November 21-22 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in
Prague is the last, best chance for the United States and its
European allies to adapt the alliance to fit the needs of the
post-9/11 era. Specifically, two goals should be at the center of
the Bush Administration's reform proposals: increasing the
alliance's strategic and political flexibility and pressing the
Europeans to improve their capabilities within NATO.
Probably the most important underreported
story in the wake of the September 11 attacks was the non-use of
NATO in the counter-terrorist response. Washington decided it was
simply not worth going through the cumbersome NATO decision-making
process to secure the limited military help the European allies
could provide for fighting in Afghanistan.
Ironically, however, the non-use of NATO
since September 11 has actually facilitated a number of positive
steps toward reform to meet the needs of the new era. American
decision-makers have begun to ask the most important question about
the alliance: What does the United States want from NATO in this
new era? This involves two fundamental considerations. First,
NATO's decision-making structure must meet the needs of a time when
U.S. and European interests are similar but not identical.
Therefore, political flexibility becomes imperative. Second,
alliance members are losing their ability to operate together. Some
85 percent of the total NATO capability now rests on the American
pillar. This situation cannot be sustained; American geopolitical
interests are changing, while European spending habits are not.
Completed Agenda. The Bush Administration has accomplished
two of the four objectives it has consistently raised regarding
NATO reform. These four objectives are creating a vehicle for a
strategic dialogue with Russia, ensuring a robust second round of
enlargement, promoting the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) as a
vehicle for out-of-area action, and pushing for technological
modernization of the European militaries.
First, the NATO-Russia Council,
established in May, allows NATO and Russia to work much more
closely together in areas such as counter-terrorism and
anti-proliferation efforts. To make it possible to engage Russia
while making NATO more flexible, the council includes the crucial
right of any NATO member to take an issue off the council's agenda
if that country decides Russia is trying to slow the NATO process.
In such a case, the alliance would meet in its usual format without
Russian participation. This has safeguarded the decision-making
process while allowing NATO to further the strategic dialogue with
Second, the Bush Administration's push for
a robust enlargement has emerged as the preferred course for the
alliance as a whole. It is increasingly clear that NATO will
proceed on two tracks. The first preserves the sacrosanct Article V
commitment of each NATO member to the collective self-defense of
all members within the alliance. The second enables NATO countries
to act together out-of-area, in a "coalition of the willing."
Which countries are actually committed to
supporting the U.S. militarily around the world through bases,
military participation, or peacekeeping initiatives? In Europe,
with the honorable exception of Great Britain, the general rule of
thumb is that the farther east one moves across the continent, the
more pro-American the leaders are. For example, Poland is more
likely than Germany to join with the U.S. in fighting Iraq. Given
this political reality, a substantial enlargement makes sense from
an American point of view. There is little doubt that Slovenia,
Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Bulgaria will
all be invited to join NATO at Prague.
Job in Prague. Two other points must be advanced at the
Prague summit if NATO is to retain its usefulness in the future.
First, the Combined Joint Task Force should be explicitly
recognized as the tool that will allow NATO to have greater
alliance flexibility in both decision-making and crisis-response.
Initially endorsed at the Brussels NATO summit in January 1994, the
CJTF enables coalitions of the willing to meet security challenges
that do not threaten the primary security interests of all alliance
members. Before the CJTF, NATO's ossified structure allowed members
only two political responses: fully engage in a military mission or
prevent one from occurring. The CJTF put a third option on the
political table. For instance, the Bush Administration wisely
decided it had no serious security interests in Macedonia; yet the
CJTF allowed the use of NATO assets by other alliance members, such
as Germany and Italy, that felt they had significant interests in
preventing a conflict in Macedonia.
an era when American and European interests are not always
identical--and often, at best, only complementary--the CJTF option
is imperative. The centrality of the CJTF process to NATO's future
viability must be clearly articulated in Prague.
Finally, the Europeans must take advantage
of this last chance to re-engage in the shared technological
modernization of the alliance. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld has proposed the idea of a multinational rapid deployment
force of approximately 21,000 troops that could be deployed on a
week's notice anywhere in the world. NATO members, particularly the
Europeans, should be expected to announce commitments to acquire
new aircraft and equipment that would make this force effective.
The force should be based on niche contributions from member
states, including some of the weakest and least technologically
advanced, allowing all to possess common interoperability within
Given the demonstrated lack of enthusiasm
for greater European defense spending, this is the last hope for
reducing the gap in capabilities between the United States and
Europe. The Administration must come away from Prague with a firm
commitment from Europe to sign onto the NATO rapid deployment
Conclusion. Privately, the Bush White
House must make it crystal-clear to the allies that, although
progress has been made on its ambitious reform agenda for NATO in
the wake of September 11, this progress must continue if the
alliance is to remain relevant in American eyes. Only a firm
European commitment to the NATO rapid reaction force can stop the
decline of NATO's relevance in the new era.
Europe must be made aware that its
continued relevance lies in accepting the four-pronged Bush reform
agenda for NATO. Anything less will lead to a repetition of the
post-9/11 American response to European efforts to help America:
Thanks, but no thanks.
--John C. Hulsman,
Ph.D., is Research Fellow in European Affairs in, and Helle C.
Dale is Deputy Director of, the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies at The Heritage