Atlantic Alliance Begins Era of New Missions, Shared Responsibilities

April 1999
By Dr. Javier Solana

A successful 50 years of maintaining security spawns a new relationship among European and North American nations.

In April 1999, the Atlantic alliance will celebrate its 50th anniversary at a summit in Washington, D.C. This makes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) one of the longest lasting alliances in history. Unlike other alliances, NATO has not only outlasted the conditions that brought it into being, it has also adopted a range of new missions and policies to ensure its key role in Euro-Atlantic security for years to come. NATO’s crucial role in Bosnia, its new relations with countries across the Euro-Atlantic area, and its strategic partnership with Russia indicate that the Atlantic community remains as dynamic as ever. And, as the accession of three new NATO members testifies, this Atlantic community is growing.

Yet, celebration must not be mistaken for complacency. The project of managing security is far from over. The end of the 20th century still leaves us with much unfinished business. Europe’s integration must widen and deepen; long-term peace must be established in the Balkans; Russia must settle itself within the new emerging structures; and a new, more mature transatlantic relationship must be built. Without the successful accomplishment of these tasks, the challenges of the approaching 21st century would quickly overtax our ability to manage. Regional conflicts would remain unchecked, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction would continue unabated.

The Washington summit will, therefore, be more than a birthday party. It will, first and foremost, look ahead. A new, strategic concept will be unveiled that will strike a new balance between NATO’s traditional and modern missions. Initiatives that deal with proliferation and improve allied defense capabilities will ensure that we have the means to carry out these missions. The summit will thus reaffirm that NATO remains capable of action—including military action. It will bring home the fundamental truth that the transatlantic partnership is also a technology partnership. And the technological excellence and a healthy defense industrial base remain valuable political capital that we must preserve. The Washington summit thus ties in with the key issues that AFCEA represents and advocates.

The Washington summit will demonstrate that, when it comes to dealing with pressing security problems of today and tomorrow, NATO remains our institution of choice. NATO remains the indispensable military backbone for our collective defense, for successful crisis management, and for rebalancing the transatlantic relationship toward a new sharing of responsibilities. Its dynamic agenda will ensure that NATO remains responsive to the security needs on both sides of the Atlantic for the next 50 years.


Dr. Javier Solana is the secretary general of NATO.