top of page

Congress Should Consider NATO to Fill Gaps in European Security

The House Homeland Security Committee Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel released its final report in September 2015 raising 32 key findings and over 50 commendations for countering terrorist travel.[1] The report states that we are seeing the largest migration of jihadists in history. Over 4,500 Westerners are among the fighters are headed to Iraq and Syria. These foreign fighters threaten the security of the United States in three ways: 1) they bolster terrorist organizations, 2) influence other Westerners to leave home and join them, and 3) can return to their respective home countries to carryout attacks after receiving training themselves.[2]

A major point of the Report is that there are gaping holes in European security that are ultimately putting the United States at risk. Foreign fighters are using European countries with weak counterterrorism laws as a gateway to the rest of the Schengen Area countries and North America. The United Nations has attempted to combat this problem by passing U.N. Security Council Resolution 2178. This document recognizes the threat of terrorism and foreign fighters, and calls upon member state to take actions to implement the counterterrorism efforts alluded to in this document. The House Homeland Security Committee Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel has expressed support for the resolution and has encouraged the relevant U.S. agencies to fulfill their obligations under the resolution. However, this document is rather lofty and seems to lack backing and enforceability, and will likely not fill the security gaps in Europe.

I would like to contend that NATO should be heavily involved in the counterterrorism efforts and used to fill the security gaps in Europe. Congress should use the full extent of its authority and influence to compel NATO to become a leader in the effort. Through this article I will explore the idea of NATO being a more effective leader in the counterterrorism effort and being used to close the gaps in European security.

NATO would be an effective counterterrorism authority for the following reasons: 1) NATO is a military organization at its core, 2) NATO is made up of a concise number of states, 3) the member states of NATO have a high stake in counterterrorism and mitigating foreign fighter travel, and 4) NATO has the ability to mobilize and has experience mobilizing states in counterterrorism efforts.

NATO is a dual-faceted organization operating on both a political and military platform. The political mission of NATO is to protect freedom and ensure the security of its member states through consultation and cooperation. Even the political component of NATO has the ultimate goal of fostering security and defense cooperation to build trust and prevent future conflict. Given the violent nature of the threat we are seeing from foreign fighters and terrorists, a military-minded organization is needed counterstrike effectively.[3]

NATO is made up of a concise number of relatively like-minded states that span a specific region. The ideological similarities that the member states share can facilitate cooperation effectively because there are not large divides in opinions on tactics that are used to respond to foreign fighters and terrorism as might be seen in other security minded organizations. The geographical centrality of NATO creates an incentive to work together because if an act of terrorism is committed in one member state, it can almost just as easily be committed in the next member state. The counter terrorism effort should be especially unified between the Schengen Area member states, and Canada and the United States on the western fringe of NATO. The ease of access between Schengen Area states, and between the United States and Canada, creates a strong sense of accountability for each individual country in each region to prevent foreign fighters from initially passing through their border. If a foreign fighter initially enters into a country in either region, he is able to travel among the other countries in that region in a manner that is less restricted than his initial entrance into the first country. The same is true if a foreign fighter wishes to travel from Europe to the United States or Canada. Traveling from eastern NATO states to western NATO states is easier than traveling from most non-NATO states to NATO states. It is very important that member states cooperate to keep foreign fighters from traveling into any NATO state from any non-NATO state and also that they effectively restrict travel of any foreign fighters that are discovered within their territory. The ideological and regional similarities of the NATO states makes for an organizational culture that is keen on working toward this common goal.

The NATO states, making up most of “the west” have a very specific interest in counterterrorism because the Islamic State and most other terrorist groups have effectively declared war on the west and expressed their hate of western values.[4] Most attacks are taking place within or around Islamic State-held territory currently, but this could change if NATO countries do not strengthen their capacity to filter out terrorists attempting to enter their countries. Member states have a specific interest in counterterrorism because they are the highest value targets for terrorist organizations.

As demonstrated shortly after 9/11, NATO has the capacity to enforce Article 5 of the Washington Treaty and respond to acts of terrorism. Article 5 considers an attack on any one NATO state to be an attack on all NATO states.[5] This unifies the treaty organization and allows for the option of an actual military response. NATO should consider enforcing Article 5 and responding strongly to the threat of terrorism and the travel of foreign fighters in an attempt to fill the security gaps in Europe.

Congress would see positive results if it used its authority and influence to encourage NATO to become a leader in filling the gaps in European security in the fight against terrorism and foreign fighter travel. Because of NATO’s military focus, concise numbers, directly threatened member states, and mobilizing ability, it would make an effective leader in counterterrorism and be an efficient way for the United States to cooperate with Europe.

By: Daniel Patrick Shaffer

[1] “Final Report of Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel.” Homeland Security Committee. Web. 21 Feb. 2016. <>.

[2] Id.

[3] North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Web. 22 Feb. 2016. <>.

[4] “Isis Announces Caliphate in ‘declaration of War'” The Guardian. 29 June 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2016. <>.

[5] The North Atlantic TreatyNorth Atlantic Treaty Organization. 09 Dec. 2008. Web. 23 Feb. 2016. <>.


bottom of page