What Did We Learn in Chicago?

WASHINGTON -- If nothing else, this past weekend’s gathering in Chicago of NATO Allies and partners demonstrated the type of political resolve and commitment that has been the core of the Alliance’s ability to keep its members secure for over 60 years. While Afghanistan clearly dominated the issues at the summit, NATO endorsed key proposals on defense capabilities, the need to streamline and modernize in a time of budget constraints, and strengthening NATO’s partnerships outside the 28-nation alliance. In short, there were no surprises.


In fact, despite the political turbulence that often makes headlines, populations remain steadfast in their support for their nations’ membership in the Alliance. According to the findings of Transatlantic Trends surveys between 2002 and 2011, majorities in the United States and European Union agreed that the NATO alliance had been essential for their countries’ security. Majorities also agreed that NATO must be prepared to act outside of Europe. They were also reluctant to cut defense spending, even as they supported reductions in overall government spending. Neither Europeans nor Americans were optimistic about the prospects of stability in post-intervention Libya, and solid majorities in the EU and United States supported reducing troop levels in Afghanistan.


Even with all the challenges facing the Alliance today, however, it is important that NATO look to the future so it can anticipate and cope with the uncertainties of the security landscape. As Secretary General Rasmussen stated on the second day of the summit, NATO has been successful at keeping member nations secure because it continually reassess its strengths and weaknesses and focuses on “getting ready to face the next challenge.” Indeed, while NATO has work to do to better synchronize and streamline its forces, if there is one issue that stands out as the Alliance looks ahead to a summit in 2014, it is the need to understand that future Alliance security challenges will most likely arise from outside of Europe, and that previous conceptualizations of “out of area” must be shed for the Alliance to remain relevant.


Mark R. Jacobson is a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, D.C.

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