NATO Must Define New Sense of Mission Clinton Promise Sets Stage for Troop Reductions in Europe

By Max Boot, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 1993 | Go to article overview

NATO Must Define New Sense of Mission Clinton Promise Sets Stage for Troop Reductions in Europe


Max Boot, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


FOR 40 years, soldiers belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) vigilantly watched the massed forces of the Warsaw Pact on the other side of the West German border.

But now the cold war has ended, the Warsaw Pact has ceased to exist, and the United States has elected a president who has pledged to reduce its troop presence in Europe.

What does this mean for the future of NATO, generally regarded as one of the most successful peacetime alliances in history? In the near term, not much. Although President-elect Clinton has pledged to reduce United States forces in Europe to a new postwar low, he has repeatedly affirmed his support for NATO and America's continuing commitment in Europe.

"The level of forces is less important than what it signifies," says Robert Hunter, director of Western European studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "The broader concern is the overall US commitment to European security. And both Bush and Clinton are strongly committed. So NATO will prosper under a Clinton administration."

But even if NATO survives, it is far from clear what form the alliance will take now that it has lost its original raison d'etre: preventing a Soviet invasion of Western Europe.

Arguably the first challenge for a post-cold-war NATO is defining the threat it is supposed to meet. That has not proven easy.

Think-tank analysts, military officers, and political leaders have been scratching their heads to come up with a variety of possible scenarios that would require a military response from NATO, ranging from an all-out attack by a resurgent, fascist Russia to a major civil war in Eastern Europe to a new Middle Eastern crisis.

Privately, some Europeans are concerned that, without NATO, Germany's conventional and nuclear forces would destabilize the continent. Above all, NATO leaders say, the organization is needed as an "insurance policy" against unknowable "uncertainties" that could plague Europe.

"As the certainty of the Soviet Union faded, it left behind unresolved disputes that we see now in Nagorno-Karabakh {the Armenian-populated enclave in Azerbaijan}, in the former Yugoslavia, and in Georgia. It left behind religious strife and economic collapse," Gen. John Shalikashvili, the supreme Allied commander in Europe, said last year. "It's those uncertainties, those unpredictabilities that threaten us today."

NATO already has started to reorganize itself to deal with new threats. Last October, the alliance launched a rapid-reaction force that is supposed to field 80,000 soldiers by 1995.

Earlier in 1992, NATO's foreign ministers decided to allow its forces to be used for peacekeeping missions outside of Western Europe. …

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NATO Must Define New Sense of Mission Clinton Promise Sets Stage for Troop Reductions in Europe
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