- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

At a NATO summit of prospective members in Bucharest Monday and Tuesday, a pep rally for the largest possible round of NATO members was underway. At the last round of NATO expansion, even the invitation of five members Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia seemed unattainable. This week, Romania and Bulgaria were given hope by current Eastern European NATO members, the United States and others that they may get their invitation to join at Prague in November as well. The need for a Southern dimension, which would provide a land bridge to Turkey and better access to Afghanistan, was highlighted in the Bucharest declaration, by Sens. Tom Daschle and Trent Lott in an address to Romanian Prime Minister Adrain Nastase and by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who called for "the most robust possible accession to the NATO membership." Unfortunately, what should have been the true focus at this meeting seemed to have gotten lost in the excitement over a numbers game. Namely, a definition of NATO's new mission in a post-September 11 world in which the alliance has been on the sidelines.

The need to redefine the mission was not lost on either President Bush or NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson, however. "We will move to adapt NATO's structures and improve its capabilities so that our citizens are better protected against new threats, wherever they emerge," Mr. Bush said in an address read to the Bucharest summit Monday. Lord Robertson, in a pre-summit address at Charles University in Prague on March 21, highlighted NATO's need to adapt its strategy in the fight terrorism and in its new cooperation with Russia.

In what may be his most pointed remarks about the shortcomings of NATO, Lord Robertson challenged Europe to make the sacrifices needed to counter the new threats: "There is a lot of talk at the moment about United States unilateralism and European weakness. Much of it is wrong. But it is absolutely right that unless Europe does more militarily, we will not be able to operate alongside America's rapidly modernizing armed forces … So if Europe wants to punch its economic weight when it comes to crises on its doorstep or more widely, we must modernize our militaries. And do so quickly," he said. The way to be prepared, he said, was for Europe to make a priority of higher defense budgets and smarter investments.

He is absolutely right. Only countries that have shown signs of making those adjustments should be assured consideration in the next round. In the meantime, both the United States and NATO's current European members should focus less on numbers and more on defense spending, military preparedness and greater trans-Atlantic military cooperation needed to face the new threats posed by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Unless NATO redefines its mission, the benefits of the alliances' broader membership will be wasted.

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