A New NATO for a New World

Members of my generation tend to look at security through the prism of the Cold War, as if the geopolitical map were a huge game of Risk. They think of big armies, set-piece battles, and countries changing colors after a roll of the dice. There is a comforting logic to this vision. The game makes sense, largely because 'security' in this context is narrowly defined as the freedom from territorial attack.

I suspect that for most young people, the Cold War is like the Peloponnesian War -- ancient history. I don't blame them. In Europe today, the threat of major conflict is lower than it has ever been. NATO and the European Union have helped to spread peace and stability across the continent by creating partnerships with former adversaries and then opening the door for partners to become Allies.

The democratic consolidation of Europe was an inspiring time. But while we were celebrating the benefits of peace, our definition of 'security' began to change. We now live in a time when bombs can masquerade as shoes or printer cartridges; when cyber-attacks buzz like bees through the Internet; and when, for some, Mutually Assured Destruction is not a warning but a goal.

The friendly logic of the old game is long since gone. Fragile states half-way across the globe have become breeding grounds for terrorism, drugs, and the trafficking of weapons or even people. Some thirty countries have or are acquiring ballistic missiles. Every day, cyber-attacks target our banking systems, air traffic control, and power grids.

These are transnational problems requiring mutinational solutions. If NATO did not exist, it would have to be invented, because countries with shared values and a shared history of close cooperation can best address these problems together. As the world's premier multilateral security organization, the transatlantic Alliance will play an essential role in solving the challenges of the 21st century.

Today, NATO Heads of State and Government are meeting in Lisbon, Portugal. There, transatlantic leaders will adopt a wide range of measures and reforms designed to meet these unprecedented challenges.

We will agree upon a new Strategic Concept, a mission statement that will guide the Alliance for the next decade.

We will describe how NATO will deal with a range of new and existing challenges including cyber-warfare, nuclear and missile proliferation, and energy security.

We will explain how NATO will modernize by prioritizing modern military capabilities to meet modern needs.

We will pursue an Alliance missile defense for our populations and territory in Europe, and we will invite Russia to cooperate with us.

We will reach out to other nations and organizations, including the United Nations and the European Union, because global challenges require the broadest possible cooperation.

We will announce a long-term partnership agreement with Afghanistan that will reaffirm our commitment to that country. We will continue to support the Afghan government's efforts to establish sovereignty within its borders. And we will do what we can to give economic and social development in Afghanistan the breathing space it needs to survive.

Make no mistake, Afghanistan's developmental challenges are yet enormous. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Corruption is an endemic problem. The unemployment rate is estimated to be 40 percent. The adult literacy rate is believed to be around 30 percent, and lower still among women.

But there has been real progress. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Afghan real GDP has averaged nearly 13% annual growth since 2005, with an estimated 22.5% growth rate in 2009. Seven million Afghan children are enrolled in school, up from only one million under the Taliban. Girls and women have improved access to education and literacy campaigns.

NATO can only claim some credit for this progress. The fact is that we did not initially engage in Afghanistan to increase the country's GDP or to improve the lot of Afghan women. We acted because the Taliban gave safe refuge to extremists who had used commercial airliners as weapons of mass destruction, and who later provided inspiration for terror attacks in London and Madrid.

What credit we can claim is owed to the men and women in our armed forces and to the international civilians who have shouldered the colossal task of assisting in the reconstruction of a country while simultaneously confronting a deadly insurgency. They deserve all the thanks we can give them.

All the same, credit is largely owed to the Afghans themselves, who have striven against terrible odds to reconstruct their country in the wake of thirty years of war. We pay tribute to the Afghans for their courage and determination.

Progress in Afghanistan may appear slow at times, and great problems may remain. But it's a start. And if we were to abandon the Afghans, their progress could well prove short-lived. NATO will remain committed to their country because, like it or not, our security is now inextricably tied to theirs.

Those of us whose countries are members of the NATO Alliance are fortunate. We are born with opportunities, we live well by taking advantage of them, and we do so in relative peace. But the security environment no longer bears any semblance to a game, if it ever really did; and we cannot prepare only for the threats of the past. Nowadays, a deluded and jobless young man, following a bloody and apocalyptic vision, can bomb a train station or blow up an airliner in our part of the world for reasons that make sense only to himself, and perhaps not even to him.

Alliance leaders at the Lisbon Summit understand that security has changed. We will need the cooperation of all Allies and Partners to address transnational problems so that our children and grandchildren may continue to enjoy the benefits of peace and security.