NATO Chairman Discusses Alliance’s Unique Role for Peace

NATO is the most successful organization of its type in history, and it is adapting to ensure it remains a force for peace in the future, the chairman of NATO’s Military Committee said here yesterday.

British Royal Air Force Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach said in an interview that alliance members are building a strategy that will act as a guide for decisions moving forward. Peach and the military representatives of the Military Committee are in Washington for discussions and consultations.

“Every organization no matter how it has evolved needs to take a strategic look,” he said. “I would describe a strategy as a handrail — a guide. It is very difficult for anyone to predict the future, but a strategy and strategic thinking gives that sense of what we could do [in various circumstances].”

He said bringing the Military Committee to the United States shows the unity and solidarity of the alliance. The committee first visited Norfolk, Virginia, where they met with French air force Gen. Andre Lanata, NATO’s supreme allied commander for transformation. The command is the warfighting development arm of NATO. The committee also visited the new Joint Forces Command built to ensure the sea lanes across the Atlantic. They held talks aboard the USS Harry S. Truman — an aircraft carrier named after the man who was president when NATO was formed in 1949.

Peach and the committee then came to Washington, where they held high-level talks.

Collective Security

“It is important for the American people to realize that they have been kept safe by NATO for these decades in terms of collective security,” Peach said. “It is worth reminding everyone that the only time in its history that the alliance has invoked Article 5 for collective defense was after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and we did so very quickly.”

The last point is key as alliance leaders want to ensure decision-making at the speed of relevance, he said. “I think we have shown — as the most successful alliance in history — that we do adapt to the changing times, changing threats, changing circumstances,” he said.

NATO is a military alliance with political leadership that provides collective security to nearly 1 billion people. “The Department of Defense of the United States is stronger with those allies alongside,” Peach said. “It is stronger with the ability to work together on common operational problems such as our missions in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the Balkans. We have a history of responding to changing circumstances and in that response the United States is stronger when we respond as 29 [member nations].”

An Alliance That Bridges An Ocean

In the 70 years since the signing of the Washington Treaty establishing the alliance, there have been waves of activity that reflected the times. The alliance changed throughout its history and continued to grow.

But through it all, “we didn’t forget that we are a transatlantic alliance,” Peach said.

That is still relevant today. “It recognizes the vital element of transatlantic security after two world wars that unite the people of North America with the people of Europe through this military alliance under political control,” he said.

Military-to-military ties within the alliance are strong, Peach said. One reason for this is that there are generations of service members that “grew up” while working alongside one another.

Another part is the shared sacrifice of war. “It’s an emotional experience for everyone that serves together in operations or in combat — it is something you don’t forget,” Peach said. “All of my operational experience in my 45 years of service have been with other nations, including the United States on many occasions.”

“It is something unique about military service it develops a sense of brotherhood and comradeship,” he continued. “It is maybe not words that are used in the daily round of the 21st century, but they are very important words, because they define and embody the spirit of military service.

“I am proud of my role in support of the military alliance and I am moved when we travel by the sight and the knowledge that those 29 allies working together in harmony, far away from home, delivering collective security for the people of the alliance.” Peach added.

Every military organization in history has to be ready to deliver on the task that it has been given, the air chief marshal said. “That is termed readiness,” he said. “Of course, readiness can mean many different things: Ready to do what? Where? How? That is why we have a strategy — that handrail that guides us.”

Part of that strategy is to ensure readiness for unexpected challenges and for new challenges. “I commend the U.S. leadership and the Defense Department’s support for the alliance in doing new and different things such as the enhanced forward presence in Poland and the Baltic Republics and the ability to respond to maritime requirements in the many seas that NATO has responsibility for,” he said.

In times of political turbulence, the military-to-military links, the shared experience of operations or combat and the military relationships between senior military leaders and commanders is the vital DNA of a military alliance, Peach said.

These ties allow the leaders to be honest with one another. “We welcome input from all allies,” he said.