“I believe that in the North Atlantic treaty lies the best, if not the only hope of peace.” Not my words, but the words of Lord Hastings Ismay, former military assistant to Winston Churchill and the very first secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
In the same 1952 broadcast, Ismay predicted “that there will be persistent efforts to drive a wedge between us” and “that we shall have our little quarrels”. Right now, those words seem remarkably prescient.
Since the alliance was created almost 70 years ago, the people of Europe and North America have enjoyed an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. But, at the political level, the ties that bind us are under strain. There are real differences between the US and other allies over issues such as trade, climate change and the Iran nuclear agreement.
These disagreements are real and they won’t disappear overnight. Nowhere is it written in stone that the transatlantic bond will always thrive. That doesn’t, however, mean that its breakdown is inevitable. We can maintain it, and all the mutual benefits we derive from it.
It will take political will, imagination and hard work. But I believe we can succeed, for three simple reasons.
Firstly, differences of opinion are nothing new. We had them during the Suez crisis in 1956. We had them when France withdrew from NATO’s command structure in 1966, and the alliance had to move its headquarters from Paris to Brussels. And we had them during the Iraq war in 2003.
We are 29 democracies with different histories, geographies and cultures, so of course we sometimes disagree. But the historical record shows that, despite our differences, we have always been able to unite around our common goal: standing together and protecting each other.
The second reason we can preserve the transatlantic bond is what is happening in NATO today.
After the cold war, when the threat from the Soviet Union receded, the US and Canada gradually reduced their presence in Europe, and European allies cut defence spending. This was the so-called “peace dividend” enjoyed by allies on both sides of the Atlantic.
But both those trends are now firmly in reverse.
The US and Canada are stepping up their commitment to Europe’s security. In fact, since coming to office, the Trump administration has increased funding for the US presence in Europe by 40%. The last US battle tank left Europe in 2013, but now they are back in the form of a whole new US armoured brigade.
This isn’t a one-way street. European allies, with the UK in the vanguard, are stepping up, too – spending billions more on defence and taking responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security alongside their North American allies.
The third and final reason I am hopeful the political storm clouds will pass is that it is in our profound interest to stay united.
Two world wars and a cold war have taught us this: together, Europe and North America are stronger, safer and more prosperous. That is why young American and Canadian soldiers fought on the western front in the first world war, and why their sons fought their way across the beaches of Normandy almost 30 years later.
It is also why allies invoked article 5 of the NATO Treaty – our collective defence clause – just hours after the 9/11 attacks, the first and only time in our history. And why hundreds of thousands of European and Canadian troops have served shoulder to shoulder with Americans in Afghanistan to defeat international terrorism, with more than a thousand paying the ultimate price.
It is – and has always been – in our fundamental interest to stand together on defence. And that is as true now as ever. Because we face the most unpredictable security environment in a generation: international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cyberattacks – and, of course, a Russia that has used force against its neighbours, that tries to meddle in our domestic affairs, and that seems to have no qualms about using military-grade nerve agents on our streets.
I believe that we, as the west, must be confident. We must continue to work hard to settle our differences – and where differences persist, we must limit any negative impact on our security cooperation. We must continue to protect multilateral institutions like NATO, and continue to stand up for the international rules that have served us so well for so many decades.
In that broadcast, more than 65 years ago, Ismay also warned that “we must never be complacent” and that “the road may be rough”.
North America and Europe represent half the world’s economic might and half the world’s military might. Our achievements side by side are unprecedented. So as long as we stand together, even if the road does indeed get rough, it will always lead in the right direction: peace and security for our nations and our nearly one billion citizens.
Jens Stoltenberg is the secretary general of NATO
[ Source: The Guardian ]