John Kerry chose Europe as the destination for his first trip abroad as U.S. secretary of state, and he made clear that was no accident. It followed on from President Barack Obama's pledge to launch talks on a broad Transatlantic Trade and Investment agreement aiming to provide new opportunities for more than 800 million people on both sides of the Atlantic. These are timely reminders that in the 21st century, the transatlantic link remains the foundation of our freedom, our security, and our prosperity. Europe is still America's partner of choice when it comes to shaping the global agenda and setting global standards in line with the values we share.
But promoting our way of life is not enough. We also have to protect it -- and sometimes defend it. The need for a strong military alliance between Europe and North America has never been stronger. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a unique transatlantic military alliance bringing together 28 countries, was founded 64 years ago this month and remains an essential source of stability in an increasingly unpredictable world. However, the transatlantic bond that unites us cannot be taken for granted -- and that means making smarter and more evenly distributed investments. Although the European Union and the United States together generate about half of global economic output, and NATO countries together account for over half of global defense spending, there are increasing concerns that the current balance of responsibilities and contributions within the alliance is neither satisfactory nor sustainable.
As we approach the end of our combat mission in Afghanistan -- NATO's biggest ever operation -- we have the opportunity to strike a new transatlantic balance, where the security burden shifts from an over-reliance on the United States to a greater sharing of responsibilities by Europe. Only by taking more responsibility for its own security -- and by making a more robust contribution to NATO's capabilities -- can Europe remain a strong global actor and sustain America's commitment to the alliance. Maintaining this link is vital for all of us, because we are all stronger when we stand together.
Striking a new balance within NATO should help us build on what we have gained since the end of the Cold War. Over the last 20 years, NATO forces have been engaged in almost 40 missions and operations, including in Afghanistan and Kosovo, over Libya, off the coast of Somalia, and on Turkey's border with Syria, where NATO recently deployed Patriot antimissile batteries. As a result, today's NATO has the most capable, flexible, and deployable forces in history. We are better connected with partner countries and organizations around the world, and better prepared to face unpredictable threats.
At the same time, however, the threats facing NATO members are becoming more complex and interconnected -- ranging from failed states and terrorism, to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to piracy and cyber attacks. In order to prepare the alliance for the future, therefore, we must learn the operational lessons of the past.
The first lesson is this: In a world where strategic surprise is the rule, NATO must be prepared for all contingencies. No two operations are alike. In Bosnia, the alliance enforced the peace and helped build stability. In Libya, it protected civilians against attacks by their own murderous regime. Off the Horn of Africa, NATO is combating piracy as part of a vast international effort to keep open vital shipping lanes. To be effective, NATO must remain capable of dealing with multiple tasks and multiple crises, ranging from conflict prevention to cyber-defense.
The second lesson is that the ability of personnel -- as well as equipment -- from different allied countries to work seamlessly together is the most powerful asset we have. It means that NATO can deliver a collective punch that few nations can deliver alone -- or only at a much greater cost. For example, combat aircraft from any NATO country are able to provide support to ground forces from any other allied country.