Speaking to parliament about the upcoming NATO summit on April 3-4, Merkel said the military alliance needed to undergo a comprehensive overhaul to remain relevant in the 21st century.
Instead of merely concentrating on deterrence and military intervention, Merkel said NATO needed to work more closely with non-governmental organisations and the United Nations to help prevent crises from developing in the first place.
“This sounds simple but is actually quite revolutionary,” she said, explaining that such cooperation could head off situations “where only military means can help.”
The chancellor called for such thinking to be anchored in NATO’s new strategic principles in order to address a host of new challenges, including international terrorism and instability caused by environmental issues such as climate change.
Merkel said this new strategy must also define the transatlantic alliance’s limits. “I do not see a global NATO,” she said, but added the door to membership remained open for nations like Georgia and Ukraine.
However, she said NATO’s mission in Afghanistan remained it most important test at the moment.
“For me our aim remains clear, against which our success will be measured, that Afghanistan no longer poses a terrorist threat to our security, in other words in NATO member countries. That is our aim,” Merkel said.
“We should remember that Afghanistan ... was the base for the attacks of September 11, 2001. This was possible because there was no functioning state, and that was the reason for our engagement in Afghanistan, because it threatened our security, the members of NATO.”
Germany currently has around 3,500 troops in Afghanistan, one of 41 nations forming the 60,000-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. The German parliament voted last year to increase this to 4,500. The United States also has a further 10,000 soldiers there not under NATO command.
Next week's summit in Strasbourg, France and the German towns of Baden-Baden and Kehl will be Barack Obama first visit to Europe since becoming president in January. He is expected to press US allies, Germany included, to do more in Afghanistan.
Germany's troops are based in the relatively peaceful north of Afghanistan – 14 of its soldiers have been killed there in attacks – but Merkel reiterated that her country is already pulling its weight in terms of police support and civilian reconstruction work.
“We can be satisfied with our performance,” she told parliament.
She also welcomed Obama's moves to develop a common strategy for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, but stressed that there can be no talks with those “not interested in reconstruction.”
Germany's mission in Afghanistan, the country's first major overseas military operation since World War II, remains highly unpopular at home, six months before Merkel stands for re-election. A survey published this week showing nearly 60 percent in favour of a pullout, while only 36 percent support the mission.