NATO's 60th Calls for Change

Article excerpt


President-elect Barack Obama should make history. Not just on Jan. 20, but on April 4, as well.

The latter date marks the 60th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO.

When Harry Truman signed the North Atlantic Treaty six decades ago, he observed, Events of this century have taught us that we cannot achieve peace independently. The world has grown too small.

The words still ring true, but the world has changed. NATO must change, too, if it is to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The alliance's 60th anniversary celebration is the perfect occasion for Mr. Obama to announce a new vision for NATO.

The United States must take the lead in revitalizing the geriatric organization. It's the only country in the alliance that can still walk and chew gum at the same time. Less than a handful of the other member states invest in defense at a rate anywhere close to the agreed-upon target: a paltry 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Increasingly, NATO is in danger of becoming a paper tiger. Its mission in Afghanistan would certainly fail if the U.S. were not shouldering far more than its share of the burden.

Meanwhile, the alliance itself faces fierce competition from a surprising source: The European Union. Many European nations hold membership in both NATO and the EU. They often double count their forces to meet commitments to both. That's fine, as long as NATO and the EU decide to fight the same war. Unfortunately, NATO and the EU do not always see eye to eye institutionally.

Finally, many NATO countries are feeling pressure from a resurgent Russia. This week, the Kremlin reminded Europeans exactly who controls much of the natural gas and oil they burn - by cutting gas supplies 20 percent. The none-too-subtle exercise of power was well-calculated to fray ties among anxious allies.

A better NATO is in America's interest, too. Twenty-first century threats are international in character and indeterminable in length. They require a united, international response. And the best allies are not those of temporary convenience, but alliances based on an enduring commitment to peace, justice, security and - above all - freedom. Most of the nations that share these goals with America are in NATO.

Building strong alliances requires a proactive strategy - one that reinforces, rather than undermines, the sovereignty of individual states, while at the same time strengthening the bonds of trust and confidence between free peoples. This approach enables alliance members to act in their common interest. …