Summit to Highlight NATO's Evolving Capabilities
By Karen Parrish
WASHINGTON, May 18, 2012 - The Defense Department's top NATO expert said there are three big agenda items and one strategic priority that will occupy center stage at the alliance's May 20-21 summit in Chicago.
The three central "deliverables" involve Afghanistan, smart defense and NATO partnerships outside the alliance itself, James J. Townsend Jr., deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy, told Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service reporters yesterday.
What allows the alliance to come to agreement on such weighty issues, he said, is NATO's strength as an organization where nations can join together to address global concerns.
On Afghanistan, the Chicago summit provides an opportunity to do "an important bit of messaging" to members of the alliance and its partner nations, but also to Afghans, to Pakistanis, and to the Taliban, Townsend said.
Townsend said NATO and its allies "will not leave Afghans behind after 2014. We're going to be there with them."
The summit also will involve discussion on agreements on how NATO will acquire needed military capabilities over the next 10 years, Townsend said. NATO's smart defense approach combines member-nations' buying power to collectively acquire new capabilities for the alliance, he noted.
"Since the end of the Cold War, we've seen a steady decline in allies' spending on defense," Townsend said. "That decline has accelerated over the past couple of years as we've moved into the debt crisis and the euro zone crisis in Europe."
But, he added, alliance nations realize even as defense spending shrinks that NATO has capability gaps it needs to fill.
Using the smart defense approach, two, three, or four countries might come together to acquire capability that none of them could afford otherwise, Townsend said.
Some of those gaps involve refueling and intelligence, surveillance and response capabilities, and a number of nations have already signed on to collective agreements to fill them, he said.
Announcements at the summit involving interim missile defense plans and the alliance ground surveillance system will demonstrate that NATO is moving forward to meet future challenges, Townsend added.
The summit also offers a chance to celebrate NATO partnerships outside the alliance, which greatly extend the organization's reach, he said.
"NATO has established partnerships globally that not a lot of people know about," Townsend said. "Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea have been very helpful to the alliance, particularly in Afghanistan, and in other places."
NATO's continued growth and evolution keep the 63-year-old organization vital, Townsend said.
He said the violence that erupted in the Balkans in the early 1990s quickly proved NATO's continued worth as an organizing agent to restore peace, as the alliance directed the political will of its member nations towards agreement on a particular course of action and organized a collective military response.
"So in the 1990's as we dealt with our first post-Cold War crisis in the Balkans, NATO began to validate itself as a post-Cold War requirement as well," he added.
The second point that made the allies rethink any idea about doing away with NATO, Townsend said, "was that we had a long line of nations knocking on the door wanting to join." Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were followed by other nations eager to join the alliance, he said.
NATO deployed forces to tamp down violence in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans. More recently, the alliance sent troops to fight pirates operating off the coast of Somalia, and NATO helped to protect the citizens of Libya, Townsend said.
Today, he added, it's universally recognized that the need for the alliance "is unquestioned."
At the same time, member nations must ensure the alliance stays strong and viable for the future, he said.
"It's something you can't take for granted," Townsend said. "And when these summits come along every year or two years or so, these are opportunities for us."
The summit offers the chance to "push forward" initiatives like smart defense, and "helps us deal with ongoing operations like Afghanistan," where NATO provides some 60,000 troops, he said.
Today's NATO, now strengthened by the new blood and ideas of former adversaries, remains a strong and vital alliance able to address global issues, Townsend said.
"Ten years down the road, I hope that we're in a state of alliance that continues to be militarily strong despite the austerity that we're in," he said.
"I hope that we see an alliance that is creative, an alliance that is always ... thinking of efficiencies and always thinking about the future," Townsend added. "I think we can see an alliance that has the full support of the United States, of the American people, of Congress, and also the full support of the allies."
James J. Townsend, Jr.