NATO SECRETARY GENERAL Lord George Robertson recently gave a farewell speech in London titled "The Omaha Milkman Today." In it, he reminded his audience that one of the drafters of the Washington Treaty of 1949 sought to make the language of the treaty establishing the Atlantic Alliance so clear and concise that even a milkman from Omaha, Neb., would be able to understand it. As a senator from Nebraska, I commend the drafters for setting this lofty benchmark. I have learned to trust the instincts and insights of my fellow Midwesterners, who respect and appreciate clarity and straight talk. They also understand the connections between prosperity and security at home, and the success of our foreign, trade, and economic policies abroad.
The clarity and durability of the Atlantic Alliance begins with the shared values, interests, and destiny of its members. Even at its inception, NATO was more than just a military cooperative built to defend against the Soviets. Europeans and North Americans understood its common purpose and challenges. There was no significant debate about whether the Soviet Union represented a threat to U.S. security and world peace. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization became the most successful coalition in history because it matched purpose with power and served the interests of its members.
Yet, the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany raised new questions about the future. Many argued that the European Union could not adjust to the reintegration of a united Germany into Europe. Some predicted that NATO could be a victim of its own success, a relic of history, or that it might be relegated to keeping the peace hi Europe--in other words, a regional security organization. We were reminded that alliances are formed in response to threats. In the absence of the threat from the Soviet Union, NATO's fate was uncertain. What now was its purpose?
The durability and vision of NATO was captured well by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Diplomacy: "The architects of the Atlantic Alliance would have been incredulous had they been told that victory in the Cold War would raise doubts about the future of their creation. They took it for granted that the prize for victory ... was a lasting Atlantic partnership. In the name of that goal, some of the decisive political battles of the Cold War were fought and won. In the process, America was tied to Europe by permanent consultative institutions and an integrated military command system--a structure of a scope and duration unique in the history of coalitions."
During periods of historic change, institutions must adapt to remain vital and relevant. In the 1990s, NATO began this process as it sought to define a new role in world affairs. This included an expansion of membership, welcoming new countries from Eastern Europe, and establishing a fresh relationship with Russia.
Sept. 11, 2001, brought NATO's purpose into clearer locus. The greatest threat to the Atlantic Alliance, NATO, and the world comes from international terrorist groups mad networks, and the potential for these groups to obtain and use weapons of mass destruction. The danger to stability today does not come from great powers, but from weak ones. Terrorism finds sanctuary in tailed or faltering states, in unresolved regional conflicts, and in the misery of endemic poverty and despair. No single nation, including the U.S., even with its vast military and economic power, can meet these challenges alone.
The struggle in which we now are engaged is a global one that does not readily conform to our understanding of military confrontations or alliances of previous eras. It is not a traditional contest of standing armies battling over territory. Failed or failing states, or nations in transition, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, are not re built by military force alone. Progress must be made in these countries with human rights. good governance, and economic reform before we can expect lasting security and stability. …