Former Supreme Allied Commander: Why NATO Is a Necessity

Admiral James Stavridis (ret.), Feb. 19, 2016NATO is decidedly not a Cold War relic. When I was Supreme Allied Commander, I had over 170,000 NATO troops from all 28 nations fighting on three continents in post-Cold War missions. Of the 140,000 troops under NATO command in Afghanistan, about 50,000 came largely from our European Allies, and hundreds of them died there. On a per capita basis, nations like Canada, the Netherlands, Estonia, Great Britain and others endured high losses in combat. And yes, Mr. Trump, they were fighting terrorists in Afghanistan. Today’s NATO is not refighting Cold War battles, but is most definitely engaged in the transnational threats we all face together.

In addition to the post-Cold War activities (counter-terrorism, peacekeeping, cyber-security and so forth), NATO is today also exercising its collective defense structure by deterring Russia from further adventurism in Europe. Having now watched Vladimir Putin occupy parts of George, Moldova, Ukraine, and annex Crimea, we should all realize that his greatest desire is to break apart the NATO alliance so that he can exercise even greater influence in Europe. Therefore, the NATO exercises, training missions and deployments to the eastern border of the alliance are critical and necessary in today’s world—keeping the peace in Europe that the U.S. fought for twice in the 20th century….

Lastly and most important, we should continue to support and lead NATO for the most significant of all reasons: The partners share our fundamental values. Where else in the world would we find such a pool of treaty partners who value freedom, liberty, democracy and all that we cherish? We have stood together since the end of World War II, when the first Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, helped create the ethos and capability of the young alliance that followed the leadership of the United States. NATO continues to have deep and real capability and influence in the world. We would throw all that away today at great peril, and rue the decision deeply.

James Stavridis, a former NATO Commander and retired four-star Navy Admiral, is the Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of The Accidental Admiral.

Image: Admiral James Stavridis (ret.), Feb. 19, 2016 (photo: US Naval Institute)