Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an impassioned plea for NATO institutional reform, an issue she dubbed “critical” for the survival of the Alliance.

She noted that “This topic has received considerable attention from NATO’s defense ministers. It hasn’t been as much of a focus for NATO foreign ministers, but it should be.”

Specifically, Clinton charged, “NATO Headquarters is bulging with over three hundred committees, many with overlapping responsibilities.”   Consequently, “Too often, our budgets – military and civilian – are divorced from Alliance priorities, and the most important priorities have been under-resourced for years.”

Aside from sweeping out moribund bureaucracy, the decision-making structure itself must change.  Most importantly, “Our secretary general has not been invested with the power he needs to truly manage the organization. This must change – and we must agree to that change in parallel with the new Strategic Concept.”   In fact, Clinton warned, “A new Concept with old structures will not be transformational. In fact, it may not change much of anything at all.”

In response to a question from Julian-Lindley French, a member of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Advisors Group, Clinton sharpened her point: “we cannot operate in a world where threats are evolving as they are today with an institutional structure that can’t make decisions in a timely manner and which uses up a lot of the hard-earned tax dollars of the citizens of all of our countries for bureaucratic purposes that are unrelated to strategic priorities.”

As it happens, Clinton made these remarks on the same day that the Atlantic Council issued its issue brief on “NATO Reform and Decision-Making,” written by Edgar Buckley and Kurt Volker, also members of the Strategic Advisors Group.  They argue that, first and foremost, NATO must come to an “underlying transatlantic strategic consensus.”   “Get that right” they argue, “and decisions should emerge reasonably quickly, even with the procedures and structures in NATO today.”

Still, they agree that institutional reform is needed as well.  The report makes specific recommendations on streamlining, consolidation, and elimination of committees and staff departments.  They articulate solutions in four major areas: conduct of business in the North Atlantic Council, implementing NATO decisions, streamlining NATO’s military structures, and streamlining NATO procurement.

Like Clinton, Buckley and Volker argue that the Secretary General should be given “full CEO authority,” including the ability to structure, assign, and re-assign the international staff and manage NATO budgets.   Beyond that, “once strategic decisions are taken by the NAC,” the chain of command should be allowed to operate “without micromanagement by nations.”

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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