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Event features testimony from Secretary Madeleine Albright and Senator John Warner

(Washington, D.C.) – At a congressional forum today previewing the upcoming NATO 2012 Summit in Chicago, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) outlined the alliance’s most pressing global security issues. As host of the forum, Shaheen delivered opening remarks and introduced the featured panelists, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former U.S. Senator and Navy Secretary John Warner (R-VA).

In May, leaders from the international community will convene in Chicago for the NATO 2012 Summit. This year’s summit will be the first to take place on U.S. soil since 1999. Shaheen, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs, plans to attend.

Shaheen’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below. 

This year’s summit could not come at a more critical time for our alliance.  Faced with a wider, more complex range of global challenges than perhaps ever before, NATO needs to define its role in a world where the focus is turning towards the Asia-Pacific.  And it must do so in the face of difficult economic times and shrinking defense budgets on both sides of the Atlantic. 

NATO took a big step in the right direction two years ago at Lisbon with the adoption of its new Strategic Concept, which charted an active and ambitious agenda for NATO.  However, we need to begin to put our money where our mouth is, and Chicago will be an important opportunity to tell the world that NATO intends to remain dominant and active in global security. 

In addition, we are obviously in the midst of a Presidential election year, and there is a danger that the alliance and the summit will become a political football.  I think Democrats and Republicans alike have an interest in a strong NATO and a successful summit this year.  I hope both sides will work hard to maintain the bipartisan support that has backstopped this alliance throughout its history.       

Let me briefly touch on a few of the topics that I hope will be addressed in Chicago. 

Afghanistan, of course, will be at the top of NATO’s agenda.  The aftermath of the recent accidental Koran burning and the tragic killing of 16 Afghans add to the complexity of our challenge there.  We will need to more fully define our security transition leading up to 2014 and find consensus on a post-2014 relationship with the people of Afghanistan.  

We will also need to address NATO’s “Smart Defense” initiative.  In a time of declining budgets, it makes sense for the alliance to work together to pool and share limited defense dollars.  However, “Smart Defense” cannot be used as political cover for continued lack of defense spending by our European allies.  Though ultimately successful, the operations in Libya further demonstrated an over-reliance on U.S. firepower and under-investment from Europe. 

Finally, though this year’s event will not likely be an enlargement summit, it is important that NATO makes credible its “Open Door” policy by advancing aspiring and deserving countries – like Georgia – further down the path of future NATO membership. 

Over the past six decades, NATO has proven itself the most successful military alliance in history.  However, future relevance and success are not pre-ordained.  They are hard-earned.  Our agenda in Chicago is long, and our responsibilities are great.  America and our transatlantic partners must continue to work together and make tough decisions if we are to meet the next generation of security challenges.