NATO’s Finest Hour The day the Alliance stood up for America.

he shock and horror of 9/11 is burned into all our memories. I was on an aircraft over the Atlantic that day, flying back to Washington from Brussels, when the pilot gave us the awful news and turned the plane back. I well remember the terrible feeling I had, as many people around the world did at that moment—that I could have been on one of those planes, or that I could have been in one of those buildings. None of us was safe anymore.

Yesterday we all remembered that day 10 years ago, when terrorists turned airplanes into weapons of mass destruction. But we should also remember what happened the following day. Sept. 12, 2001, the North Atlantic Council, the NATO Alliance’s governing body, met in special session. For the first time since NATO’s founding in 1949, the council decided unanimously to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, saying that the attack on 9/11 was not just an attack on the United States, but an attack on all the members of NATO.

Within hours of this historic meeting, NATO’s Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft were alerted for deployment in the skies over America. They patrolled our vast airspace for the next five months.

The invocation of Article 5 was a defining moment for NATO. Until that moment, everyone had assumed that this commitment of the treaty was designed to involve the U.S. in the defense of Europe. No one imagined that it would first be used to bring Europe to the defense of the U.S. But with this one act, NATO signaled a fundamental change in its mission. All of us now recognized that security in Europe and in the U.S. was inextricably connected to events far beyond NATO’s traditional areas of operation. NATO had to stop thinking regionally and begin thinking globally.

Getty ImagesGerman soldiers relinquish control of security in Mazar-e-Sharif, capital of Balkh province, to the Afghan government, July 23.

Today, five of NATO’s six current operations are outside of the alliance’s territory. NATO’s soldiers are fighting in the very territories of Afghanistan where the 9/11 terrorists trained and planned their heinous attacks. NATO ships are taking part in an anti-piracy mission in the Indian Ocean, and NATO forces are training Iraqi soldiers, stabilizing the situation in Kosovo, and still protecting Libyan civilians against the remnants of the regime that had tried to suppress their freedom.

To respond to the evolving security environment following 9/11, the leaders of NATO countries agreed in Lisbon last year on a new Strategic Concept for the alliance. NATO reaffirmed the centrality of collective defense and made clear that today’s threats to alliance territory are more likely to come atop a long-range missile, over the internet or from suicide bombers than from armies marching across borders. It also made clear that real security in an era of global threats and challenges requires NATO to work in close cooperation with the widest possible range of partners—both near and far.

The new Strategic Concept laid the foundation for a series of decisions, from employing cyber defenses and deploying territorial missile defenses, to deepening NATO’s partnership with Russia and strengthening our relationships with countries such as Australia and Japan, which share our values.

Next May, the leaders of NATO will meet in Chicago to review and update our strategy, and to see how we can meet our security challenges in this time of economic austerity.

Ten years after 9/11, NATO remains the most powerful and successful military alliance in history. Our strength comes from our shared values, our ability to adapt to changing threats, and most of all, from our commitment to collective security. On Sept. 12, 2001, NATO made clear in words and deeds that an attack against one is an attack against all. That is why, today and for the past 62 years, NATO is, as President Obama said, an alliance that „remains the cornerstone of our engagement with the world, and a catalyst for global cooperation.”

Mr. Daalder is the U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903285704576559422200245388.html

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