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Political Cooperation, Not Guns, the Key to a New, Successful NATO

May 04, 1997|James A. Baker III | James A. Baker III served as secretary of state from 1989-1992

WASHINGTON — In Madrid in July, NATO's 16 member states will formally issue invitations to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The accession of former Warsaw Pact countries to the U.S.-led Western alliance will mark a turning point in modern history. The United States and its allies are designing a new security architecture in Europe as part of a series of interlocking, mutually reinforcing international institutions that will promote peace, prosperity and democracy well into the next century.

As the old Cold War menaces of blitzkrieg and nuclear war recede, we must turn more and more toward political cooperation among nations for security. The Cold War's legacy of great-power confrontation in Europe will be truly ended only when it is replaced by a collaborative structure between former antagonists.

The expansion of NATO should be seen in that light. It is part of an overall effort to replace confrontation with cooperation. That was the message President Bill Clinton took with him to the U.S.-Russian summit in Helsinki last month. Notwithstanding Russian objections to NATO expansion, there were positive results in Helsinki. President Boris N. Yeltsin reaffirmed his commitment to START II and indicated his support for a prompt start to a third round of strategic-arms-reduction talks. Clinton's proposal for a permanent NATO-Russia military liaison structure was well received.

This is all to the good. Unfortunately, Clinton has not been as active as he might be in explaining to the American people why NATO expansion is necessary and in U.S. long-term interests. As we move toward the Madrid summit, this needs to be corrected. After all, NATO expansion is neither an exercise in internationalism for its own sake nor of interest only to foreign-policy experts.

NATO was designed to prevent a Soviet attack on Western Europe. The collapse of the Soviet Union has essentially eliminated any such threat. This requires a change in U.S. thinking about NATO and its military structures. First and foremost, we should remember that the alliance has been a political as well as a military association of free states.

Just as the structure and strategy of the Cold War-era NATO was determined by the security threat of that period, so the structures and strategies of the new NATO must arise from and be responsive to new threats. Among those threats are nuclear proliferation; international crime and terrorism, and the risk of uncontrolled migration sparked by political instability or ethnic and religious conflicts. NATO's military might cannot confront all these menaces directly. The most effective defense is international cooperation by stable, democratic governments that respect the rule of law, individual rights and economic freedom.

While Western financial investment and technical assistance can do much to enhance the effectiveness of reformers in the states of the former Soviet empire, the prospect of membership in NATO can also promote reform and stability.

A case in point is the recent treaty between Hungary and Romania guaranteeing the rights of each other's ethnic minorities and mutually recognizing the established frontier between them. Both governments were influenced by their desire to qualify for NATO membership. Here we see the fruitful interaction of popular attachment to Western values, broad-ranging technical assistance supporting internal reform efforts and the promise of enhanced security represented by the prospect of NATO membership. This structure of incentives may be subtle and complex, but it yields tangible and practical results.

The new NATO will, of course, continue to function as a defensive security alliance of free states. But it is now widely recognized that NATO will also need to use its military muscle for unconventional situations. These may include peace-keeping efforts outside the territory of NATO member states, whether in Europe, like the one now underway in Bosnia, or even outside the continent. New force structures for a new NATO, like the proposed Franco-German brigade, will have to be considered. The transformed strategic environment in Europe will continue to produce surprises and demand our vigilance.

It is precisely because of the unpredictability of the future that we need to act now to create effective structures for consultation and cooperation. The most reliable insurance against a sudden crisis is frank communications between NATO members and their closest neighbors. That is why the effort to create a formal consultative structure between NATO and Russia is so important.

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