Academic journal article Parameters

NATO after Prague: Learning the Lessons of 9/11

Academic journal article Parameters

NATO after Prague: Learning the Lessons of 9/11

Article excerpt

It would be an understatement to note that the last months have not been kind to the transatlantic relationship. When Iraq moved to the front burner, the transatlantic community was forced to tackle an issue that threatened to overwhelm it. As a result, the spirit of transatlantic solidarity, which was so impressively displayed after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, has faded rapidly. The United States is disappointed with what it sees as only qualified European support for the war on terror, and it scoffs at European military weakness. Many Europeans, in turn, are disappointed about what they perceive as a US fixation on military responses, and they resent the US approach of casually lumping together the war on terror with issues such as weapons of mass destruction or regime change in Iraq.

NATO, the manifestation of the transatlantic security relationship, could never have remained unaffected by such discord. Although the real debate on Iraq was played out in the halls of the United Nations, and although NATO was not expected to play a direct role in a war on Iraq, sooner or later the Atlantic Alliance was bound to be hit by this debate. In February 2003, a short but agonizing disagreement erupted over the timing of planning for the defense of Turkey in case of war on Iraq. Only a few Allies held the view that the initiation of NATO's planning should be made contingent on further developments in the United Nations, yet for almost two weeks, NATO appeared to be blocked. That the disagreement was indeed one over timing, and not over substance, helped to bring the crisis to an end before any permanent damage was done. As NATO's Secretary General, Lord Robertson, put it in his personal account of the crisis, the Alliance had taken a hit above, not below, the waterline.

The short crisis within NATO, as well as the protracted crisis over Iraq, demonstrated that the Atlantic community has not yet fully adjusted to the post-9/11 security environment--in either political or institutional terms. However, one ought to resist the temptation to judge a long-term, strategic Alliance by short-term tactical tests. The current focus on Iraq and its discontents obscures the fact that NATO has embarked on a process of post-9/l 1 adaptation that will help bridge the enormous divides within Europe and across the Atlantic that the Iraq crisis has exposed.

The New Transatlantic Debate: 1990 Revisited

Today's transatlantic security debate is, in essence, the debate that did not take place a little over a decade ago, when the Cold War ended. Back then, a fundamental discussion about the future shape of the transatlantic relationship seemed inevitable. But it was put off. There was simply too much unfinished business left over from the Cold War. The transatlantic community could not afford to divert its attention away from the task it still faced together: the task of cleaning up the mess left by the Cold War. That entailed significant challenges:

* To embrace the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe, who were craving their share of Europe, including its Atlantic dimension in NATO.

* To associate a Russia that, in a sense, was both an old empire and a new state, still unsure of its European vocation.

* And to address the conflicts in the Balkans, which were making a mockery of the idea of Europe as a zone of peace and shared values.

Meeting these challenges required Europe and North America to work together. Accordingly, NATO reached out to Central and Eastern Europe, through its policy of partnership and through NATO enlargement. The Alliance also played a major role in associating Russia to NATO and, thus, to the emerging new Europe. And NATO played a key role in pacifying the Balkans through its military engagement.

However, this impressive display of transatlantic unity could not hide the fact that eventually the relationship between the two sides of the Atlantic was bound to change in the longer run. …

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