- The Washington Times - Monday, May 5, 2003

NATOneeds a new, relevant mission President Bush has formally asked the U.S. Senate to ratify NATO’s addition of seven Eastern European nations. But before we add new members, we must first ask whether NATO is still a club worth joining. That Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia are candidates is both a miracle and a testament to the effectiveness of the NATO alliance. They survived brutal totalitarian regimes during the Cold War. Now they are free to become members of NATO. They are jubilant! Rightly so. But, what is the state of the alliance they seek to join? The world has seen three NATO members refuse to support disarming Iraq. In the view of the United States, this is the same as a failure to come to the aid of a member country that has been attacked, a renunciation of our mutual agreement. Now is the time to ask: What is the mission of NATO today? Is NATO going to protect the future or defend the past? For NATO to remain relevant, we must agree on the fundamental mission. Our alliance should recognize that the common threats of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction have replaced the common threat of Soviet imperialism. After this break in our bonds, it is essential to establish a new mission to counter a new threat. NATO has always been unified around a common purpose, but if it becomes nothing more than a patchwork quilt, we will be wasting our money and endangering our own national security by continuing to pay its bills and diverting our attention.Fifty-four years ago this month, the United States pledged to protect Europe from the Warsaw Pact. We were steadfast in our commitment. We based 300,000 troops in Europe continuously throughout the Cold War and keep 119,000 troops there now. We have paid a quarter of NATO’s costs, even though we are only one of 19 nations that belong to the alliance. Clearly, our commitment played a vital role in NATO’s victory in the Cold War. After the Cold War ended, we turned our attention to areas of the world that cried out for stability. We went to Somalia, Haiti and the Balkans, with varying degrees of success. We became central to peace negotiations in the Middle East. Perversely, we focused more on our commitments abroad and less on our own national defense closer to home. All that changed on September 11, 2001, when terrorists and the countries that support them tried to destroy the icons of democracy, capitalism and American power. Those attacks on our homeland marked the end of our policy of containment alone. The global war we are fighting against terrorism and our forceful disarming of Iraq have forged new alliances unthinkable before September 11. Our relationship with Pakistan in the war on terrorism and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan is one example of this dynamic shift. However, it has strained other longstanding alliances. Many of our friends in Europe do not comprehend the impact September 11 had on America. They viewed what happened within our borders from arm’s length, not acknowledging it as an attack on our country that required a firm response. This disconnect has caused a rift among NATO allies that would have been unthinkable before September 11. The split was manifested in the refusal to help disarm Iraq. As we prepared for Operation Iraqi Freedom, our longtime allies, France, Germany and Belgium, countries we have been committed to defend from attack for over half a century, opposed us at every turn. Even today, they are thwarting the rebuilding of Iraq by refusing to lift the U.N.-imposed sanctions that would allow oil to be sold to pay for new infrastructure. A strong alliance cannot maintain its strength under such strain. It is imperative that NATO establish a new, common mission or risk withering into irrelevance. If our purpose is a common defense, then we must form a consensus in defining our common threats. And those who agree should reconstitute NATO. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, we created a valuable template for how the world community can bond in this era of reckoning. We now should lead the effort to reconfirm a coalition of the willing to stand together against the common threat of terrorism to our democracies. All member countries that agree — new and old — should form the new NATO … a club worth joining for the 21st century.Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas is vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

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