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NATO contemplates a broader mission

Madeleine Albright presents recommendations on a new strategic concept for the alliance.

Madeleine Albright (left), former U.S. Secretary of State, addresses a news conference with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen after launching her report on NATO's mission at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels on May 17, 2010. (Thierry Roge/Reuters)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Eleven years ago, few people other than south-Asia watchers had any idea what the Taliban was, much less could have imagined why more than 100,000 soldiers would be needed to fight it. At that time, the world’s premier military alliance, NATO, had never fought a ground war, operated outside of Europe, or invoked its Article 5 collective-defense clause. 

But Sept. 11, 2001 changed everything for the alliance. Well, almost everything.

The now 28-member bloc is deployed on four continents and leading a very hot war in Afghanistan. But on paper, its strategic outlook is frozen in 1999. Officially, NATO’s mission — enshrined in a document called the “Strategic Concept” — hasn’t been updated since then.

When Anders Fogh Rasmussen took over as NATO secretary general last August, he immediately started work on updating the doctrine. Within a month, Rasmussen had appointed former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to head up a group of a dozen experts from both the private and public sectors, military and civilian, to prepare research that will form the basis of his own proposal, to be presented to heads of state for adoption at a summit in Lisbon in November.

The title of the 56-page report, “Assured Security: Dynamic Engagement,” which was delivered by Albright to Rasmussen Monday, makes clear that to remain relevant and effective, the alliance will have to adopt multiple personalities: more nurturing of its newer members to build their confidence and more fierce against increasingly far-flung and devious enemies. And in all circumstances, it will have to be more frugal.

After eight months of deep discussion with military and civilian officials, academics and the public, Albright said her team had settled on two main points: “First, the alliance has an ongoing duty to guarantee the safety and security of its members,” Albright told the assembled ambassadors from each allied government as she released the study. “Second, it can achieve that objective only if it engages dynamically with countries and organizations that are outside its boundaries.”

Albright advocated first of all getting back to basics, what she called “renewing [the] vows” of the partnership. She said the members of eastern and central Europe often feel their concerns — in particular about Russian aggression — are not taken seriously enough. “There should be no question that NATO’s fundamental purpose should be to protect the security of its members,” she said. The alliance must do more to “truly reassure members,” Albright said, that they are both safe and that Article 5 — the call to mutual defense — would be invoked if needed.