Paris (CNSNews.com) - The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has evolved enormously from its past function as a defensive Cold War alliance to today's role as a "major transatlantic consultation forum," but could do even more if more European nations increased their defense spending, according to the U.S. ambassador to NATO.
In its current role, the 26-member alliance is carrying out important security, defense, training, and humanitarian projects throughout the world, said Victoria Nuland, Washington's permanent representative to NATO in Brussels.
Addressing the European American Press Club in Paris, Nuland called NATO a "vital" forum alongside other important ones, including the U.S.-E.U. dialogue and bilateral work with NATO and E.U. member states.
"We are now working to strengthen it and broaden it where we bring more issues to the alliance," Nuland said. "If ever there was a question [in the past], it is absolutely clear now that when we work together, we are unstoppable."
Among its many operations, NATO is managing a security mission in Afghanistan alongside the U.S. operation against Taliban and al Qaeda forces. It is also now helping to bring humanitarian aid to Pakistan following last October's earthquake, which killed some 73,000 people.
In Africa, NATO is working with African Union peacekeepers in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, providing training and logistics support in partnership with the E.U., while in the Balkans, NATO and E.U. forces are deployed together in Bosnia, a mission that is working "extremely well," Nuland said.
Some NATO allies are also involved in support missions for Iraq, specifically in training security forces to take on a more self-reliant role.
Nuland called the training an "important qualitative contribution," saying that the U.S. was "extremely pleased with the training role that NATO is playing [in Iraq], although ultimately, we'd like to see more allies actually there as trainers."
The alliance was also looking at combining NATO and E.U. research and development programs to develop counter terrorism capabilities, especially in the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear fields.
"Both the E.U. and NATO have civil emergency planning structures, both to help nations prepare and to respond if nations ask for help beyond national capacity," Nuland said. "We think we could do more in bringing those structures to work more closely together."
Nuland said it was the U.S. view "that we can and should do a whole lot more together."
But in order to relieve the "stretched" NATO budget required by taking on more missions, E.U. members needed to increase their military budgets, she said.
Nineteen allies were not meeting the unofficial floor of two percent of their GDP for defense spending, Nuland noted.
The ambassador was in Paris for talks with French officials and said that the U.S. and France were now working very well together in NATO on strategic issues that were vital to both countries.
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