This weekend, the heads of state for the member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will gather in Chicago to discuss its future. As someone who has served both as a Member of Congress and as a soldier under NATO command in Afghanistan, I have a unique perspective on NATO’s role and future.
NATO is history’s most enduring military alliance. Originally formed after World War II, NATO was designed to thwart the communist aggression embodied by the former Soviet Union in Europe. This objective has been achieved.
While NATO’s original anti-Soviet mission may have been fulfilled, the organization now must decide if it will establish a much bolder and robust global presence to defend democracy and liberty, or just fade quietly into the night. In short, NATO is at a crossroads.
As a former member of the House Armed Services Committee and having served in Afghanistan, I believe that NATO should embrace a broader and more global role in promoting Western democracy and freedoms around the world. The rise of Islamic terror and trans-national terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda are now the biggest threat to NATO allies today. Gone is the era when ensuring the safety and security of democracy in the West meant focusing exclusively on one specific geographic location in Europe, like the Soviet Union.
Some pundits, on both sides of the Atlantic, argue that as security forces wind down in Afghanistan, NATO should ‘return’ to its European roots. They argue that the operation in Afghanistan was, at best, a diversion from NATO’s core mission.
This is wrong. To adequately protect the Western democracies, NATO must embrace a more global security agenda. The NATO mission in Afghanistan was not a diversion, but the model for the future of NATO. With an increasingly globalized economy and interconnected information-technology environment, threats to the member nations of NATO like terrorism, nuclear proliferation and international piracy can and will come from any corner of the world.
As other nations outside of Europe embrace Western-style democracy, NATO should welcome those states as partners, and integrate them into its force structure - especially countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea.