The second creation of NATO

June 05, 1996|By Elizabeth Pond

WASHINGTON -- The "second creation" began this week with the announcement by NATO foreign ministers in Berlin that after two years of squabbling they have figured out how Europe can take over some defense burdens from the U.S.

The solution is dubbed, "Combined Joint Task Forces,` a scheme to let Europeans borrow American intelligence and logistics for peacemaking operations in which only European troops are present on the ground. Moreover, France will soon rejoin the integrated NATO command it left three decades ago. Spain, the other member of the political, but not the military, wing of NATO, will also join the military command.

"This is essentially setting forth the framework for France to come back into NATO and for NATO to be the framework for the whole European security and defense identity," said a senior American diplomat before the June 3-4 meeting in Berlin.

Follow-up next December will renew the mandate for a slimmed NATO-led "Implementation Force" (IFOR) to prolong the peace in Bosnia. And NATO will also start the process of admitting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic as new members.

In 1997 the European Union will open corollary negotiations to admit these same states and perhaps also Slovakia. In 1998 TC nucleus of nations, including Germany, France and the Benelux countries, will pledge themselves to revolutionary monetary union.

Security for the future

Before the new millennium, then, Europe will have established the institutional foundation for the post-Cold War world. The achievement can only be compared with what Secretary of State Dean Acheson called that brilliant "creation" after World War II of the mutually reinforcing NATO, Marshall Plan, European Communities and Bretton Woods.

For four decades NATO provided the security -- and the other cooperative institutions provided the economic stability -- that let Western Europe prosper. In their second creation, today's diplomats aim to establish an equally durable system for coming generations in all of Europe.

The current hope is a far cry from the gloom that engulfed the NATO alliance only a year ago.

French President Jacques Chirac abandoned Gaullist national glory and efforts to ease the U.S. out of Europe as he accepted the logic of the end of the Cold War, reunification of a powerful Germany and the disappointing record of French troops in the gulf war. Germany matured out of its previous refusal to send Bundeswehr soldiers outside NATO territory.

The U.S., after first leaving the Yugoslav mess to the Europeans and then feuding with Britain and France over policy there, decided it did have a vital interest in saving NATO from such acrimony.

Now the surprisingly swift half-year success of the NATO-led IFOR in stopping the bloodshed in Bosnia is setting the pattern for post-Cold War security in Europe.

With their first-ever real military action, the NATO allies have shown that they can shift from demonstrative Cold War deterrence in a bipolar world to the kind of hands-on military intervention needed in a more chaotic new era. Already the alliance has drawn 16 non-NATO states into close collaboration in IFOR. Russian-American military cooperation in Bosnia has been excellent.

This month's meetings of NATO foreign ministers and defense ministers are therefore seeking to build on this foundation.

On the face of it, the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) is an odd place to start, since it presupposes a European operation without U.S. ground forces while the whole goal of current efforts is to keep the Atlantic alliance working together. But with CJTF Washington can avoid committing GIs to danger while contributing less risky intelligence, air power, and logistics.

Fifteen nations

There are still major barriers to construction of a reliable security system for Europe. Central Europeans like Czech President Vaclav Havel continue to doubt whether the West really will invite them into the club. Some Americans further doubt whether the EU of 15 very different nations can ever function as a unit.

In an attempt to reassure the Central Europeans, the Republicans will this week introduce legislation calling for the admission of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the Western clubs.

The process will be completed by the 50th anniversary of NATO in April 1999, said former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, establishing a dynamic that will be close to "irreversible."

Doubts about the ability of the EU to achieve unity in decision-making may be harder to allay than doubts about EU and NATO enlargement, the senior American diplomat warned. He hoped his prediction would prove false, because an enlarged EU is "a very important way of managing the German role in Europe."

What is beginning in Berlin this week is nothing less than an effort to expand the "creation" and institutions of Acheson's generation into a cooperative alternative to Europe's old balance-of-power nationalism.

"Such historical chance doesn't come often," declared another German diplomat. "If we blow it, coming generations will blame us."

Elizabeth Pond is a free-lance foreign correspondent.

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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