NATO Ready to Fight ISIS

  • By defencematters

NATO muscles up to fight ISIS with Awacs aircraft, more maritime security, and more support for regional partners.

By Jens Stoltenberg

20 July 2016,

From the horror of 9/11 to the mass shooting in Orlando, the U.S. has become grimly familiar with the pain of terrorist attacks. It is a pain shared by the people of Nice, Brussels, Istanbul and many other cities. By the millions who have fled Islamic State and the war in Syria and the millions more who are still there.

America, you are not alone in this fight. Your friends and allies stand with you. And so does NATO. That is why I will join coalition defense ministers in Washington, D.C., this week as they intensify the fight against ISIS.

The global coalition to counter ISIS, led by the U.S. and including every NATO ally, is making good progress. But the job is far from complete. It needs all the support it can get, and NATO is stepping up to help.

Last week, NATO leaders met in Poland and agreed on three immediate steps to project stability in North Africa and the Middle East. First, NATO's advanced Awacs surveillance aircraft will provide valuable information directly to coalition forces.

Second, the alliance is launching Operation Sea Guardian, a new maritime security operation in the Mediterranean, to include counterterrorism and intelligence-sharing. It can also work with the navies and coast guards of the region to strengthen their ability to fight terrorism.

Third, NATO is stepping up support for its partners in the Middle East and North Africa and helping them to better secure their own countries and push back against violent extremism. Through NATO's long experience in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, the alliance has learned that an essential ingredient for long-term stability is the strength of local forces and institutions.

NATO is already training hundreds of Iraqi officers in Jordan, and this program will now expand into Iraq. The alliance is also deploying a team to Baghdad to provide strategic advice and support to Iraqi security forces. NATO stands ready to help Libya unify its forces to stabilize the country and better fight Islamic State.

NATO has been fighting terrorism for many years. When terrorists struck on 9/11, every NATO ally -- from the United Kingdom to Turkey, and from Italy to Norway -- stood shoulder to shoulder with America. After the U.S.-led mission to destroy al Qaeda in Afghanistan, NATO stepped in to make sure it never came back. Through NATO, soldiers from more than 50 countries fought the terrorist group, as well as the Taliban. NATO trainers built an Afghan army from almost nothing to the professional force of more than 350,000 that is now responsible for Afghanistan's security.

As the mission in Afghanistan demonstrated, the NATO alliance enables small and medium-size nations to contribute to the fight against terror. Albania has recently offered to provide trainers to Iraq, but it does not have the necessary legal agreements in place to do so. NATO does. Through NATO, it can get straight down to business. When its contribution is combined with that of the other NATOallies and partners, it becomes part of a formidable team effort.

Terrorism, it must also be remembered, is not the only challenge NATO faces. When Russia illegally annexed Crimea, it undermined European security. Moscow continues to support militants in Eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has cost more than 10,000 lives. It regularly provokes NATO allies and partners, such as when Russian jet fighters buzzed U.S. ships in the Baltic Sea.

In response to a more assertive Russia, NATO has implemented the biggest increase in its collective defense since the Cold War. After years of falling budgets, defense spending by European NATO allies and Canada rose last year. And it will rise again this year.

Last week, allied leaders went further and agreed to deploy rotating NATO forces in the eastern countries of the alliance. The U.S., Germany, Canada and the U.K. will each lead multinational battalions in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. NATO will also increase its presence in southeast Europe, with a multinational brigade in Romania.

There should be no doubt: If any ally is attacked, it will be seen as an attack against the whole. Aggression will be met by troops from the entire alliance.

The Cold War is history and it should stay history. NATO wants meaningful and constructive dialogue with Russia. As evidence of that spirit see last week's meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. Defense is needed but so is more dialogue.

Whether the challenges come from terrorism, from Russia, or from elsewhere, NATO and its allies are ready to stand up, to stand united, and to protect our almost one billion citizens.


Mr. Stoltenberg, the former prime minister of Norway, is the NATO secretary general.

First published in the US edition of the Wall Street Journal