Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a hearing on "NATO at 70: A Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century". The committee heard testimony from Mr. Ian Brzezinski, Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, and Dr. Karen Donfried, President of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
"NATO is the most successful political-military alliance in the world precisely because it defends common values and principles like democracy, human rights, and the rule of law," said Risch in part of his opening remarks. "The past 70 years were not always as easy as our memories may lead us to believe, but those disagreements have taught us how to work through our issues to find solutions. It is that constructive spirit that we should look to as NATO moves forward. Make no mistake about this, America is committed to NATO and we look forward to working to make the next 70 years as successful as the last 70 years."
Chairman Risch delivered the following full opening remarks:
"Good morning to you all, and thanks to our witnesses for joining us today to mark the 70 thanniversary of NATO, the world’s most successful military alliance, and to look ahead to the role NATO can play in a quickly evolving threat environment.
"NATO was founded by its first 12 members after the shock of the Soviet blockade of Berlin and the West’s airlift in 1948 and 1949 made us realize the threat that the Soviet Union posed to peace and prosperity. That conflict is far behind us, but NATO has remained an important piece of the framework that supports our collective security.
"NATO has come to the aid of the United States in Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11th, ended genocides and maintained peace in the Balkans. It has trained troops of the new Iraqi government, run air policing missions on Europe’s eastern flank, helped end the genocide in Darfur, provided assistance to the U.S. after Hurricane Katrina, and most importantly, sustained the period of unprecedented peace among the major European powers.
"NATO has proven not only to be a military success, but a political and economic one. For its members, NATO’s security umbrella has provided the kind of stable environment necessary for economic growth and investment. Former Soviet-bloc countries clamored for NATO membership not only protection against Russia, but for the economic strength that membership could foster. U.S. trade with our fellow NATO members remains key to our economy.
"Last week, Ranking Member Menendez and I, along with several of our colleagues, introduced a resolution expressing our strong support of NATO and congratulating it on its 70 years of successes. Tomorrow morning, we will have the honor of welcoming NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to address a joint session of Congress. Then, later this year, this Committee will have the opportunity to vote to approve the accession of North Macedonia into the alliance.
"Looking back and remembering the accomplishments of NATO is important. NATO remains the preeminent political-military alliance in the world. Together, we worked to defeat the Soviet Union and usher in decades of peace and prosperity for Europe.
"I would also argue that the success of institutions like the European Union were only possible because of how NATO reorganized Europe. NATO is the only international organization where unanimity – and thus sovereignty – is entirely protected. This meant that no matter how small a country was in the alliance, they were treated as equals with the largest states, because every nation’s opinion mattered as much as the next one in the alliance.
"While we should be celebratory of all that NATO has accomplished and the peace it has preserved, I also want this hearing to look forward. How can NATO confront the full set of security challenges that are quickly emerging – cyber warfare, China, disinformation – and remain relevant in this new environment? At the same time, Russia has re-emerged as a threat to NATO nations. If there is any doubt in your mind about that, anyone can spend time with the governments of Georgia and Ukraine to convince us how dangerous Russia is today. In addition to that, spend a few minutes with the victims who have been poisoned recently in London. Russia is a threat, remains a threat, and is getting worse instead of better.
"NATO also faces a number of challenges from within. First is the need to invest more in defense. It is important to note that the number of allies spending 2% of their GDP on defense and 20% of their defense budgets on equipment has increased since 2014, adding more than $100 billion to European defense spending. Seven Allies current meet their 2% pledge, and 18 in total are on track to do so by 2024. But we have also seen a couple countries suggest they will cut their defense budgets in a few years. This is challenging. Congress feels strongly that the financial commitment must be met. I know of at least one other person in this town who feels even more strongly, and I have discussed this with him on a number of occassions. We are all dedicated to the fact that commitments made must be met.
"However, the amount of money is not the only issue. We must continue to modernize our defense capability. Spending 20 percent on modernization is a good start, but countries should also see this goal as a floor and not a ceiling.
"Another challenge the alliance faces is one that of threat assessments. Our allies along the eastern flank face real security challenges created by Russia, whether through deployments in Kaliningrad or disinformation campaigns targeted at ethnic communities in their countries. Distance from Russia should not diminish the concern over Russian tactics and support for all members of the alliances.
"At the same time, countries along the southern flank of the alliance have substantial challenges with migrant flows and the ability of extremists to use these flows to move into allied countries. Again, problems of this magnitude do not stop at country borders. They affect all, though differently. Better intelligence sharing and maritime security is needed and something NATO can provide.
"Mobility in the alliance remains a challenge, as road, rail, and sea ports create challenges for moving military equipment around the alliance. And the bureaucracy of the EU adds enormous difficulties to establishing requirements for the construction of new transportation networks. In an era where speed increases deterrence, the pace of bureaucracy is undermining efforts to improve it. We all need to do better.
"Finally, as I said earlier, NATO is the most successful political-military alliance in the history of the world precisely because it defends common values and principles like democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. We have seen NATO allies have difficulty adhering to these values as member countries and their institutions mature. But all of us must remain committed to these core values and upholding them.
"In closing, do not let all of these critiques make it sound like NATO is weak or imperiled. Thursday will mark 70 years of this alliance.
"As I said, the past 70 years were not always as easy as our memories may lead us to believe, but those disagreements have taught us how to work through our issues to find solutions. It is that constructive spirit that we should look to as NATO moves forward. Make no mistake about this, America is committed to NATO and we look forward to working through the next 70 years as successful as the last 70 years."
Testimony from the witnesses is available on foreign.senate.gov, as is an archived recording of the full hearing.