European Affairs

US Leadership Is Still Essential - for Europe Too     Print Email
Alexander Vershbow

We know that the simple, old, East-West divide is gone, and with it the kinds of clear military threats that we spent 40 years deterring. We know that there are new challenges and risks and we can say in general terms what they are - regional instability, often related to ethnic conflict, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and terrorism, to name a few. But by their very nature, these new risks are harder to pin down and address than a conventional military threat to an Ally's territory.

Nonetheless, we know that it is NATO's job to deal with these risks and challenges, and so we are working hard to make sure that NATO has the right stuff for the next 50 years, just as it did for the past.

This is the number one US objective for the Alliance - getting NATO ready for the next century. It is an objective fully shared by our Allies. And it is an objective we believe that last year's Washington Summit went a long way toward achieving, recognizing that no one can fully anticipate the challenges NATO will be called upon to address in the coming years.

The Summit took decisions and issued statements on a wide range of issues. These define in practice how NATO is not just reacting to, but actually shaping, the new strategic environment. One important aspect is NATO enlargement.

At the Summit, the participation of the three new Allies - and the commitment of all 19 Allies to continuing the enlargement process in the future - sent a clear message: that Stalin's division of Europe is truly over. Moreover, the Summit made equally clear that continued enlargement is a key part of NATO's strategy for creating a democratic, prosperous and secure Europe in the coming century. The first round of enlargement will not be the last. For the United States, enlargement remains a strategic imperative.

NATO enlargement does not merely extend security to the new members. It also promotes the adoption of democratic norms and peaceful relations with countries throughout the Euro-Atlantic area and brings additional strength to the Alliance in carrying out its missions, new and old.

To help pave the way for future enlargement, the Summit leaders approved a package of measures - the "Membership Action Plan" or MAP. Through the MAP, NATO has committed itself to helping aspiring members become the strongest possible candidates for joining the Alliance in preparation for the next NATO Summit in 2001 or 2002.

Of course, the issuance of an actual membership invitation will depend upon a political decision by the Allies that a nation's membership in NATO will contribute to our overall security. But by giving aspiring members more feedback and guidance on their defense reforms and their modernization efforts, the Membership Action Plan demonstrates that NATO fully expects to admit additional countries in the future.

Enlargement, however, is far from the whole story. Perhaps most important in addressing the new challenges of the 21st century was the Summit's approval of NATO's revised Strategic Concept - NATO's overarching roadmap for ensuring stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic area. This document lays out in some detail the nature of the Alliance, the challenges of the new security landscape, and NATO's approach to security and defense.

Unbeknownst to many, however, is the fact that the Strategic Concept's most important function is to instruct Alliance military authorities how to configure NATO defense forces so that they are equipped for the full range of Alliance missions, from collective defense to peacekeeping.

The United States has long believed that one of the most important, new elements of the revised Strategic Concept is the recognition that one of the fundamental tasks of the Alliance is to carry out so-called "non-Article 5" missions - operations in response to crises that go beyond defense of Allied territory.

This is not to say that collective defense is no longer NATO's "job one" or, on the other hand, that NATO is going to turn into some form of "globo-cop," set to intervene in every crisis both in Europe and out. Rather, it is merely a recognition that many of the threats to the security of the Allies emanate from outside NATO territory - whether through weapons of mass destruction or regional conflict - and NATO must be prepared to deal with these kinds of threats whenever there is an Alliance consensus to do so.

We have sought to sum up this approach as the "defense of common interests" - a seemingly straightforward concept that has aroused a surprising degree of controversy and fears of a US agenda for a "global NATO." When we speak of defending our "common interests," we do want our European allies to take account of the wider landscape. But we also recognize that our common interests are not pre-ordained. They will be defined day-to-day in the consultations that are the bread and butter of our work at NATO.

In practical terms, NATO has already taken on these kinds of missions through the Bosnia and Kosovo operations. By raising the profile of this type of action in the Strategic Concept, we have instructed NATO's defense planners to prepare the mobile, sustainable, and survivable forces necessary to carry out these types of missions in the future, whether they be high-intensity or low.

A further step taken at the Summit was to articulate new and closer operational ties between NATO and Partnership for Peace countries in responding to crises in Europe. As we have seen in Bosnia and in Kosovo, when NATO acts to deal with instability outside its borders, it will usually seek the participation of non-Allies as contributors to a NATO-led operation.

To facilitate this, NATO has developed together with Partners a document that explains how Partners will be involved - not only by their putting troops on the ground - but in the operational planning, political direction and military command arrangements of future NATO-led crisis response operations.

This document - with the catchy title of the "Political-Military Framework for NATO-led PfP Operations" - was one of the centerpieces of Day Two at the Summit, when leaders from 42 countries participated in the largest ever summit meeting in Washington, the Summit of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. A further document, with the even catchier title of "Operational Capabilities Concept," was also approved, laying out how NATO plans to help improve the interoperability and military effectiveness of Partner contributions to NATO-led operations.

Thus the Summit made clear that NATO is not merely the Alliance of 19 members. It is, to quote Secretary of Defense Cohen, the core of a larger "cooperative security network" that links all of Europe's democracies in tackling the security problems of the entire continent.

Within NATO's partnership agenda, building a cooperative NATO-Russia relationship is one of the most important and exciting challenges we face. Without giving Russia a veto over NATO action, the Alliance is committed to working with Russia as much as possible in specific areas of cooperation - for example, in discussing peacekeeping operations, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, science and the environment, and even the Y2K problem.

Even on the difficult and contentious issue of Kosovo, the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council proved itself as a valuable forum for consultation. Although Russia suspended its participation in the PJC after the start of NATO's Kosovo air campaign, Russia in the end helped secure Milosevic's capitulation. Russia is now participating in the peacekeeping operation in Kosovo and has resumed consultations in the PJC.

On the intra-Alliance side, a key US goal for the NATO Summit was agreement on the Defense Capabilities Initiative (DCI). The aim of the DCI is to match capabilities to the new strategic requirements by agreeing on a common concept of operations that prepares all the Allies for the 21st century battlefield. The urgency of the DCI was underscored by the huge disparity in US and European capabilities during the Kosovo air campaign.

Our goal here is to enhance capabilities, not to get the European Allies to "buy American" (at least not exclusively!). Most, though not all, Allied nations do not need to spend more - but they do need to spend more wisely. They must move away from overly large, standing forces and toward more emphasis on deployability and sustainability. They must ensure that the communications and weapons systems they will rely on for the next decade and beyond are modern and capable enough to operate effectively with those of the United States.

We see a strong connection between the Defense Capabilities Initiative and the development of the European Security and Defense Identity, or "ESDI" as it is usually called. The Clinton Administration has consistently supported ESDI. It would be in the US interest for the European Allies to develop their defense capabilities, strengthen their collective political will, and make a greater contribution to security and defense in Europe.

In the past, discussions about ESDI focused almost exclusively on institutional arrangements. Such arrangements are indeed important. But a discussion about ESDI that is not based on real capabilities will be just a paper exercise. These points have been very much the center of UK Prime Minister Blair's calls for a renewed European dialogue on ESDI and we welcome this focus on capabilities in the current European debate.

At present, the United States provides the lion's share of the strategic lift, logistical support and intelligence assets needed to sustain military operations beyond NATO territory. If ESDI is to mean something in practice, it must address these questions of capability. If it does, it will be a genuine "win-win" for both Europe and NATO. We would like to see the European Allies adopt the NATO Defense Capabilities Initiative as one of the tools that will help give real substance to ESDI.

On the institutional side, the new debate is pointing toward an increased EU role in security and defense under the Amsterdam Treaty - leading to a friendly takeover of the WEU by the EU. As this process unfolds, the chief US concern is to preserve NATO as the overarching framework and avoid the waste and political divisiveness that could come from efforts to establish separate European capabilities and structures.

We also need to preserve the kind of genuine, open consultations we now have within NATO, as well as the full participation of the six European Allies that are not members of the European Union. A European operation will have the greatest chance of success if it has the political and practical support of the US and other non-EU Allies - not least of all Turkey.

To summarize the US view, a stronger ESDI backed by real capabilities can contribute directly to greater burden-sharing and responsibility-sharing that will strengthen European security overall. Continued US engagement, and cooperation with a stronger Europe, will be the key to dealing successfully with challenges that still face us, long after the Cold War has ended. This is one of the overarching lessons of Kosovo.

Let me be equally clear, however, that the future is not just about addressing regional crises, although that is certainly important. The future is about building a secure, undivided and democratic Euro-Atlantic community.

Indeed, one can say that NATO's Partnership for Peace and the relationships with Russia and Ukraine are also "out-of-area" missions of a more positive kind. In helping to shape the future security environment, NATO can ensure that there are fewer crises that it may be called upon to manage in the coming years. This effort will be reinforced by the work of the OSCE, the European Union, and the US-EU relationship in preventing conflict and promoting stability and integration.

But the biggest challenge we all face is maintaining the Transatlantic commitment to our common values and common cause.

On the US side, we have to remind ourselves that security in Europe is linked directly to our own security. Not because a small place like Kosovo or Bosnia has a direct effect on the most vital US interests, but because problems like these have an enormous effect - both tangibly and intangibly - on our strategic objective of building a Europe that is democratic, prosperous, secure and a key partner of the United States.

The United States cannot expect to be a leader, or to reap the benefits of a strong Transatlantic partnership, if it tries to deal with European security problems on the cheap and ˆ la carte. US leadership and commitment is still essential - for US interests as well as for Europe's.

As for Europe, there can be no real Transatlantic bargain, nor any meaningful ESDI, nor any prospect of banishing the ghosts of violent nationalism, unless European Allies develop the military capabilities and political will to deal with crises that occur well beyond their own territory. And in developing these capabilities, Europe must have the confidence not to draw dividing lines among European states, or shape institutions in ways that inhibit cooperation with the United States.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number I, Issue number I in the Winter of 2000.