NATO: A bruised alliance marches on: Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

The new secretary-general of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, with his vision for the immediate future of the alliance. He is keen to get Afghanistan right, and seems to advocate expanding NATO ever eastward, into the Caucases. I remember reading about the NATO ‘Response Force’ before. I have no doubt it will become one in the same with the EU’s Rapid Reaction Force at some point in the future.

The Atlantic Alliance is a unique and invaluable organization. It is the place where North America and Europe agree on common action. And it is the platform for our democracies to defend our security, our values and our interests, wherever required – together.

I have come into the job with my eyes open. I know that NATO has had a bruising year. The Iraq war sparked enormous debate among even the closest friends and allies, in the UN and the European Union as well as NATO.

It is time to get back to business. There are too many threats on the horizon, too many challenges for us to tackle. For us to succeed, there is no alternative to open security dialogue and profound security cooperation among the NATO Allies, as well as stronger cooperation between NATO and other key international players, such as the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). There is no time to waste.

First and foremost, we must get Afghanistan right. If we want to win the war on terrorism, we must win the peace in Afghanistan. That is why the North Atlantic alliance is leading the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul and is expanding to other parts of the country. An overall operational plan is currently being defined, and I will be pushing hard for that plan to be approved in time for the June elections. NATO’s member states are well aware that having decided on such an expansion, they must now provide the military assets needed to carry it out.

NATO must also develop the modern, effective military capabilities necessary to meet the challenges of a changing world. The new NATO Response Force is a big step in the right direction. It will give us a fast-moving force that will ensure that all the allies can engage together at the sharp end of military operations. And military reforms in many of our member states will result in an increased pool of deployable forces. My job is to ensure that the momentum of NATO’s military transformation is maintained. Because capability equals credibility.

Today, the Alliance is supporting the Polish-led multinational division in Iraq. NATO is providing planning, intelligence, communications and logistical assistance. If the allies were to decide that they wish for NATO to do more, it can and it will. My job, as secretary general, is to ensure that if and when the decision is made, NATO is ready to do the job.

We will soon welcome seven new countries into the NATO family. We are helping the Balkan countries return into the European mainstream. NATO is engaging with Russia and Ukraine; building our partnerships with countries across Europe, through the Caucasus, and into Central Asia; strengthening our bridges to countries of North Africa and the Middle East, and building a strategic partnership with the European Union.

Our goal is for NATO to make us all safer by exporting security using a range of tools, including partnership. The need for outreach and engagement is a common theme in NATO’s strategic concept, the European security strategy, and the U.S. national security strategy.

Can NATO cope with this ambitious agenda? It can on the foundation of a pragmatic, realistic and trusting transatlantic relationship.

As President George W. Bush said in his State of the Union address, the United States must never forget the vital contribution of its international partners, or dismiss their sacrifices. I couldn’t agree more. I also see the clear need for an effective multilateral response to security threats. We need to work together. We need multilateralism with teeth in a still dangerous world

The writer, former foreign minister of the Netherlands, is the new secretary-general of NATO. BRUSSELS The Atlantic Alliance is a unique and invaluable organization. It is the place where North America and Europe agree on common action. And it is the platform for our democracies to defend our security, our values and our interests, wherever required – together.