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Kerry Statement Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on NATO: the Chicago Summit and Beyond

Washington, DC – This morning, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) delivered the following statement at a hearing that assessed the current state of NATO and its long-term objectives following the 2012 NATO Summit. 

“One thing is pretty clear about NATO – it has already confounded its skeptics,” said Sen. Kerry.  “From Bosnia to Kosovo, from Afghanistan to Libya, the Alliance has demonstrated an ability to adapt to the post-Cold War security environment.  Obviously we've had our challenges in both Afghanistan and Libya, but we have learned from them.”

The full text of Chairman Kerry’s hearing statement, as delivered, is below:

Thank you all very much for being here this morning.  I apologize that we're starting a moment later too.

By way of process, I have a conflict at about 10:30, about 10:25. Senator Shaheen, who is the chairman of the European Affairs Subcommittee, will chair the hearing from that point forward.  And I appreciate everybody's understanding of that.

Yesterday the Committee had the opportunity to have very healthy and broad discussion with Secretary General Rasmussen, and he laid out for us the general expectations of the summit and the road forward as we continue to really define this new role and the new parameters of NATO.

This is our fourth hearing on NATO since 2009, and it's not an accident that we are having it now.  I think all the members of the committee share the belief that the Alliance remains vital to American security, and its effectiveness as an institution deserves our continued focus and attention.

But, needless to say, that focus has changed.  Europe has changed.  The world has changed.  And later this month, when the allies meet in Chicago to discuss its future in Afghanistan and elsewhere, a lot of that redefining will be on the table.

So this summit is about how do you make NATO stronger.  How do we learn from our shared experiences?  In my judgment, NATO is – and I think this is a shared judgment – a fundamental element of our national security, and its organization demands critical analysis in order to meet the evolving threats of our national security.

One thing is pretty clear about NATO – it has already confounded its skeptics.  From Bosnia to Kosovo, from Afghanistan to Libya, the Alliance has demonstrated an ability to adapt to the post-Cold War security environment.  Obviously we've had our challenges in both Afghanistan and Libya, but we have learned from them.

The signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement by President Obama last week signaled the gradual transition from a war-fighting posture to a supportive role.  And NATO's commitment to the people of Libya in the past year has shown that the Alliance – properly leveraged – is still a very highly responsive, capable, and legitimate tool when it really matters.

I don't want to spend too much time on the full agenda in which the members are engaged, including strengthening partnerships with countries and organizations around the globe, defending against terrorism and cyber threats, and deploying defenses against the real missile threats that the Alliance faces.  Each will get, I'm sure, some further attention in the course of the hearing today.

But let me just make a couple of broader points, first on Afghanistan, and then second on meeting our security needs in the age of austerity.

Recently – literally a day before the President arrived in Afghanistan – I was there for two days for discussions with Ambassador Crocker, the head of the U.S. forces, General Allen, and met with President Karzai, his Cabinet members – and with Jan Kubis, the head of the UN Mission in Afghanistan. I also visited with civil society members, with potential presidential candidates, and parties.

To a person, everyone emphatically stated that the completion of this Agreement is something of a game changer.

Over the years that I’ve traveled to Afghanistan and the region – I think about 18 times since 9/11 events –I’ve had many conversations with people at all different levels there – in the high points and the low points of the conflict – and I think I can confidently say that I’ve never sensed quite a collective sense of direction or sigh of relief as a consequence of that Agreement.  But, I will say, definitively – and I said this to Jan Kubis and President Karzai – that in the end our gains are going to mean nothing if we lose sight of three major challenges that remain.

One, is the continued challenge of governance – the challenge of corruption – within the government process in the delivery of services – that is paramount. 

Two, is the question of the continued danger of a sanctuary war being prosecuted against the forces there.  I am a veteran of a sanctuary war and I know how insidious it can be, and I personally think that it is unacceptable to have a zone of immunity for acts of war against armed forces and against the collective community that is trying accomplish what it is trying to accomplish.  That means Pakistan has to become more assertive and more cooperative, and we may have to resort to other kinds of self-help depending on what they decide to do.

The final point that I think everything hangs on – and again – I underscored this as powerfully as I could in having been involved in sort of trying to dig our way out of the problems of 2009’s election.  We must prepare now for the election process – not later – but now.  It is imperative that the Afghan government – through an independent election commission – put out the rules of the road for that election.  The lists have to be prepared, the registration has to take place, there has to be openness, transparency, accountability – free and fair elections are mandatory to any chance to go forward after 2014 with any possibility of success. 

Those three things leap out at the NATO challenge as we go forward here. 

Finally – the second point. The Alliance can only endure if there is shared sacrifice and a shared commitment to the common purpose. We talked yesterday with Secretary General Rasmussen about this – the failure of some countries to muster their two percent contributions – and the expectations going forward really raise serious questions, still, as we define the road ahead.

We need to work with our European friends – we all understand that this is a time of austerity, it’s a time of austerity for everybody – but we’re going to have to set priorities. We’re going to have to decide what is really important and what, perhaps, is less important.  While we all understand that military budgets may not be enviable, with respect to the austerity, certain priorities have to stand out, and I believe that the mutuality of this defense is one of those, and we need to make that real.

We have to be clear that even before the financial crisis, NATO was seriously underfunded, and as we emerge from the financial crisis, we all have to commit the resources necessary for the core security interests.

Finally – I’ll put the remainder of the comments in the record as if read-in-full, but I just say in the end that I’m delighted to have the panels that we have here today – we couldn’t have a better group of experts, with varying views, to share our thinking about this important topic.

On the first panel we have Dr. Philip H. Gordon, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs; and James J. Townsend, Jr., Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO policy.

On our second panel, we are joined by Dr. Charles Kupchan, Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University and the Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; Ian Brzezinski, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and Principal at the Brzezinski Group; and Dr. Hans Binnendijk, Vice President for Research and Applied Learning at the National Defense Univeristy.

We’re very grateful to all of you today for taking time to be here, and looking forward to your testimony.

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