NATO Turns East
Last week, NATO received an infusion of new blood. At this time in
the half-century old alliance's lifespan, that's exactly what the
defense alliance needs. The inclusion of seven new members, most
from the old Warsaw Pact and some formerly parts of the Soviet
Union, will be a huge boost to morale. If anyone remembers why NATO
still has a purpose after the end of the Cold War, it is the
Bulgarians, the Romanians, the Estonians, the Lithuanians, the
Latvians, the Slovakians and the Slovenians.
"As witness to some of the great crimes of the last century, our
new members bring moral clarity to the purpose of our alliance,"
said President Bush at the White House ceremony last Monday,
welcoming representatives of the seven nations along with NATO's
new Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. "They understand our
cause in Afghanistan and in Iraq . . .because tyranny for them is
still a fresh memory. And so now as members of NATO they are
stepping forward to secure the lives and freedoms of others." Next
to seek membership will be Albania, Croatia and Macedonia.
New member nations will help NATO find its vision in a world faced
with so many challenges. Unfortunately, among our "old" allies in
Western Europe, fighting and squabbling has broken out over Iraq,
between Europeans and Americans, between Europeans and Europeans.
These disagreements have taken their toll over the past year, and
gravely undermined international relationships.
But it is worth remembering that strains and fractures in the
fabric of the NATO alliance predated Iraq, Afghanistan, and the
attacks of September 11. Almost as soon as the Berlin Wall fell in
1989 and former Warsaw Pact members started knocking on NATO's
door, there were those who predicted the end of NATO. Without an
opposing military alliance in Europe, without the Cold War, what
purpose could NATO possibly serve? So they argued.
Others of us believed that NATO represented the best vehicle for
consolidating the gains of freedom in Europe, among nations
previously held hostage in the orbit of the Soviet Union. We
thought that here was finally the chance to repair the division of
Europe ratified at the Yalta Conference in 1945, the Iron
Membership in the European Union will also serve to anchor these
countries institutionally in the West. Still, there is no
substitute for the full security guarantees of the military
alliance, which makes them partners not just of other Europeans but
of Americans as well.
As Col. Edvardas Mazeikas, commander of Lithuania's air force, told
the New York Times, "For us, history is close. We are in a
dangerous place. All through history war has passed through here,
from Napoleon to the Nazis to the Soviets. Lithuania is a very good
place for tanks. That's why collective security is so important for
All this has not been lost on the Russians, who have made unhappy
noises in recent weeks. Compared to the Russian opposition voiced
to the first round of NATO enlargement, however, which brought in
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, these rumblings have been
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Agence France Press
that the presence of American soldiers on Russia's borders was
causing paranoia, and a full 44 percent of Russians polled in late
March reportedly are "deeply concerned" about NATO's enlargement.
The good news is that younger respondents were more amenable than
older respondents to look favorably on Russian cooperation with
NATO, which President Putin has accepted through the creation of
the Russia-NATO council.
Of course, it might also help if Russian politicians, such as Mr.
Lavrov, acknowledged publicly that NATO is surely the least of the
threats faced by Russia - indeed no threat at all - and that NATO
enlargement has not brought American soldiers closer to Russia's
borders. The new NATO presence in the Baltic countries consists of
four Belgian F-16s, supported by 100 Belgians, Norwegian and Danish
troops. Does anyone even recall the last time the Belgian air force
fired a shot in anger?
Today, the imminent threat to the West is not Russia, but the
modern threats of radical fundamentalism, terrorism, and
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. NATO has recently
undertaken its first out of area mission in Afghanistan and may
take over control in Iraq as well, as has been advocated by
Secretary of State Colin Powell.
In that fight, the eastward and southward-facing bases in the new
NATO countries will be important logistical assets. And so will the
determination of the new members to be valuable partners in the
alliance they have worked so hard to join.
First appeared in The Washington Times