(Washington, D.C.) – At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) remains critical to U.S. security and discussed several outstanding issues for the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago. Shaheen, a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, received testimony from Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’S Supreme Allied Commander.
Shaheen’s opening statement, as prepared for delivery, is below:
I want to thank Chairman Levin and Senator McCain for convening this important hearing today to receive testimony on U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2013. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about the challenges and opportunities before the U.S. military in these two critical regions of the world.
As the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs, I would like to take a brief moment to discuss the upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago and its significance for the United States and our transatlantic allies.
The importance of the U.S.-European security relationship cannot be overstated, nor can America’s commitment to our allies across the Atlantic. Europe is a critical partner of the United States, and our European allies remain America’s go-to partners when security challenges arise around the world. Even as we refocus on the Asia-Pacific region and rebalance our footprint in Europe, we will continue to work closely with Europe across the spectrum of critical threats we face – on Iranian nuclear matters, proliferation and international economic issues, as well as in Syria, Afghanistan and other regions of the world.
This May, Chicago will host the NATO Summit – the first on American soil since 1999. This meeting presents a unique and timely opportunity to reiterate that the NATO alliance continues to wield unprecedented influence in our world and remains a critical element of U.S. and European security. We have our problems, and we should address those, but the Chicago Summit is a chance to remind the world that NATO still represents the most capable military alliance the world has ever seen.
This year’s summit will need to address a few critical issues. Afghanistan, of course, will be at the top of the agenda, and the recent protests there underscore the volatile and dangerous situation that our Alliance continues to face on the ground. Other – perhaps less profile – issues will need to be addressed at this year’s summit as well.
The first of these is NATO’s Smart Defense initiative. In a time of declining budgets, it is important that we work together to generate maximum returns on our investments while maintaining overall capability and interoperability. We need to pool and share resources where necessary to ensure that we get the most out of our limited defense dollars.
However, Smart Defense cannot be an excuse for continued under-investment by our European allies. According to the NATO Secretary-General’s 2011 Annual Report, only three countries are spending at or above two percent of their GDP, the recommended level of defense spending agreed upon by the alliance. We need to see more investment from our European counterparts to ensure that we can bring the full spectrum of capabilities to the table when needed.
From the organization’s experience in Libya, we should identify capability gaps and lessons learned to improve our alliance’s strengths and weaknesses. There were certainly problems in Libya – namely, a shortage of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, refueling capabilities and ammunition – and the operation should not be viewed as a perfect model for future efforts. However, NATO acted quickly when others would not and could not, and we were ultimately successful in protecting the people of Libya from a brutal dictator. We should build on our successes in Libya and begin to address any shortfalls in Chicago.
Another important issue to be addressed at Chicago is the continued allied support for NATO’s “Open Door” policy. Understanding that the prospects for enlargement at this Summit are slim due to outstanding political matters, it is important that we make our commitment credible by advancing aspiring countries, including Georgia, down the path of future NATO membership.
Finally, NATO’s relationship with Russia will no doubt draw additional headlines in the lead-up to the Chicago Summit. The Russian presidential election and possible disagreements on missile defense could complicate any possible progress between NATO and Russia in Chicago.
It is important to recognize that we do share a wide range of interests with Russia outside of missile defense, including security in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, and proliferation. We should engage Russia on issues where our interests overlap while recognizing that Russian participation in Chicago (or lack thereof) should not overshadow other critical issues that the summit must address this year.
As we approach this year’s summit, we should address these crucial issues to continue building on past progress. To maintain NATO’s relevance for the future, we must also find a way to introduce the organization to the next generation of citizens and leaders who are not yet familiar with this alliance’s many past successes and its future potential. A NATO that is relevant for the 21st century is flexible, adaptable and able to transform itself – and is postured to make smart defense investments, grow in membership where appropriate and take on new missions whenever necessary.
I look forward to working with the White House, the Pentagon, European Command, and the Department of State to make Chicago a successful outcome that reinforces the critical role NATO plays in the world both today and in the future.
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