NATO having candid conversations in this forum on areas of disagreement with Russia, such as our view that NATO’s door must remain open to new members, that nations must be free to choose their own alliances, and that we reject Russia’s recognition and continued occupation of the separatist regions of Georgia.

We are not interested in outdated, zero-sum thinking with respect to each other’s security, and we want to use the NRC to further practical cooperation. Finding common ground, for example on missile defense, is a worthy endeavor with great potential benefits for NATO and for Russia. The NATO-Russia Council’s recently concluded missile defense exercise – the first that has taken place since 2008 – was an important step forward.

We have a lot more work to do on that front, and we are committed to doing it.


In conclusion, given the presence of members of the diplomatic community here, who are both members and partners of NATO, I want to acknowledge the tremendous work that is done every day by representatives of each NATO country and each partner country to carry forward the revitalization of this Alliance. I’d also like to recognize the men and women who serve our nations on the front lines in the difficult missions we ask them to conduct, with courage and, at times, with great sacrifice.

They have guaranteed our collective freedom for more than sixty years.

Now I haven’t been working on NATO that long, though some days it feels that way!

The President looks forward to beginning the next chapter in this Alliance’s storied history when he welcomes his counterparts to the third Summit on American territory and the first outside of Washington in the Alliance’s history on May 20th and 21st.

Thank you for joining me today, and I look forward to your comments and questions.

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