Secretary General’s Annual Report: ‘For NATO, 2011 was one of the busiest years ever’

The successful termination of the NATO-led operation and the fall of Qadhafi

From Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO:  Many will remember 2011 as a year of austerity. But it has also been a year of hope. The international community united in its responsibility to protect. Much of the Arab world took a new path forward. And the European Allies showed they were willing and able to lead a new NATO operation.

For NATO, 2011 was one of the busiest years ever. From Libya to Afghanistan and Kosovo, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean, the Alliance was committed to protecting its populations and active in upholding its principles and values. We enabled the Afghan security forces to start taking the lead for security for over half of the Afghan population. We successfully concluded our training mission which has contributed to improving Iraq’s security capacity. 2011 was also a benchmark year for reforms. We took significant steps to further streamline our structures, enhance our effectiveness and reduce our costs. At the same time, we strengthened our capabilities in many areas, including the prevention of cyber attacks. And we enhanced our connectivity by increasing cooperation with our partner countries in the Euro-Atlantic area, the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf, as well as with many other countries across the globe. This is a transatlantic Alliance that, despite the economic crisis, has once again demonstrated its commitment, capability and connectivity.

In 2011, our new Strategic Concept was put to the test. This report – the first of its kind – shows that we successfully met that test.

At the start of the year, few would have imagined NATO would be called to protect the people of Libya. But on 31 March, NATO took swift action on the basis of the historic United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. We saved countless lives. And seven months later, we successfully completed our mission. When I visited Tripoli on 31 October, Chairman Jalil of the National Transitional Council told me, “NATO is in the heart of the Libyan people.”

Operation Unified Protector was one of the most remarkable in NATO’s history. It showed the Alliance’s strength and flexibility. European Allies and Canada took the lead; the United States provided critical capabilities; and the NATO command structure unified all those contributions, as well as those of our partners, for one clear goal. In fact, the operation opened a completely new chapter of cooperation with our partners in the region, who called for NATO to act and then contributed actively. It was also an exemplary mission of cooperation and consultation with other organizations, including the United Nations, the League of Arab States, and the European Union. Throughout, NATO proved itself as a force for good and the ultimate force multiplier.

These achievements give me great confidence as I look forward to 2012. Clearly, economic challenges are likely to remain a dominant factor and decisions taken today may shape our world for decades to come. Our task is to make sure we emerge stronger, not weaker, from the crisis we all face. But we can draw great strength from an enduring source: the indivisibility of security between North America and Europe. NATO is a security investment that has stood the test of time for over six decades and continues to deliver real returns for all Allies, year after year.

2012 will be marked by our Chicago Summit in May. This will be an opportunity to renew our commitment to the vital transatlantic bond between us and to redouble our efforts to share the burden of security more effectively. We will take important decisions to keep NATO committed, capable and connected.

Afghanistan remains by far our largest operation, with over 130,000 troops as part of the broadest coalition in history. 50 Allies and partners are determined to ensure the country will never again be a base for global terrorism. Afghanistan is moving into the right direction and transition to Afghan security lead is on track to be completed by the end of 2014. As Afghan security forces grow more confident and capable, our role will continue to evolve into one of support, training and mentoring. But the Chicago Summit will show our commitment to a long-term partnership with Afghanistan, together with the whole international community, beyond 2014.

At Chicago, we will also take measures to improve our capabilities. During our operation in Libya, the United States deployed critical assets, such as drones, precision-guided munitions and air-to-air refuelling. We need such assets to be available more widely among Allies. In the current economic climate, delivering these expensive capabilities will not be easy. But it can be done, and it is critical if we are to respond effectively to the challenges of the future. The answer lies in what I call “smart defence”: doing better with less by working more together. In Chicago, we will deliver real “smart defence” commitments, so that every Ally can contribute to an even more capable Alliance.

NATO’s missile defence system to defend European Allies’ populations, territory and forces against the growing threat of ballistic missile proliferation is “smart defence” at its best and it embodies transatlantic solidarity. We have already made considerable progress. Along with a prominent and phased US contribution, a number of Allies have made significant announcements, including Turkey, Poland, Romania, Spain, the Netherlands and France. These different national contributions will be gradually brought together under a common NATO command and control system. Key elements of it have already been tested successfully and I expect the initial components of the system to be in place by the time of the Chicago Summit.

NATO has invested heavily in its network of partnerships. Continued NATO-Russia cooperation is vital for the security of the Euro-Atlantic area and the wider world. Twenty-two partner countries have troops or trainers on the ground in Afghanistan. And our successful operation to protect the people of Libya could not have taken place without the political and operational support of our partners in the region and beyond. At Chicago, we will recognize the contribution made by our partners who are willing and able to share the security burden with us.

Chicago is about delivering important commitments. Personal commitment, too, has been key to the Alliance’s success. Dedicated civilian and military staff are working in operational theatres and in headquarters to protect our 900 million citizens. They work under demanding and dangerous conditions. This report is a tribute above all to their sacrifice, bravery, and professionalism.

Excerpt from Secretary General’s Annual Report 2011.  (photo: NATO)

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