Ivo Daalder is the U.S. Permanent Representative on the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Previously, he served as Director for European Affairs on President Clinton’s National Security Council.
How has NATO played a critical role in advancing U.S. interest?
Let’s go back to the beginning, 1949, when this alliance was formed. It was formed because the Europeans were facing a Soviet Union that was strong militarily and ideologically, and was threatening the West. The United States decided it was good to have a military alliance to give the Europeans confidence to build up and rebuild their war-broken economies and, over time, to be strong enough to resist and deter any advance by the Soviet Union. So that was the original reason; and I call that NATO 1.0. So for forty years, during the entire Cold War, the purpose of NATO was to protect Western Europe against the possibility of Soviet military, or indeed, ideological conflict. That succeeded beyond anybody’s wildest dreams in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War ended, and the Soviet Union broke up. And at that point, the question for NATO was: What are we going to do? That’s when NATO 2.0 started, a NATO that wanted to do for Eastern Europe and Central Europe what NATO had done for Western Europe: to provide a platform and a basis for democratization for building up the economic vitality of a capitalist system that we saw occur over the last twenty years. Countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary; and then the Baltic States, Romania, Bulgaria, and even Croatia and Albania; became vibrant places of western democracy, market economics, and NATO members. The more recent NATO, the NATO of the young generation and what I call NATO 3.0, is a NATO that is operationally engaged, that has moved from building a Europe that is peaceful, democratic and united to finding ways to enhance security; not only for the members of NATO, but more generally for the international community writ large. We’ve seen NATO operating now on three continents and six different kinds of operations; from as far away as Afghanistan where we’re combating terrorism by building up a viable Afghan state, to dealing with piracy off the coast of Somalia, and the last and most recent military operation, protecting the civilians of Libya against the onslaught of their leader Muammar Qaddafi until such time the people of people could take it into their own hands, which is what they did in August 2011.
Afghanistan and Libya would be the milestones for NATO 3.0. Do you have any examples you could cite for those first phases of NATO that really were critical for the U.S.?
NATO 1.0 for the United States was to be in Europe in order to ensure that what was the largest conglomeration of countries, of area, of economic and democratic potential; that that would remain part of the West and remain allied and partnered with the United States. That succeeded. Germany, that was divided, became united. Europe, that was divided, became united. It’s still the largest trading partner of the United States. We were able to defeat the Soviet Union without firing a shot. That is the kind of foreign policy you want, to achieve your objectives by building up strong capable partners and, indeed, over time changing the adversaries from adversaries into friends and allies. That’s what NATO 1.0 did.
NATO 2.0, the effort after 1989 for two decades to bring in the East and Central European countries into the same kind of mold as Western Europe had done and to do for East and Central Europe what NATO had done for Western Europe, was started in the mid 1990s when in 1997 NATO invited Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to become members.
And over time, we now have twelve new member countries of NATO. They are vibrant, strong allies. They are vibrant, strong democracies. And they’re vibrant, strong economies. We have enlarged the sphere of democratic states. We have enlarged the sphere of partners for the United States, so that when it comes to having to conduct military operations as far away as Afghanistan, we don’t have to do it alone. We have strong, capable allies and partners to be there with us. In Afghanistan 40,000 troops today still are provided by our allies and partners, so that the United States can achieve its objective in a way that it doesn’t have to do it by itself. It can do it with others, and that’s what NATO provides.
In the 2.0 phase, there was another intervention in the Balkans. Could you talk about that experience?
In the mid-1990s, you already get this change from a NATO that is focused on enlarging the Western alliance to do for East and Central Europe what it had done for Western Europe, to also become operationally involved, sort of a NATO 2.5 if you want. First in Bosnia and then in Kosovo, NATO became the military arm of the international community to deal with the extraordinary atrocities that were seen for the first time since World War II, right here in the middle of Europe. Concentration camps were in Bosnia, ethnic cleansing was throughout the area. At a time when the international community was unable to resolve these issues diplomatically, it decided it needed to intervene militarily. NATO did that starting in the mid-1990s in Bosnia and then in Kosovo at the end of 1999, when it launched a major air campaign against Serbia in order to ensure that the ethnic cleansing in that part of the world ended. That was the kind of NATO foreshadowing an organization willing and able to use military force in order to provide protection for civilians and to enhance international security writ large as we see today in Afghanistan. It’s the kind of NATO that has been emerging over time. It allows the United States to work with its partners to achieve its objectives and enhance its security, and indeed the security of the world, by using military force in a discriminatory and precise fashion.
And what were the lessons learned from that campaign that possibly were applied to, say, Libya?
Well one of the lessons in Libya, from the Kosovo air campaign for example, was that the European allies learned it was important they too have precision-guided munitions, that they would have the ability to hit targets precisely. So ten or twelve years after the Kosovo air campaign, when the United States flew 75% of the sorties and dropped 90% of the bombs, we have a new campaign in Libya designed exactly for the same reason: to protect civilians against the onslaught of its government. But now the tables are turned, the Europeans are flying 75% of the sorties and they’re dropping 90% of the bombs. So what have we learned over time?
We have learned that if you work together with NATO and if you work with allies, you can share the burden of maintaining the burden of maintaining international peace and security far better than if you have to do it alone. The total U.S. investment for Libya was 1 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money, but compared to the fact that we were spending 1 billion dollars every three days in Iraq, now we’re seeing that having allies, working together with international partners is much more, and much better, and much more effective way of achieving your objectives than going at it alone.
You and the Supreme Ally Commander for Europe both wrote in Foreign Affairs that Libya was a model intervention. What others reasons, aside from those you just mentioned, made it such?
Well, if you think about interventions as being along a spectrum, there are some cases where the United States will want to intervene because its vital national interests are at stake. They will want to do it with partners, but if they can’t, they will do it by itself. But there are other cases where the interests are serious and real, but they may not be vital. That’s the case in Libya. In Libya we found one of those situations where indeed the interests are of our allies were more directly affected than our own national interests. Libyan territory is 175 kilometers from NATO territory and what was happening inside Libya was having a major impact on the possibility of refugees and, indeed, the possibility of maintaining energy flows and creating a huge humanitarian nightmare on the territory of Libya. The allies wanted to act, but it was the United States that enabled that action. It did so diplomatically by making sure that when it came to making decisions at the U.N., we made the right decisions. It did so diplomatically at NATO by saying, “If we’re going to intervene, we ought to do it as part of this alliance which has the command structure, it has the integrated ability to generate military capability and targets.” And it did so by saying, “We the United States will provide those unique capabilities that only the United States has to enable others to do their part.” So we provided aerial refueling to allow airplanes to loiter in the area and find their targets. We provided intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities which provided the intelligence and the means to find the targets, the precise targets, so you can protect civilians by going after military capabilities without causing civilian damage and civilian casualties. This was the most precise air campaign in the history of air warfare. And yet to provide the allies the ability to take the lead and to be out front, to provide 90% of the munitions that were dropped in Libya, the United States enabled this alliance to do a job that was extraordinary in its success. In seven months the Qaddafi regime was ended because the opposition was able to find the time and space to take the future of Libya in the hands of the Libyan people, which is where it belongs.
What about shortcomings on that campaign?
There were also shortcomings, every campaign we learn lessons. One of the lessons we learned was that this alliance of twenty-eight nations relies almost exclusively on the United States for advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. We learned that lesson because seven months later, when we met in Chicago for our summit meeting in May of 2012, NATO agreed to acquire for NATO a capability to have this intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance that would be available to NATO at all times. Five global hawk drones, the kinds of drones that the United States used in Libya, will now be acquired by a group of nations and made available to NATO; owned and operated and indeed paid for the operation by NATO. So we learned the lessons. There are some things we didn’t do as well. We need to train our pilots and our targeters better to use the information out there. We need to make sure that not only the United States, but other countries have aerial refueling capabilities. And we need to be ready to act on a moment’s notice. We live in a world where threats can emerge overnight, and we need to have the political agility and military capability to respond. That’s the new alliance that we’re building today and will see in action today, tomorrow, and the day after.
In regards to Syria, does NATO have the capability and the political capacity to carry out a similar campaign if called upon by the United Nations and other partner countries?
The politics in Syria is pretty important because the United Nations, which provided the legal mandate and the foundation for the intervention in Libya, that mandate does not exist in the U.N. But each case has to be unique, and in each case twenty-eight countries have to judge whether it is right or wrong for NATO to take the steps that are necessary. Two things make Syria very different from Libya. One is its location in the Middle East with very close ties to Russia, which has indeed a military harbor in Syria. Secondly, this is a major military power. It has an extraordinary effective air defense system. It doesn’t mean that if we decided that military action is necessary we wouldn’t be able to execute it, but it is a very different campaign than one would have in Libya. So we have to look at each situation with what confronts us at the time, we have to focus on what is there, and we have to judge at the time whether or how to use military force based on the circumstances that are unique to each case.
Obviously some big decisions were made in Chicago. Can you tell us what the decisions are and what the legacy for NATO will be post 2014?
NATO got involved in Afghanistan in 2004 sort of haphazardly in many ways. The United States, as you recall, after 9/11, intervened militarily in Afghanistan in order to depose the Taliban and go after the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. When the Obama administration came to power, we were facing the situation where the war was not going well and indeed the momentum was in the hands of the insurgents, rather than the hands of the Afghan government.The Obama administration decided that it needed to surge a political, military, diplomatic, and economic strategy with our allies. Indeed, when the United States decided to deploy 30,000 more troops, we counted on the allies to do their part. They provided 10,000 more troops. And as a result of the military investment and the focus we have given in Afghanistan over the last few years, the momentum has shifted from the Taliban to the international community, and increasingly to the Afghans themselves. What we decided at Lisbon, which was a summit in November 2010, was that we would hand over responsibility for security gradually over the next four years to the Afghans; so that by the end of 2014 security in Afghanistan would be the responsibility of the Afghan National Security Forces. In Chicago we reaffirmed this strategy was the right strategy; that we would be able, by the end of 2014, to have an Afghanistan in which Afghan police and Afghan army forces would be able to provide for security. But we also realized that this wouldn’t necessarily mean that our engagement and our support in Afghanistan was going to come to an end on December 31st, 2014. While our involvement in combat and the combat mission would end by the end of 2014, we in Chicago agreed to provide continued support to the Afghans; support financially to sustain the Afghan army and Afghan police and support in terms of training and advising and assisting, to ensure that not only in 2014, but 2015, 2016, 2017, and for as long as it takes for Afghanistan to be secure and secured by the Afghans and for the Afghans. That is what our commitment was that we made in Lisbon, that we reaffirmed in Chicago, and that we will continue to have. It will mean much fewer forces, much smaller investment, and much smaller footprint; but to make sure that what we have accomplished to date, which is an Afghanistan that is more secure than it has been in many, many years, decades indeed of its own history, that Afghanistan can continue to be secure in the future.
How exactly will that interface with the U.S. partnership with Afghanistan that was reached just recently?
The bilateral partnership between the United States and Afghanistan is mirrored by a number of bilateral partnerships that, for example, France, the United Kingdom and Germany have reached. And NATO indeed has a partnership. It is those partnerships that are individually and collectively providing reassurance to the Afghan people that we are there to stay. We are there to help them make sure that even as the International Security Assistance Force Mission, the NATO led mission, ends and the combat mission ends by the end of 2014; the international community, the United States, NATO, and its allies and partners will stand by Afghanistan in the long term to ensure that the successes we have to date will be maintained over the long-term.
How have Libya and Afghanistan impacted American public opinion about NATO?
I think particularly that the NATO campaign in Libya, over time, has reawakened an awareness that NATO exists. There is an organization where the United States is not only a member, but it is a leading member. We pay 22% of the total dues in this organization and we provide the vast majority of the military capabilities in this organization. This is an organization that exists and that matters; that provides capabilities that make it easier for us to achieve objectives that we have. In Libya, we found ourselves being one of many countries involved, which enabled other countries to do their part to fairly share the burden. We have now choices. We have a choice between not only doing nothing and doing something; but we a have choice of doing something by ourselves or something with other countries. And that’s the kind of thing that NATO provides: a forum unique in the world, integrated military command structure, and integrated and inter-operable forces. When we have an airplane in one country it can communicate with an airplane in another country, so that when an American plane wants to refuel a British plane, the nozzle actually fits. Those may be small things, but they make a success or failure in a military mission absolutely vital; to be able to communicate and work together. That’s what NATO provides. It provides a means for the U.S. to achieve its objectives at less cost than it would if it had to do it alone.
With the U.S. economy slowing and defense cuts being seriously discussed, how exactly is that going to impact NATO?
The real challenge for NATO is the economic crisis that is affecting all of us. It is undermining the military capabilities, particularly of our allies. We have invested, over the last ten years, extraordinary amounts of money. Even when we do all the cuts that are foreseen, and even the ones that are not foreseen, we are likely to spend vastly more on military capability and forces than any country in the world. But our allies are cutting their forces, they’re cutting them very fast, and that is the challenge. The challenge is that if we want to maintain a NATO that is fit for purpose, that is ready deal with the 21st century challenges that we face, and that can act quickly and agilely; we need to invest and we need to have enough capability to make it worthwhile for the United States to continue to work with our allies. So it’s not that the United States is not going to have enough capabilities; we need to make sure that our allies are going to be there when we need them and are going to be capable of fighting along with us. That’s the challenge for the years ahead.
What role can NATO play in terms of addressing the most critical defense issues for the United States? What are the key areas that you see where NATO can actually play a role?
NATO plays a role to deal with really all 21st century threats in different ways and different means. Take cyber threats, which are becoming bigger and stronger. We in the United States have military communication capabilities and computer networks that are integrated and part of the NATO networks. It is therefore in our interests that we have a safe and secure cyber infrastructure at NATO, so we’re investing greatly to defend the NATO networks and infrastructure against the possibility of cyber attack. Ballistic missile proliferation and, indeed, the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction that can be carried on top of ballistic missiles, is one of the greatest threats we face as a nation. We are working with NATO to build a missile defense system to provide protection, not only for our forces which is important, but also for our territory and our populations in NATO. So we are building a stronger, more capable missile defense system. We’re working together through communication and through presence to deal with the 21st century scourge of a 19th century threat, piracy. Piracy is affecting our commerce. It’s affecting the ability not only to sell but to transport goods across oceans. Working with our NATO allies, we’re working to prevent these pirates from taking ships and, when they do, to take care of the pirates and end the piracy that is out there. So we’re working together on those issues. The essence of NATO has always been a very simple proposition. We’re better off working together with our allies and partners to achieve our common objectives than doing it alone. We’re better off because it makes us more legitimate when we do act. We’re better off because it’s a fairer sharing of the burden. And we’re better off because we’re more likely to succeed. That’s why NATO was important in 1949 when it was founded. It is why NATO is important in 2012 when we have celebrated the 64th year at a summit in Chicago: to make sure that NATO is, and will always be, fit to deal with the threats of the 21st century.
Russia is telling their people not to eat hamburgers anymore; just another sign of worsening relations between the U.S. and Russia. How is this going to impact NATO, particularly in terms of the missile defense issue and some of the other touchy subjects?
Russia and NATO are partners. We try to work together on those issues where we agree, and we try to resolve those issues where we don’t agree through dialogue. That’s the new NATO. There used to be a time where we didn’t talk to each other. There used to be a time where we had massive armies on each side of the border ready to strike instantaneously. That isn’t the case anymore. We live in a vastly different environment. So we cooperate on those issues that matter to both of us, that have common interest, and where we see them in the same way.
Afghanistan is one of those issues. It is Russian territory and Russian airspace that provides us with the means to ship troops and materiel across the territory into Afghanistan and, now that we’re drawing down, out of Afghanistan. We’re cooperating on piracy. Russian ships are in the Gulf of Aiden and they’re communicating and working closely together with NATO ships. We’re working on counterterrorism because that is a scourge that affects Russians as much as it affects the United States, the Americans, and our allies here in Europe. We’re working together on counternarcotics, which is a major problem in Russia. At the same time, we have differences. We have differences over missile defense, where Russia sees what NATO is doing as a threat. It’s not a threat. It is not directly against Russia and we’re working through dialogue to try to convince them that we’re better off working together to deal with the threat of ballistic missile proliferation; both to reduce the proliferation threat and to have an effective response over missile defenses. We have differences over Georgia where Russian troops are on the territory of Georgia that we recognize is Georgian territory and we believe that needs to end. But we’re dealing with these issues, not through confrontation, but through dialogue. That is the new NATO. And if there are issues that make it more difficult to have an agreement in the future, we will still be able to sit down together and have a conversation to try and resolve it through dialogue. That is what NATO does in 2012, and that’s very different than the kind of NATO we had in the past.