'NATO is the relationship that keeps the United States in Europe' - Albright - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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'NATO is the relationship that keeps the United States in Europe' - Albright

Thursday, 28 January 2010
The former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, appeared before MEPs in Brussels on Wednesday evening to answer their questions surrounding the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) future working strategy that she is charged with revising.

In what was a very frank and informative session, aspects of EU-NATO co-operation, the evolution of the international security environment, NATO's relations with Russia and its "open door" policy were all raised by MEPs of the Parliament's Security and Defence subcommittee (SEDE).

Madeleine Albright, Chair of NATO's Strategic Concept Expert Group at the European Parliament - 27/01/10 (Photo: European Parliament)Mrs Albright (above) was warmly greeted and set about explaining in detail the key issues she faces in updating the organisations's Strategic Concept which seeks to build “a strong, versatile and adaptable North Atlantic Alliance that is able to respond adequately to 21st century challenges."

"With 20 plus members, NATO can be slow and caught flat-footed by change," Mrs Albright argued as she highlighted "internal complacency" as a major threat to the future security of Europe.

To prevent this scenario, she spoke of the need for new solutions to reflect the changing nature of the international security environment, the increased sophistication of modern-day terrorism methods, the need for ongoing military transformation to achieve flexible and sustainable forces and to address how approaches to international problems can be sought through EU-NATO cooperation and through other working relationships with external partners. Some mission!

NATO soldiersThe main issue for the MEPs however was the relative lack of dialogue between NATO and the EU, with Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP, PL) stating that "it is high time to change the fact that both sides ignore each other."

Geoffrey van Orden (ECR, UK), later added that because the EU has no additional military capability it merely duplicates what NATO does and this is because the EU is primarily "a political project."

He then called for a clear division of labour - with NATO performing the military tasks while the EU uses its "soft power" policy tools.

Mrs Albright replied by acknowledging such concerns and reiterating that in an era of scarce resources, "so much needs to be done in a spirit of co-operation", not just amongst European members.

"NATO is the relationship that keeps the United States in Europe," she continued, "and the question is how to make sure that US and other countries are part of the discussion on security."

Marietta Giannakou (EPP, EL) asked whether NATO’s enlargement policy of the late 90s would continue and accept applications from new countries such as the FYROM, as well as Georgia and the Ukraine who had previously been promised invitations.

NATO Expansion Map - click to enlargeMs Albright responded that “NATO’s door will remain open to European democracies willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership," and recalled that “NATO is not a philanthropic organisation but a security alliance”, stressing the centrality of the mutual defence clause enshrined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty which established it.

But what will NATO do about Russia? - after all it was the potential military threat of the Soviet USSR to European countries that brought about the intergovernmental organisation's founding in April 1949.

"The NATO-Russia relationship is a functional relation and demands a pragmatic approach," replied Mrs Albright who while admitting that there had been "many misunderstandings [about its relations] during the 90s", at present "there are no specific conclusions."

Russia is just one of the partners and should not be “the tail that wags the dog”, she added.

The Expert Group, of which Mrs Albright chairs, will submit its final report to the NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen later in the year in order for it to be approved at the next organised summit in Lisbon in November.

Of all the EU's 27 members, only Austria, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus are not part of the military alliance.

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