- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said recently that diplomacy is unlikely to be effective without the power of military force behind it. That sounds much like the memorable scene from "The Untouchables," when Robert de Niro, in the character of Al Capone, said something like, "In my neighborhood you can get farther with a smile and a gun than you can with just a smile." This was never more true than in the war against terror.
A copy of a soldier's oath was found in a cave in Tora Bora. It doesn't matter if it was Taliban or al Qaeda. The oath said, "I state in the presence of God that I will slaughter infidels for my entire life." Against such a foe diplomacy is pretty much useless. Recognizing that fact, President Bush has rightly based our strategy on pre-emptive strikes to destroy the enemy's ability to strike. But there is a dearth of support for that strategy even within our principal alliance, NATO. NATO's foundation is as a reactive force. Its philosophical underpinnings were the agreement to show a unified response to any Soviet invasion. It told the Soviet Union that an attack on one was an attack on all. There was no thought of acting pre-emptively against any threat. Most of NATO's members have neither the will nor the forces to join us in pre-emption. Worse still, many NATO members now see it as a diplomatic organization rather than a military one. It is hard to see how such an alliance can function in the war we now fight.
The once-grand alliance is seriously ill and may not be curable. If NATO dies, it will be due to its own success. When the Soviet threat ended, so did NATO's reason for being. Since then, continental Europe has refused to do anything serious in its own defense. In a diplomatic role, NATO cannot succeed. Diplomacy, in the words of NATO General Secretary Lord Robertson, is "soft power." As he has said, without serious military capabilities to back it up, NATO's diplomacy won't be able to challenge any threat to peace.
Last week's meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels served to highlight the differences between America and our NATO partners. The ministers issued a communique that confessed failure. It said, "There is a clear need for the allies to develop new methods to identify and implement cost-efficient solutions to defense capability shortfalls and to reduce fragmentation of effort." In other words, let's try again to do more with less. But as our armed forces learned during the Clinton years, you can only do less with less.
In remarks after the meeting, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld painted a pretty bleak picture, one more of wishes than plans. Mr. Rumsfeld said he was confident that the people of Europe will want to invest more in defense against the threat of terrorists using weapons of mass destruction. Falling back from that, Mr. Rumsfeld advocated some sort of NATO-lite, with different nations investing in only one particular kind of aircraft or ship and making it available to the alliance. Mr. Rumsfeld was too diplomatic because NATO-lite won't work. To work, NATO's members would have to agree on a strategy and then also agree on who will build and maintain each part of the force to make the strategy viable. But the Europeans won't agree with us or even among themselves on such coordination. The European Union wants to be the arms vendor to the world, and market share not mission requirements will determine what these nations will develop and build. Consider the "Eurofighter." It's supposed to be an advanced multi-role fighter like the F-16 and F/A-18, but cheaper and better suited to export sales. More than 600 have already been ordered. What is spent on the Eurofighter can't be spent on other assets that NATO would need more urgently if terror is the adversary. And there is little sense of urgency in Europe.
In Italy, about four summers ago, I listened to an expatriate American professor dilate upon the beauty of Italian society and its enormous financial support for the arts. She went on about how selfish America was not to equal Italy's contributions. She wagged her finger at me and said that we should learn from Italy. Italy had no defense budget and didn't spend a dime on weapons, she said. When I gently pointed out that Italy had that luxury only because we were paying for its defense, she made a very rude reply.
That mindset is, unfortunately, not uncommon on the continent. And the lack of defense investment makes it virtually impossible for any of the European nations to participate in pre-emptive strikes against terrorists. The only "European" nations capable of joining us are not really European at all: The Brits and the Turks are with us. In terms of an alliance against terror, they are all that is left of NATO.
British defense experts ask that America maintain its forces in Europe. They are correct, to an extent. There are responsible European leaders who can see a need for rebuilding their defense establishments to meet the new threat. A sudden U.S. withdrawal from Europe would discourage them. Mr. Bush is the only leader who may be able to bring about a NATO reformation.
Mr. Bush should take the initiative by moving to amend the NATO charter to require its members to act together to stamp out terror now, without waiting for further attacks. To accomplish that, he will have to convince Europe that its way of life is being challenged and that sacrifices must be made to restore the peace. That will be a very hard sell to those NATO members whose semi-socialist governments are more concerned with oil drilling in Iraq than with Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. If those governments won't accept change, NATO will soon join the Warsaw Pact in the history books. As well it should.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.

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