WASHINGTON, DC – What should an alliance do when its leading member and dominant pillar decides to shift its focus to the other side of the world? NATO leaders have been grappling with this question since US President Barack Obama’s announcement of his administration’s “pivot” to Asia last year compelled them to examine the Alliance’s global role.
NATO leaders have examined their approach to managing relations with countries, such as China and Russia, that still view NATO as a potential threat rather than as a genuine partner. And they have had to consider whether to engage in more missions beyond the North Atlantic, like that in Afghanistan, where 22 countries – including El Salvador, Malaysia, Mongolia, Singapore, and Tonga – have deployed forces under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Since NATO’s summit in Chicago in May, its leaders have worked to make clear that the Alliance’s global security role extends beyond Afghanistan. They have reaffirmed the importance of collective defense, which underpins their ability to tackle security challenges – even in times of economic austerity – in regions outside the North Atlantic, most visibly in Africa (Libya and the Gulf of Aden).
In fact, last year, more than 150,000 NATO-controlled troops were engaged in six operations on three continents. And most of the new capabilities that NATO is acquiring are aimed at bolstering its expeditionary capabilities, rather than traditional conventional defenses.