- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

"NATO is worse than the Gestapo!" two young journalists screamed and launched tomatoes at NATO Secretary-General George Robertson in the middle of the final press conference at the NATO summit here. They had ripped off their jackets, and one revealed a red hammer and sickle badge on his jacket arm. Just a few feet minutes earlier, the two members of the National Bolshevik Party of Russia sitting just a few seats to the right of me had remained silent while Mr. Robertson had put a positive spin on the bilateral meetings with Russia, but admitted: "The government of Russia is not an advocate of [NATO] enlargement." Yet Russia and the expansion critics have been unable to stop the alliance from expanding eastward by seven countries, now claiming even three former Soviet republics.
Ah, Prague, the city of revolution. Gothic and silent on the velvet River Vltava. Tanks and hundreds of policemen in bulletproof vests and combat gear surround the Congress Center where the summit is taking place, but this time they are there to keep democracy alive instead of crushing it.
Yet, the very fact that the brief protest was so rare and shocking is also a tribute to U.S. leadership at the summit. Rather than focusing on a Soviet threat from ages past, the summit focused on Iraq and NATO's new mission: fighting terrorism.
The tone was set on the day before the summit began, when President Bush said at a press conference with Czech President Vaclev Havel, "NATO must transition from an organization that was formed to meet the threats from a Warsaw Pact to a military organization meant structured to meet the threats from global terrorists."
Unlike the last round of expansion in 1999, when Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland entered the alliance and were shocked when asked immediately to contribute militarily to a war in Kosovo, the new members are under no illusions as to what may soon be asked of them. On the first day of the summit, Thursday, the new invited members Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria along with Albania, Macedonia and Croatia, who were not invited to join, issued a statement that they would support any U.S. action in Iraq should Saddam Hussein fail to comply with the weapons inspectors. Their statement was even more enthusiastic than that of the 19 current members, who said they would support U.N. Resolution 1441, which gave Saddam a final chance to rid himself of weapons of mass destruction or "face serious consequences."
Yet, in an interview with American reporters, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the Security Council resolution and the NATO statement of support showed that the world cared. What Saddam decides to do about it is another question, he said.
"Does he leave the country and take his family on vacation or does he invite inspectors and do what he did previously and manipulate the world?" he asked.
In the end, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) did agree to transform NATO to fight new threats, such as those posed by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, wherever they occur. It agreed on a military concept for defense against terrorism, which would improve intelligence-sharing, crisis response arrangements and help with emergency planning to protect civilians from attacks. It agreed to create Mr. Rumsfeld's proposed NATO Response Force, which had been a controversial proposal to Europeans who had been trying unsuccessfully to get their own European rapid response force going for several years.
Heads of state also committed to 408 specific proposals on how their countries could improve their capabilities to protect against weapons of mass destruction, improve communication and interoperability and improve army command. The greatest question, of course, is where the accountability will be for these commitments. The North Atlantic Council in permanent session has to report on implementation to the defense ministers, and 40 percent of the commitments must be fulfilled by 2004, with another 30 percent by 2008.
Neither the alliance nor its new, poorer members with fledgling militaries are bound to change overnight. But perhaps the enthusiasm of the new members will push aging members such as the whining Germans and the Euro-centric French out of their comfort zone.
"Thirteen years ago today, we had the first public forum of the Velvet Revolution," Slovakian Ambassador Martin Butora told The Washington Times Thursday. "We are worried about any force threatening this sacred NATO bond," he said about threats coming from beyond Europe. "We now have troops in East Timor, the Golan Heights, Kosovo and Cyprus" he said.
And now those who used to be planning revolutions against the Soviets are now discussing Saddam's future. Adam Michnik, who spent six years in Polish prisons for opposing the communist regime and who was a prominent Solidarity activist in the 1980s is one of those. "We must ask ourselves a fundamental question. Is Saddam Hussein a fundamental threat to the democracies of the world?" he said at an Aspen Institute Berlin forum here. The young people who protest against war in Iraq "do not protest against dictatorships, they debate against democracies defending themselves from dictatorships," he said.
One must hope that Prague also provides the impetus for a military capabilities revolution to match the rejuvenation brought by NATO's newer members. For now, the alliance has given its support to the next stop on the alliance's road to further protecting its borders: Baghdad. That is, if no Bolsheviks get in the way.

Sarah Means Lohmann is a Fulbright scholar working on a publication about NATO's new mission in Berlin. E-mail: [email protected]

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