NATO in Transformation

October 21, 1991

How should NATO be transformed so it is relevant to the new security situation in Europe?

The Soviet Union is unraveling not only politically but militarily. The U.S. is under great domestic pressure to draw down its forces assigned to NATO by half or two-thirds, thus raising questions about the U.S. military presence in Europe.

Meanwhile, Washington and Moscow have offered to rid the continent of most tactical nuclear weaponry. The European Community is trying without success to force an end to the Yugoslav civil war. France and Germany are proposing a 50,000-man force to turn the Western European Union into an organization with military capability. The Conference on European Cooperation and Security is touted as the one grouping that brings the United States and Canada into a European framework extending from the Atlantic to the Urals.

NATO at its summit next month needs to drive home the point that it remains the only credible military grouping in Europe. If a German-French -- "corps" is formed, its role will be outside the NATO function of dealing with what's left of the Soviet threat. Constitutional restraints on the use of the German military outside the NATO theater could be avoided, thus allowing German participation in a European force dealing, for example, with upheaval in the Balkans or dangers to the Middle East oil supply. Yet for the foreseeable future, only NATO will command sufficient troops and equipment to confront a full-scale crisis -- provided the American commitment to Europe remains firm and is accepted on both sides of the Atlantic.

Germany is going in two directions because of its conflicting loyalties to U.S. and French objectives in Europe. Several weeks ago, it joined with Washington in proposing the establishment of a North Atlantic Cooperative Council to link NATO closer to the Soviet Union and the nations of Eastern Europe. France objected, in line with its traditional love/hate attitude toward a U.S. presence. It soon got Germany's agreement to the buildup of an strictly-European army of uncertain dimensions. Britain, the Netherlands and the United States quickly signaled their misgivings.

Another complication is how the West will associate militarily with its old adversaries. Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia seem eager to draw as close as possible to NATO. Not so surprisingly anymore, the Soviet Union is receptive, since it is searching for any means available to keep its republics from flying apart -- or at each other. How former Warsaw Pact members feel about a West European military force is yet to be tested.

Given all this confusion, the NATO summit is assuming greater importance as it draws closer. Cold War divisions must give way to a system of interlocking institutions to bring stability to an alarmingly unstable part of the world. President Bush's duty is to outline a U.S. role in Europe that is consistent with Europe's needs and the political realities he has to deal with at home.

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