- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 4, 2001

A decade after the Cold War, America's business in Europe is far from finished. Will President-elect Bush stay the course, reaffirm the goal of a Europe "whole and free" and push forward with the historic process of NATO enlargement?

To be sure, one of the first issues to face the Bush administration will be our relationship to Europe. By seizing on the likelihood of European unification and addressing the question of the next round of NATO enlargement, the new administration will define America's interests in the new century as what we are for rather than what we are against a politically and economically unified, secure Europe inclusive of Russia.

Telling the world what we want sends the signal that the United States is engaged, moving forward and not so riven by domestic debates that we have forgotten our global responsibilities. And it signals potential adversaries that the United States, even in a time of domestic uncertainty, remains engaged in the world scene.

The best contribution the United States and NATO could make to European security is to enhance NATO's military and political cohesion, support Europe's initiative to develop its own security apparatus and engage with Russia if its government is inclined to find a constructive role to play in Europe. To be sure, the structures are already in place through NATO to facilitate that relationship with Russia; but for the initiative to be successful, Russia must be genuinely willing to work with the West.

In the current political environment, where partisan politics threaten to dominate Mr. Bush's foreign policy agenda, the United States cannot afford to let world affairs drift. And it is the issue of NATO enlargement that cuts across party lines and has a proven history of bipartisan cooperation. Indeed in 1998, the American debate over the admission of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic culminated in an overwhelming 80-19 Senate vote to enlarge NATO. Yet there are new obstacles to restart the momentum. Some senators rightfully declare that NATO must first clarify its mission, and this time around no major European ally supports enlargement.

While murmurs in the Senate today suggest that the United States should rethink or cut back its engagement in Europe to concentrate on other priorities, our European allies are focused on developing their own defense policy and expanding the European Union (EU) to include former Cold War adversaries. Other enlargement skeptics on Capitol Hill believe the EU should assume a greater role in providing a more broadly, politically based security apparatus by building democracy and free markets. Congress must face the fact that it is far better to remain engaged during peacetime with like-minded democracies so that we are not alone when crises arise.

The Bush administration should initiate a measured policy of paced enlargement that is based on admitting aspirant members when they meet membership criteria for the purpose of ensuring the security of Europe. This option, consistent with NATO's "open door" policy, would keep the United States anchored in Europe and the alliance to focus on European security and the restructuring of NATO in parallel with the deepening of the EU. Rather than concentrating on who gets to join NATO on a strict timetable, the United States and our allies could make every effort to respond to the new post-Cold War challenges, such as ethnic and local conflicts, and nuclear proliferation. This alternative would also give the alliance time to absorb new members while continuing to help strengthen Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic from the last round. Russia, in the meantime, could decide whether it is willing to do some of the heavy lifting to secure relations with the West or drop the weights and look eastward for partnerships.

The decision to admit new members must reflect the fact that the security challenges and risks which NATO now faces are different in nature from those the alliance faced in the past. In 1991, NATO's strategic concept stated: "The threat of a simultaneous, full-scale attack on all of NATO's European fronts has effectively been removed." Since then, NATO has engaged in an air campaign over Yugoslavia that is considered a victory of allied unity, while the risk of a re-emergent, large-scale military threat Russia has further declined. Nevertheless, risks to European security remain, which are multifaceted and multidirectional, such as international criminal networks, and thus hard to grasp and assess. NATO must be capable of responding to new risks and new challenges as they develop if stability in Europe and the security of alliance members, old and new, are to be preserved.

Paced enlargement also sends an important message to Russia that NATO is an organization of sovereign states that will protect its interests by building stability, regardless of Moscow's steadfast response that the alliance is a threat to Russia. The West should not pander to Russian threats or insecurities but proceed with the necessary goal to secure transatlantic relations. Russia's behavior, rather than its history, size or extent of democratic governance, should determine the extent of its distance from or proximity to NATO's decision-making.

The Bush administration and Congress, along with our NATO allies, concur that a working NATO is in the U.S. interest. NATO's success and America's leadership in Europe therefore depend on proving NATO's cohesion as an alliance of nations willing and able to share military and financial burdens. These issues matter for the United States because NATO's success in future rounds is a core element of managing European security.

Jessica Fugate is a research associate for European studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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