European Affairs

Importance of Shared Values in A Successful Half-Century     Print Email
Gordon H. Smith

A half century ago, the leaders of the victorious powers in World War II gathered in Washington, DC to hammer out a mutual defense agreement - the North Atlantic Treaty. The threat to Europe was real and imminent. Leaders of democratic nations in North America and Europe, exhausted by that terrible war, joined together to confront the threat of Soviet tyranny in a well-considered, but desperate, attempt to preserve liberty.

Thus was born the US-European partnership. It is safe to say that the success of NATO exceeded the wildest dreams of those at that gathering. Not only did the unified democracies of Europe and North America successfully defend freedom on the continent, they did it without firing a shot in anger. It was through the strength of our free market system and the vigilant defense of our democracies that we contained the Soviet Union, and ultimately contributed to its collapse. Though it was essential to prepare for yet another war in Europe, we ultimately prevailed not through force of arms, but through the strength of our convictions.

How is it that this endeavor to defend freedom in fact conquered tyranny? What lessons do the past fifty years offer us as we labor to preserve that peace, and to extend the prosperity it has provided us to the formerly captive nations of Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe? And what are the next steps for the Alliance at the beginning of the new century?

In order to answer these questions for myself, I reread the text of the North Atlantic Treaty. The treaty is hardly two pages long, spare on words, and vague on details. But the essential reason for the success of the democratic nations protected by NATO can be found in the simple words of that treaty. In its preamble, the North Atlantic Treaty dedicates the Allies "to safeguard freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law."

It is this basic commitment to defend shared values, and the willingness to include new members, that has allowed NATO not only its stunning successes, but its continued vitality in the post-Cold War era. Shared values are the foundation of the Alliance. Our commitment to democratic government, civil liberties, religious freedom, and ethnic tolerance is the cornerstone of NATO's unity, and the magnet for those who seek to join the Alliance. Any European country - and I repeat any country - that adheres to these fundamental principles and is capable of contributing to their defense is worthy of membership in NATO.

In Europe today, as during the Cold War, defending these values is as important as adhering to them. NATO members struggled with the difficult decision on whether to intervene militarily in Kosovo. This is to be expected in democratic nations for whom going to war is the last recourse. Admittedly, not all American Senators supported military action in Kosovo as I did - but skepticism over foreign entanglements has always properly been part of the landscape of American foreign policy.

What worries me, however, is a new form of isolationism emerging in Europe. It manifests itself in the excessive, passive reliance upon international law and international institutions such as the United Nations, the OSCE and the International Criminal Court to provide the sole defense of our common interests and values.

I fully support international efforts to resolve disputes such as Bosnia and Kosovo diplomatically, with the support of the United Nations and the OSCE. But we must not forget that laws are made for law-abiding people, not criminals. Law enforcement is also necessary to vanquish those who choose to live outside the law.

Who can forget that the worst atrocities during the war in Bosnia were committed in the very presence of a United Nations Protection Force by individuals already under indictment for international war crimes? If we had allowed a narrow reading of the United Nations charter to place claims of Yugoslav sovereignty above the defense of our values in Europe, as some had argued, then I fear it would have proven that we had learned little from the last century. After all, the Jews herded into the death camps of the holocaust were citizens of sovereign countries. What happened to the solemn pledge of "never again" that arose from the horrors of World War II? Has it become "never again, except when a consensus cannot be reached in the United Nations Security Council?"

If United Nations approval were required for NATO actions outside Alliance territory, it would be fatal to the Alliance. NATO does not act except with the consent of its 19 democratic governments. Does anyone seriously believe that submitting its decisions to the review of the United Nations Security Council will add to NATO's legitimacy? As shown by China's veto of the UN mandate in Macedonia, this only will create opportunities for mischief.

NATO does not get its legitimacy from the United Nations; rather, it is nations like those in NATO that give legitimacy to the United Nations. The question of United Nations mandating is not the only outstanding challenge for NATO. The Alliance must also develop a proper formula to reassure applicant nations that membership remains a real option.

NATO must reassure candidate countries that we are serious about further enlargement not only through words, but through concrete actions. More urgent than new invitations, however, is a demonstration of will by NATO to meet the challenges that confront us at the beginning of the new century. In my view, our collective ability in North America and Europe to address those challenges will largely dictate the strength and direction of the US-European partnership. And just as NATO has its work cut out for it, so too does the European Union.

In meeting and discussing the US-European partnership with European visitors, I am constantly amazed at the confusion over what is Europe. Even I cannot say what the limits of Europe are: Ukraine? Azerbaijan? Uzbekistan? A frequent mistake, however, is to refer to the European Union as Europe. The European Union is not Europe - it is part of Europe. Norway and Turkey are close NATO Allies and friends of the United States but not EU members; likewise for Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, as well as other Central and Eastern European states not in NATO.

What happens in the European Union, while important, does not represent the totality of US interests on the continent. Nonetheless, the deepening and widening of the European Union will affect a greater scope of US interests in Europe, and will have profound implications for the US-European partnership.

The issue that most affects the US-European partnership is the effort to develop a Common Foreign and Security Policy. To forge common foreign and security policies among fifteen sovereign European nations is an enormous undertaking - an undertaking that may not succeed. However, the United States must approach this effort with caution and creativity. We must ensure that our interests are represented in EU decision-making, but we must not set ourselves up as the convenient target of blame should the CFSP fail.

The United States can and will work in support of EU foreign and security policies that are effective and backed by real capabilities. However, we are in trouble on both sides of the Atlantic if the purpose of this effort in the EU is to differentiate Europe from the United States; if the common policies consist of a lowest common denominator; and if common security is to be provided by a separate and autonomous entity outside NATO.

For those who would seek to use the CFSP to set up a competition with the United States, I say this: there are many in the US Congress who would welcome the opportunity to shed European security obligations - especially now. Please understand, the emergence of an autonomous European security entity with policies in competition with the United States is likely to ensure our rapid exit from Europe. On the other hand, done in a spirit of transatlantic cooperation and in a manner complementary to NATO, such a move could strengthen our ties.

In short, the US-European partnership should and will have room for a louder European voice. But this increased voice will come from an increased dedication of European resources to act in places like Bosnia and Kosovo, not from rearranging the architecture of European institutions.

Equally, realization of EU enlargement will demonstrate to skeptics in America that all Euro-Atlantic institutions are equal to the task of European integration. And the admission of countries such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia into the EU will further erase borders of the Cold War era.

While I was troubled by the how and the when of the war in Kosovo, I had absolutely no problem with the question of why. To have stood by idly while Slobodan Milosevic brutalized the population of Kosovo would have diminished us as a nation. This is a view I am certain is shared by many of our European partners.

Some in the United States have questioned whether intervening in Kosovo was in our national interests. American interests are an amalgamation of political, economic and even geographical factors, all of which are underpinned by our values. As a nation we can survive political, economic and geographic compromise, but to compromise our values is the beginning of a downward slide for us. To those who would argue against action in Kosovo because we do not act everywhere against all tyranny I can only say that we should act when we can, where we can. Kosovo met this test.

As we begin a new century of opportunity, it is my sincere hope that the US-European partnership will bring the same peace and prosperity to Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe that it provided to Western Europe and North America. To succeed in this endeavor, we must remain true to the principles that have served us so well for the last fifty years, and rededicate ourselves to support those who share them.


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

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