Sunday, March 31, 2019
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is the most successful alliance in history. Over the past 70 years, NATO has helped to create the most secure, stable, and prosperous period in European history.
When the NATO Treaty was signed on April 4, 1949, by the original twelve Allies, President Truman said they were “not only seeking to establish freedom from aggression and from the use of force in the North Atlantic community, but… striving to promote and preserve peace throughout the world.” That remains the collective aspiration of the members of the NATO Alliance.
NATO has played an historic role in keeping the peace, and it continues to do so today as the Alliance meets new threats.
In a way that I know Greeks appreciate, NATO stopped the expansion of Communist dictatorships in Europe and ensured that the horrors of World War II would never again strike our nations. After the Cold War, the Alliance adapted to new circumstances, establishing partnerships with former Cold War adversaries and responding to conflict in the Balkans.
More recently, NATO has turned to face the threat of terrorism. When the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, NATO invoked Article 5 – NATO’s collective defense clause – for the only time in its history. NATO Allied planes patrolled American skies and Allies fought side by side to counter terrorism in Afghanistan.
The Cold War is over, but NATO remains as relevant today as it was in 1949, as new challenges combine with old to create an increasingly competitive and uncertain geopolitical environment.
Russia remains the greatest threat to the sovereignty and independence of individual European nation-states, and to the shared values that bind the West together. Russia under Vladimir Putin has targeted our democratic institutions, including elections, financial institutions, and civilian infrastructure, with new forms of “hybrid warfare.” It has used malicious cyber activities to target international organizations like the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons. Kremlin-backed assassins used a military-grade nerve agent on British soil in an attack that ultimately killed a UK citizen. Russia has invaded and continues to occupy parts of the sovereign European nations of Ukraine and Georgia, and it threatens NATO cities and our citizens by fielding and deploying nuclear-capable missile battalions in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Meanwhile, China seeks to build economic and political influence in Europe to subvert European and transatlantic unity and rewrite international norms and standards. We also cannot ignore the challenges posed by nations like Iran and North Korea, both of which have unpredictable leaders and nuclear ambitions. And, as Allies have said, terrorism continues to pose a direct threat to our populations, and to international stability and prosperity broadly.
In the face of these challenges, the United States remains steadfast in its commitment to our Allies. When President Trump spoke in Warsaw in 2017, he declared unequivocally, “Americans know that a strong Alliance of free, sovereign, and independent nations is the best defense for our freedoms and for our interests.”
Our commitment to the collective defense of all NATO member states is unwavering, as is our commitment to shared values of democracy, individual liberty, human rights, and rule of law. That commitment is why Allies decided in 2014 to increase investments in our national defense. We committed to spend at least two percent of GDP on defense and to invest at least 20 percent of that spending on major equipment by 2024.
Since joining NATO in 1952, Greece has faced these challenges with us shoulder to shoulder, and its growing importance as a pillar of regional stability means that it will be North Macedonia’s best partner in that country’s accession as NATO’s 30th Ally. Earlier this month, we marked the 20th anniversary of Czechia, Hungary and Poland as Allies at Crete’s NATO Maritime Interdictions Operations Center, a unique facility contributing to security and interoperability. Greece has increased its commitments to NATO in Afghanistan, in our Baltic Air Policing missions, with its joint command at Thessaloniki’s NATO Rapid Deployment Center, and through its increased role in our annual exercises. It has consistently maintained NATO’s 2% spending benchmark, and American soldiers continually tell me how professional and welcoming their Greek counterparts are. We are very grateful for our partnerships with Greece, bilaterally and in NATO.
Next week’s NATO Ministerial in Washington will be a celebration of this most successful alliance in history. Together, we must continue to invest in national defense, grow and modernize our military capabilities, and contribute to NATO’s efforts to promote the safety and security of our citizens. NATO Allies are stepping up. Together, we will be stronger and better equipped to ensure NATO remains the safeguard of peace and prosperity for another 70 years – and beyond.