bin Laden’s NATO Legacy

By Griffin W. Huschke, Mayme and Herb Frank Research Fellow

Well, its over.  As you’ve heard by now, probably the largest and most expensive manhunt in U.S. history is at an end.  After a decade, the perpetrator of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, Osama Bin Laden, is finally dead.


There isn’t a lot to be said about this man that isn’t already being spoken about elsewhere, and the details remain pretty sketchy. We’ll obviously be covering this for weeks to come, so let’s take a moment to think about the effects of bin Laden’s actions on the world community, and how the 17th son of a Saudi construction magnate managed to have such an outsized effect on the way our world works.


In his own unfortunate way, bin Laden drastically changed the way security organizations, especially NATO, thought about possible threats.  Al Qaeda brought to light the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, and engendered massive shifts in force structure, command and control, and information sharing across the world as countries aligned to combat this “new” threat.   Al Qaeda also gave the Atlantic Alliance a new way to focus its resources on smaller scale units, like the Special Operations forces that ended up capturing bin Laden and development projects in areas hardest hit by the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan. NATO has grown into this role in fits and starts, and there’s plenty more work to be done, but Europe and the U.S. remain to be each other’s strongest strategic allies, and the Alliance continues to adapt.


Al Qaeda also changed the way NATO thought about itself.  9/11 solidified the notion that NATO would no be used to defend Western Europe in a pitched tank battle in the Fulda Gap, but would need to respond to new threats as infrastructure became more vulnerable and the world became increasingly globalized.  NATO’s new focus on a range of threats, including cyber attacks and WMD, are a total result of this post-9/11 soul-searching, as are NATO’s continued search for out-of-area “partners” like Japan and Australia.  The Alliance realized that global threats, like terrorism and cyber attacks, require global allies in all theaters.


We obviously all wish that NATO never had to make these changes in thinking; that bin Laden had renounced violence that would claim so many lives.  But now that we have had to live through a painful decade of war and recession, let’s hope those tasked with protecting us are more able than they were a decade ago.

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