The new NATO Alliance compromise: Reconciling U.S. TTC 'dominance' and a 'European personality.'

June 10, 1996

QUOTATION from Defense Secretary William Perry: "During the Cold War, the U.S. had technological superiority that allowed us to maintain deterrence. But during Desert Storm we had technological dominance that allowed us to achieve a stunning victory quickly and with minimum casualties. Now that we have experienced dominance, we like it and we plan to keep it." [Italics ours.]

Mr. Perry's words to the 1996 "long gray line" at West Point should come as a reality check for the "new NATO" proclaimed at a meeting of foreign ministers in Berlin last week. The alliance henceforth is to have a more "European personality," as France's Herve de Charette described it. Provided the Europeans can agree among themselves, they ostensibly will be able to undertake military operations in which the U.S. does not participate.

There is, however, a caveat in this arrangement. It can be viable only if the United States agrees to make its assets within the NATO integrated military structure (particularly command, control and communications equipment) available to the European "combined joint task forces" mustered for the occasion.

Secretary Perry's blustery statement would seem to make this whole concept a grand illusion. While America would like its European allies to assume more of the costly burden of defending themselves, it is not about to give up its "dominance" in the global military pecking order. Thus, Washington might let the Europeans handle a minor skirmish in which it has no real interest, but when things get serious (as in Bosnia or the Persian Gulf), U.S. primacy will out.

Bosnia was an intellectual revelation for NATO. It demonstrated, first, the inability of the Western European powers to handle a large-scale civil war on their periphery; second, U.S. reluctance early on to get involved, and, third, Perry-style "dominance" when it did.

There is, however, a more foreboding presence in the East than Bosnia. Russia is a shadow of the superpower it once was. But that is now, and the future is the future. If NATO expands to embrace Poland and its neighbors, Russia may well be provoked to begin its military resurgence. As a result, America and France still find it in their mutual interest to put aside their rivalries and make NATO, together with some strictly European groupings, a credible military organization for the long haul. Good idea, if it works.

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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