Greater NATO

March 12, 1992

As the world gropes for a security system responsive to the needs of the post-Cold War era, NATO inexorably comes to the fore. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, arguably the most successful military alliance of all time, was born and bred in the Cold War. Since the collapse of the Soviet empire east of the Elbe, there has been intense debate whether NATO has a mission and a future or whether it should be buried honorably next to its vanquished foe, the Warsaw Pact.

At an extraordinary meeting this week of the 16 foreign ministers of NATO countries and their 19 counterparts from Eastern Europe and the newly independent republics of the old Soviet Union, this question may have been answered. They contemplated civil war in Yugoslavia, ethnic conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the lingering danger of resurgent Russian imperialism. And, with surprising consensus, they turned to NATO as the one organization with credible military capability -- even with intervention capability.

Instead of considering NATO as a rival to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Western Alliance was perceived as its natural partner. CSCE, the product of the 1975 Helsinki Accords which forced human rights on Communist autocrats, is still largely a discussion group with lofty aims but no real organization or muscle. But it has promulgated useful accords to head off conflict and has always been the one all-European council that embraced the United States and Canada.

With the end of the Cold War, France perceived CSCE's military weakness and sought a European or French-German force to fill in the gap. This was strictly in line with established France's wariness of NATO, which it has long regarded as too much under the American thumb. Other European nations quickly understood, however, that this move would feed into American isolationism and accelerate the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals at a time of intense instability in Europe.

The result was formation of a new North Atlantic CooperatioCouncil (NACC) linking NATO and former Warsaw Pact states or republics. As part of NACC's "mutually reinforcing relationship with CSCE," (Secretary of State James Baker's phrase) the new organization may have as its first order of business a military intervention to prevent more bloodshed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This would parallel United Nations intervention in Yugoslavia at the behest of the European Community.

As Europe searches for security, there may be other ad hoc arrangements of this kind. The message for America is that it should not forsake its commitment to European peace. The Bush administration is cutting the 300,000-man U.S. force in NATO to 150,000 by 1995. That is enough. Along with economic support to protect fragile democracy in the old Soviet empire, the West must allocate adequate forces not for war but for peace-keeping duty. NATO's new arrangements with former antagonists are prudent and reassuring.

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