Maintaining NATO

Article excerpt

NATO was fortunate to have two particularly gifted Secretaries General at moments of historic change for the international community. At the end of the Cold War the German Manfred Woerner creatively succeeded in adapting the Alliance to the disappearance of the East-West conflict that had previously dominated international geopolitics. After September 11, 2001, with the Iraq War to follow, Lord George Robertson from Great Britain skillfully held the Alliance together despite the divisions created by the administration of US President George W. Bush and the disagreements on the Iraq War. Lord Roberton also assisted NATO in adapting to new goals and policies.

Lord Robertson's analysis ("The Future of NATO," Fall 2004) correctly delineates the future tasks of NATO in a fundamentally unstable world, ranging from political convulsions in the adjacent world regions to jihad-terrorism, failed states, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. As he points out, NATO has succeeded in fulfilling completely new tasks: ending ethnic cleansing with military force in Kosovo, keeping the peace by maintaining a military presence in the Balkans, supporting stability in Afghanistan through various mechanisms, and helping Poland's military involvement in the Iraq War by providing command infrastructure support which the country itself was unable to provide.

But Lord Robertson remains diplomatically silent on NATO's most important structural problem that it has faced in the recent past and will likely continue to confront: the tendency of the Bush Administration to bypass the Alliance or to treat it as a handy "tool box" from which to select "coalitions of the willing" to support Washington. Despite many of NATO's accomplishments, the organization has often been relegated to the sidelines by the Bush Administration's statements and actions.

When, as Lord Robertson put it, NATO "spectacularly proved its enduring relevance on September 12, 2001, when Article 5, the collective defense clause ... was invoked," the absence of a proper US response immediately demonstrated what has basically remained an ongoing problem. …