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The Next NATO:

James Kurth's "The Next NATO" (Fall 2001) had a subtitle that may be more relevant now than it was when first published: "Building an American Commonwealth of Nations." Little did he know, of course, that the ghastly but brilliant and precise terrorist attack of September 11 on the two main symbols of global capitalism and military power would shock the nation and the world into undertaking a project something like building a new commonwealth of nations. I hope Professor Kurth will soon share his unique and powerful insights with us on this new project and its prospects.

For example, will the coalition against terrorism (not to mention a commonwealth of nations), whether large or small, be hobbled by the downdraft in the U.S. and Japanese economies--the world's two largest? The strategic consequences of such a critically important reality need to be addressed. The contrast with the upsurge in the American economy that began in 1939, and the political lift it provided to FDR as we came out of the Depression going into World War II, is striking.

Second, China is a part of the anti-terror coalition, due to its own exposure to Muslim terrorists and separatists in Xinjiang with links to the Taliban. The Chinese also rely, tacitly, of course, on the United States as guarantor of world order, and their foreign exchange reserves are heavily weighted in dollars. They enjoy a huge positive balance of trade with us--a balance that funds their annual state budget. Still, they can hardly be thought of as members of an American commonwealth. They have serious national interests that conflict with our own--mainly over Taiwan-- and a growing regional military capability that rightly concerns us.

Third, will Russia's joining the coalition against terrorism--a decision regarded in Moscow as a major strategic move westward--now allow the Bush Administration to devise a way for Russia itself to join NATO? The implications for the structure of the West are staggering but not unthinkable. The globalization of terrorism directed against civilization has taken us back to the Thirty Years War of the 17th century, a war of religions. The Treaties of Westphalia in 1648 put war on a stare-to-state basis, but this is now, evidently, quite obsolete. Some sort of revised legitimation of civilization is necessary. NATO was always more than a classical 19th century-style military alliance, and NATO of the 21st century could be a powerful source for a more humane and secure world. Of course, the military deployments and commitments, and the legitimacy of the political structures of NATO, would have to be re-conceptualized.

As for legitimacy, there are literally dozens of well-funded, well-staffed, highly effective NGOs that are determined to fill the competency gap that exists where governments used to occupy the international space.

Finally, I notice that Professor Kurth characteristically shifts from his brilliant technical, historical and strategic analysis to a transcendent call for something above and beyond. In this case, he requires "of the American statesman of the 2 1st century a level of sophistication and determination that would have amazed those of the 20th." Here may be the single most important point in Kurth's current thinking. He is speaking of the Baltics joining NATO, which is a lesser challenge than that which confronts us today. My instinct tells me that the American public will also require, as Professor Kurth does, a very high level of sophistication and determination. We may well be amazed if we actually meet those requirements: let us hope that the bin Laden network and what it stands for do not survive to fill the gap.

ROBERT F. ELLSWORTH former U.S. Ambassador to NATO

Kurth replies:

Ambassador Ellsworth's perceptive and thoughtful comments are right and wise. The American war on global terrorism provides both a new necessity and a new opportunity for building an American commonwealth of nations. …