- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2004

As other multilateral institutions continue to be plagued by infighting and outmoded structures, NATO’s leader is attempting to bolster the relevance of that strategic alliance. The alliance’s secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, has proposed a way for NATO to circumvent to some degree the potential political deadlocks involving its member countries.

“NATO is not and should not be only the executive agency … implementing decisions taken elsewhere,” Mr. de Hoop Scheffer told The Financial Times Nov. 16. “NATO has the full right and the need to be a player, not the key player, not playing the first violin, but a player in the political process,” he added. Under such a structure, alliance actions would still be decided on by member countries, but NATO ambassadors could debate potential missions and how they could be carried out ahead of a directive from member governments to execute a plan. Such a role could energize the alliance at a critical time for U.S. and NATO interests. It would also complement NATO’s rapid-reaction force. If the alliance can debate with some authority the how and why of a mission beforehand, troops could be sent to the field more quickly. Mr. de Hoop Scheffer also said that policy discussion among NATO ambassadors at the headquarters in Brussels would allow the alliance to better respond to future challenges, such as a NATO stabilization role in the Gaza Strip if Israel and the Palestinians were to request such a mission.

There is another advantage in broadening the role of NATO itself. The alliance could play an enhanced role in global counterterrorism efforts. Giving NATO some kind of political role would allow military collaboration to continue even as dialogue between countries flags.

In addition, multilateral organizations such as NATO need to begin moving towards making decisions based on majority consensus rather than unanimity. Such a structure would strengthen the alliance’s ability to advance U.S. counterterror and other strategic interests. Giving NATO some political say could bolster the ability of its member countries to reach majority consensus on a range of issues.

There is a risk that NATO could become increasingly irrelevant as its founding purpose — to counter Soviet Communism — no longer applies and political deadlock paralyzes the alliance. Mr. de Hoop Scheffer is outlining a vibrant future for NATO which Washington should energetically back.

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