By Nigel Sheinwald - 11/18/10 04:57 PM EST
Tomorrow, President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron join other NATO leaders in Lisbon for a Summit meeting that will define the future of the Alliance.
NATO has achieved some notable successes since the fall of the Berlin Wall: helping Eastern Europe to transition from communist dictatorship to democratic prosperity; underwriting peace in the Balkans; and sustaining a high intensity campaign in Afghanistan. But where does the Alliance go from here, in a world in which the threats – and the very concept of security - is rapidly changing?
This week Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague was in Washington to talk about his vision of the security challenge in a globalized and networked world. He argued that it is no longer enough to protect our citizens within our own borders. Our whole way of life requires international trade and travel, the safe flows of goods and people, open seas, secure energy supplies, access to technology, a sustainable global economy and climate and food security. And this means addressing threats long before they reach our shores, using diplomacy, development aid and our intelligence services to help avoid the need for military action as a last resort.
NATO has already begun to change. Lisbon will take things further. Leaders will agree to a new “Strategic Concept” that will outline how NATO plans to retain its relevance as the most successful military alliance in history. So we will see changes to NATO’s military command structures to make them more flexible and deployable. We will see NATO not only protecting our homelands against military threats, but expanding its role to address some of the 21st century challenges to our security, including cyber threats and missile proliferation. And we will see NATO developing new capabilities to counter these dangers, including a Europe-wide Ballistic Missile shield for Alliance populations.
The Lisbon Summit is important in another – and more immediate – respect. It presents an opportunity for the governments of all 48 ISAF troop contributing nations to reaffirm their commitment to the mission in Afghanistan. No one can doubt that military operations in Afghanistan continue to be hard grinding. As the second largest troop contributor after the United States, and with our soldiers fighting in some of the most difficult and dangerous areas, Britons know only too well that coalition troop losses have been high. And the insurgents are still making life miserable for too many Afghans. But with a comprehensive strategy, and under the leadership of General Petraeus, we are starting to turn this around.
Key to our success will be how quickly and effectively we can build up Afghan capacity to take responsibility for their own security. So Lisbon will mark the launch of the process of "inteqal" – Pashtun and Dari for “transition”. This process for passing responsibility for security to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will begin in early 2011. And President Karzai has said that he expects the ANSF to be leading on security throughout Afghanistan by December 2014 - the target for completion of transition.
But none of this can proceed until conditions on the ground, and the quality of the ANSF available, meet the necessary standard. So the success of our strategy depends very fundamentally on Afghanistan’s allies investing serious effort in the training and mentoring of ANSF. ISAF contributors are devoting increasing troop numbers to this role, but we need more. The Lisbon Summit needs to be the spur to make this happen. It is the British government’s firm conviction that the international community cannot afford to turn it back on Afghanistan again, as we all did after the Soviet occupation.
The renewal of NATO in Lisbon will show that this old dog can certainly learn new tricks. But we should not be complacent: there is nothing preordained about NATO’s success or its durability. Its effectiveness as an alliance rests only its members’ capacity and political will to meet these new threats. That’s why – despite the formidable fiscal pressures – the U.K. has maintained our commitment to spending two per cent of GDP on our defense, as well as investing in the other capabilities needed to protect ourselves in the future. And why the British government stands foursquare with the United States to urge all our NATO partners to bear their share of responsibility for our collective security. That’s our vision for Lisbon.
Sheinwald is the British Ambassador to the U.S.