- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

PRAGUE.—The heavily guarded hoopla of NATO's summit here last week masked growing doubts on both sides of the Atlantic about whether the alliance has much of a future. Many Americans feel that, from a security standpoint, Europe is a backwater; the real action is in the Mideast and Asia. Many Europeans feel the Continent is now so safe from external threat that it no longer needs Uncle Sam's protection.
So should NATO go the way of the Warsaw Pact? No but for a reason that neither side can officially acknowledge. NATO's continuing purpose is to save Europe from the consequences of its own strategic nearsightedness and moral obtuseness. Harold Macmillan once quipped that the British had to be the wise Greeks to the Americans' bumptious Romans, but the reality is that it is the Greeks (and the French and the Germans and the Belgians and ) who need the latter-day Romans' guidance.
In the early 1990s, many U.S. officials assumed the European Union would take the lead in dealing with security problems on its frontiers. Europe flunked the test in two ways. First, it refused to immediately admit Eastern Europeans into the exclusive European Union. Second, it didn't take any decisive action to end the bloodletting in the former Yugoslavia. In both instance it was left to the Clinton administration admirably if belatedly to step in and deal with the mess.
The U.S. led military missions to end Serb ethnic cleansing in both Bosnia and Kosovo, and U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke negotiated an accord for the partition of Bosnia. The Europeans followed the American lead by providing peacekeeping forces, but nothing would have happened absent Washington's leadership.
When the EU closed the door on enlargement to the East, Washington opened the door to NATO. In 1999, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were admitted; this week, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Slovenia. This remarkable achievement has helped to consolidate democracy in the East, much to the benefit of Western Europe. But the original NATO members had to be dragged into "enlargement," kicking and screaming, by Washington.
The European Union is only now preparing to grant membership to eight Eastern European states. But, although Turkey has been part of NATO since 1952, it still can't get out of the starting gate in its bid to join the EU. Instead it gets kicked in the teeth by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who told Le Monde it would be the "end of the European Union" if Turkey with "a different culture, a different approach, a different way of life" were allowed to join. While other European leaders demur from Mr. d'Estaing's harsh language, many privately echo his sentiments.
This represents a spectacular bit of geopolitical folly. Turkey is the most moderate and democratic of Muslims nations. By brushing off its bid for membership, the EU makes it more likely Turkey will revert to the extremism that characterizes its Middle Eastern neighbors thus becoming a huge headache for Europe on its doorstep. President Bush is making this very case to European leaders. Unfortunately, this is only one of many instances where Europe has allowed sentiment to trump self-interest.
While tough on the friendly Turks, Europe has a long history of appeasing terrorists and rogue rulers, from Moammar Ghadafi to Saddam Hussein. To take only one example: In 1985, the PLO hijacked the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship, and killed a wheelchair-bound passenger. The terrorists then tried to make their getaway by boarding a plane to Tunisia. U.S. fighter jets intercepted the flight and forced it down in Sicily, only to have the Italian government immediately release the terrorists' leader, Abu Abbas. Four other terrorists were jailed in Italy, but three of them vanished after inexplicably being given unescorted leaves from prison in the 1990s.
Other European governments, especially Greece and France, have been similarly lenient, leading to suspicions they are trying to buy the good will of Middle Eastern terrorists. Yet far from limiting their attacks to Israel and America, Islamist fanatics have been busy plotting against European targets, ranging from the Eiffel Tower to the London Underground.
Europeans may finally be wakening up to the need to get tough with terrorists. But they still seem willing to cut lucrative deals with Saddam Hussein, and never mind that their trading partner has a disturbing tendency toward genocide.
Perhaps Europeans feel free to ignore the threat from Iraq because they have gotten into the habit of outsourcing their protection to the United States. European defense budgets remain woefully low, with the average NATO member spending less than 60 percent per capita of what the U.S. spends. The only bright spot on the horizon is the rapid reaction force created at last week's NATO summit. Please note that this is an American initiative. The French idea of an independent European army is headed nowhere fast.
On issue after issue, the pattern is clear: America acts, Europe acts up. It's a shame that America has no say over European economic policy, else it might derail Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's disastrous plan to boost taxes in the middle of tough times.
What does America get out of this? The satisfaction of extending peace and freedom in an important region but scant thanks from the Europeans, who have adopted the attitude of a petulant 16-year-old toward his parents. Oh well. That's what America gets for being the grownup in this relationship.

Max Boot is Olin senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power" (Basic Books, 2002).


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