Panetta Details NATO Successes, Challenges

BRUSSELS, Oct. 5, 2011 — As it nears the end of a suc­cess­ful cam­paign in Libya and delib­er­ate­ly accom­plish­es shared goals in Afghanistan, NATO faces sev­er­al dif­fi­cult chal­lenges, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said here today.

The sec­re­tary addressed a gath­er­ing host­ed by the Carnegie Europe Cen­ter, part of the Carnegie Endow­ment for Inter­na­tion­al Peace.

“The inter­na­tion­al secu­ri­ty envi­ron­ment is com­plex, and it’s rapid­ly chang­ing. Our nations are grap­pling with sig­nif­i­cant bud­get chal­lenges, putting new pres­sure on defense spend­ing that has already been in decline here on this con­ti­nent,” Panet­ta said.

“But that can­not be an excuse for walk­ing away from our nation­al secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ties,” he added. “This fis­cal envi­ron­ment means that the Unit­ed States and all nations in NATO must depend on their fel­low mem­bers even more to share the bur­den of pro­tect­ing com­mon inter­ests.”

To do so, he said, requires a strong alliance whose mem­bers must address grow­ing gaps in mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties despite fis­cal aus­ter­i­ty.

Panet­ta not­ed that for­mer Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates used his last pol­i­cy address here to deliv­er a strong mes­sage to Europe about the need to boost its com­mit­ment to defense and to more equi­tably share the secu­ri­ty bur­den with the Unit­ed States. NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Anders Fogh Ras­mussen, he added, has warned that Europe risks becom­ing weak and divid­ed if it does not invest in its own secu­ri­ty.

“We do not have to choose between fis­cal secu­ri­ty and nation­al secu­ri­ty,” Panet­ta said. “But achiev­ing that goal will test the very future of lead­er­ship through­out NATO.”

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma has called NATO the most suc­cess­ful alliance in human his­to­ry, Panet­ta said. “We depend on it every day to pro­vide capac­i­ty that we can­not find any­place else,” he added.

Oper­a­tion Uni­fied Pro­tec­tor, now wind­ing down in Libya, is the lat­est exam­ple of NATO’s impor­tance, the sec­re­tary said. Because of the quick action of 28 nations, he told the audi­ence, the alliance has giv­en that nation “a real chance at a bet­ter and more pros­per­ous future free from the tyran­ny of the Gad­hafi regime.”

The mis­sion had greater lead­er­ship from Europe and achieved more bur­den-shar­ing between the Unit­ed States and Europe than in the past, Panet­ta said. “After the Unit­ed States employed its unique assets in the first week of the con­flict to destroy key regime mil­i­tary tar­gets and air defense capa­bil­i­ties,” he added, “Euro­peans took on the brunt of oper­a­tions.”

France and the Unit­ed King­dom engaged on a large scale, fly­ing one-third of the over­all sor­ties and attack­ing 40 per­cent of the tar­gets, and they exer­cised lead­er­ship roles polit­i­cal­ly and diplo­mat­i­cal­ly, Panet­ta said. Cana­da was a sub­stan­tial con­trib­u­tor, he not­ed, Italy con­tributed to the air-ground mis­sion and Den­mark, Nor­way and Bel­gium togeth­er destroyed as many tar­gets as France. Roma­nia and Bul­gar­ia deployed ships as part of the Libyan arms embar­go, the sec­re­tary added.

“This was tru­ly a col­lec­tive action,” Panet­ta said, “not only among NATO allies, but with non-NATO part­ners like Qatar, the [Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates] and Swe­den.”

The oper­a­tion demon­strat­ed the alliance’s effec­tive inte­grat­ed com­mand struc­ture and the con­trib­u­tors’ abil­i­ty to work effec­tive­ly and com­mu­ni­cate with each oth­er quick­ly in a com­plex mis­sion, he said.

NATO is very sim­ply the only alliance that is capa­ble of exe­cut­ing this kind of respon­si­bil­i­ty,” Panet­ta said.

The largest effort and a focus of NATO talks among the alliance’s defense min­is­ters here this week is the war in Afghanistan, the sec­re­tary added, where non-NATO allies and part­ners con­tribute close to 40,000 troops to the mis­sion.

As the Unit­ed States begins draw­ing down its forces there, the sec­re­tary said, “[we] will make sure that … we do not deprive our NATO part­ners of the crit­i­cal enablers and sup­port their troops depend on.”

The alliance must con­tin­ue “to send a strong sig­nal to the peo­ple of Afghanistan and the Tal­iban that we are com­mit­ted to the long-term secu­ri­ty of their coun­try,” Panet­ta added.

But NATO suc­cess­es also illus­trate grow­ing gaps in alliance capa­bil­i­ties, he said.

In Libya, the sec­re­tary said, NATO had sig­nif­i­cant short­ages of well-trained tar­get­ing spe­cial­ists, sup­plies and muni­tions, aer­i­al refu­el­ing tankers, and intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance plat­forms such as Glob­al Hawk and Preda­tor drones. With­out such capa­bil­i­ties, pro­vid­ed by the Unit­ed States, said he added, “the Libya oper­a­tion would not have got­ten off the ground or been sus­tained.”

In Afghanistan, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force, still lacks train­ers and con­tin­ues to seek con­tri­bu­tions to trust funds estab­lished to sus­tain the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces. As in Libya, Panet­ta said, the short­age of ISR capa­bil­i­ties and enablers, espe­cial­ly air­lift, has plagued the mis­sion since the begin­ning.

“These capa­bil­i­ty gaps are being exposed at pre­cise­ly the time when every defense min­is­ter in NATO, includ­ing myself, is deal­ing with great fis­cal chal­lenges at home,” the sec­re­tary added. “There are legit­i­mate ques­tions about whether, if present trends con­tin­ue, NATO will again be able to sus­tain the kind of oper­a­tions we have seen in Libya and Afghanistan with­out the Unit­ed States tak­ing on even more of a bur­den.”

The Defense Depart­ment already is required to reduce spend­ing by $450 bil­lion over the next 10 years, and that total could jump to $1 tril­lion if Con­gress fails to address larg­er deficit issues this year, he said.

“Rec­og­niz­ing the finan­cial and polit­i­cal real­i­ties we face, … we need at a min­i­mum to coor­di­nate addi­tion­al cuts, avoid sur­pris­es and ensure that our lim­it­ed resources are being put into the most effi­cient and effec­tive defense pro­grams,” Panet­ta said.

Going for­ward, he added, NATO must fun­da­men­tal­ly review how the alliance orga­nizes itself to fight, iden­ti­fy and pro­tect the core alliance mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties it needs to meet the next decade’s chal­lenges.

Before May’s NATO sum­mit in Chica­go, Panet­ta said, the alliance should look for inno­v­a­tive ways to enhance part­ner­ships with coun­tries out­side NATO that are excep­tion­al­ly capa­ble mil­i­tar­i­ly and those that strive to be more capa­ble.

“We live in a world of grow­ing dan­ger and grow­ing uncer­tain­ty where we face threats from vio­lent extrem­ism, from nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion, from ris­ing pow­ers and from cyber attack,” the sec­re­tary said. “We can­not pre­dict where the next cri­sis will occur, but we know we are stronger when we con­front these threats togeth­er.”

In con­fronting the bud­get chal­lenges he faces at home, Panet­ta said, he will make the tough deci­sions need­ed to avoid hol­low­ing out the U.S. mil­i­tary. NATO, he added, must send a strong sig­nal of its deter­mi­na­tion not to hol­low out the alliance, but to keep it strong and vital.

“It has been a tough decade of war, but our alliance has emerged stronger,” the sec­re­tary said. “Just as we met the chal­lenges of the Cold War and 9/11,“I am con­fi­dent we can con­front the chal­lenges that await us in the next decade.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)