MONS, Belgium — The new NATO strategic concept looks to build on the alliance's obvious strengths, the alliance's supreme allied commander for Europe said May 20.
Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis said NATO is looking at a comprehensive approach to security for the future.
"I would argue that the future of security in this 21st century is not an on-and-off switch between hard power and soft power, between combat and peace," he said during a presentation at the Atlantic Council. "It's a rheostat, you've got to dial it in."
The imaginary rheostat runs from pure hard power to pure soft power, he said, and while the alliance remains militarily capable, more often than not, security will need elements of both hard and soft power.
Stavridis talked about the newly released strategic concept drawn up by a broadly based group of experts. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright chaired the group, and she introduced Stavridis at the Atlantic Council. Albright said her work was a starting point for discussion on a strategic concept that NATO leaders are expected to approve at the alliance's summit in Lisbon, Portugal, in November.
People who say NATO is an outdated relic have not looked at its history or its present, and have not tried to look at its future, the admiral said.
"When we talk of this alliance, we need to recognize the wealth of it, the reach of it, the power of it," he said. "No nation has ever attacked a NATO nation, and no NATO nation has ever attacked another NATO nation."
Stavridis likened the alliance to a bridge between North America and Europe that bridges cultures and is a bridge in time. "It bridges the Cold War past to the present, and leads us in to the 21st century," he said.
It also is a large alliance, now containing 28 member states and more partners. This creates a challenging environment to get decisions made, but it is doable, the admiral said.
"We have 130,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines on missions on three continents," the admiral said. "Those are hard decisions, but they've all been made at [the NATO] table among 28 different states. I maintain we've done a good job of getting 28 [nations] together."
The alliance also makes good use of the cultural, linguistic, military, economic and political strengths of 28 nations, Stavridis added.
Alliance leaders need to focus on a comprehensive approach, Stavridis said, and NATO has learned much from its experiences in Afghanistan.
"Fundamental to succeeding there is the idea of a comprehensive approach – combining military and civilian organizations as one," he said, adding that civilian government agencies, the United Nations, the World Bank, various government aid organizations and private-sector entities all will have to work together to succeed in Afghanistan. NATO needs to understand this, he said, and devise ways to include these entities in planning and execution.
The new strategic concept also calls for increased engagement with Russia, and Stavridis acknowledged that two views of Russia exist within the alliance. On one side are countries that still worry about aggression or intimidation from Russia, while another set of countries wants to engage with the nation, he explained.
"We must reassure one set of allies and we must continue to find a dialogue and find zones of cooperation with Russia," the admiral said. Potential areas of cooperation include arms control, counterpiracy, counterterrorism, missile defense and Afghanistan, he added.
The concept also calls for NATO to develop cybersecurity defenses.
"We need to come to grips about what is a cyber attack," he said. "We need centers that can focus on it. We need procedures to provide defensive means in this world of cyber."
Combating terrorism is not the primary mission of the alliance, the admiral said, but he noted that more than 400 terror attacks took place in Europe in 2009.
"It's not a direct mission for the military or for NATO," he said, but there are support functions we can provide."
International piracy is a laboratory for cooperation in the 21st century, Satvridis said, noting that the European Union is the lead agency addressing piracy off the coast of Africa.
"That's fine," he said. "NATO is there with a complementary operation. The EU has the lead, and I see that as a comfortable situation. NATO does not always have to be the lead agency in every security dimension."
The long-range ballistic missile threat already is real and will get worse in the years ahead, Stavridis said. Iranian missiles can reach some of Europe's capitals, he said, and this challenge requires missile defense.
"The United States is moving forward with a phased, adaptive approach," he said. "Much of the discussion before the Lisbon summit will be how NATO wants to be a part of that."
NATO also needs to do a better job of communicating what the alliance is and why it still is important to a new generation, the admiral said.
"We're very good at launching missiles," he told the group. "We need to get better at launching ideas."