- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

Terrorism is spreading in a troubling manner. The risk of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has increased, while regional crises undermining international security and stability are multiplying. France, a founding member of the alliance and a major contributor of NATO troops, will do its part to ensure that the NATO summit in Riga this November bolsters the alliance’s solidity in a world that has become uncertain, if not dangerous.

The heads of state and government will seize the opportunity presented by this meeting to take stock of the operations NATO is engaged in, particularly in Afghanistan and Kosovo. The situation is difficult there, and the organization’s credibility is at stake in both of these missions. Riga must give us the necessary impetus to succeed at both of them.

NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force is a symbol of the alliance’s adaptation to new security imperatives and demonstrates its ability to move rapidly to prevent a crisis. Its complete operationality must be endorsed. By making significant contributions to this force, France is showing its faith in the utility of a military alliance between Europe and North America in preserving our common values and interests.

Today, however, some are questioning the appropriateness of extending NATO’s missions in two directions: geographical — the development of partnerships with new countries; and functional — conducting operations in the civilian sphere, notably in the reconstruction of countries that have emerged from crises.

Geographically, we should indeed acknowledge the contributions made to NATO’s military operations by non-Alliance nations. This is the case, for example, for AustraliaandJapanin Afghanistan, operating however according to different modalities. It would be desirable to improve the practical modalities of their association with NATO operations without changing the essence of the organization, which I believe should remain a European-Atlantic military alliance.

The development of a global partnership could in fact not only dilute the natural solidarity between Europeans and North Americans in a vague ensemble, but also, and especially, send a bad political message: that of a campaign launched by the West against those who don’t share their ideas. What a pretext we would offer to those who promote the idea of a clash of civilizations. It would be perfectly incompatible with our vision of a multipolar world based on dialogue and respect for others.

I do support coordination — which I see as necessary — between military missions and assistance and reconstruction missions within the framework of a comprehensive strategy in cases such as Afghanistan, where it’s clear that an exclusively military approach is insufficient. In certain cases, some consider that only the force on the ground is capable of doing so. But reconstruction missions must necessarily fall under the authority of competent organizations, particularly the United Nations and the European Union. Transforming NATO into an organization whose mission is to rebuild both democracy and a nation’s economy corresponds neither to its legitimate mandate nor to its means. We must be very careful not to dilute the alliance through poorly defined missions in which it would lose both its soul and its effectiveness. NATO is already complaining that it doesn’t have the resources to carry out its military missions. It would be irresponsible to push it into missions that exceed its means.

I am delighted that coordination between the EU and NATO operates at such a satisfactory level. Relations between the European Defense Agency and NATO must be built on complementarity. For example, the EU is conducting Operation EUFOR RD Congo in order to contribute to that country’s stability and permit elections to be held in a land so long ravaged by war. Germany commands the overall mission, while France heads up the troops in Kinshasa.

I share our partners’ concern not to duplicate the two organizations’ resources. Indeed, military means remain essentially national and none of our countries — not even the United States — can afford to duplicate its capabilities. It seems that the response to this legitimate concern does not lie with incantatory appeals for strengthening coordination between the EU and NATO, but rather with flexible procedures for using military resources so that they may be utilized in every scenario: nationally, in the context of an ad hoc coalition, or within the framework of the EU, NATO or the United Nations. This is the best way to optimize defense resources.

We therefore have an equal need for the Atlantic alliance and the European defense entity in facing the growing number of crises together. But what’s most important is to have the necessary resources, and for that I call on my European partners to boost their defense efforts, as we are doing. The growth of European capabilities is essential to strengthening the alliance’s European pillar, a condition that’s crucial to a balanced partnership between the United States and Europe and to an equitable division of security-related responsibilities. A strong European partner is the best guarantee of enduring transatlantic ties. It is thus in the interest of both Europeans and Americans.

A major challenge awaits us in the Western Balkans, where the EU is shepherding Kosovo toward its final status. It must prepare to take the reins from NATO on the model it has adopted in Bosnia. Naturally, France will do its full share.

It is through such commitments that the EU will fully contribute to transatlantic solidarity, one of the keystones of our security. Riga must constitute a new step in the alliance’s adaptation. We will achieve this result by preserving NATO’s legitimacy as a military organization that guarantees the collective security of European and North American allies. Seeking to engage the alliance in non-military missions, a la carte partnerships, technological adventures and insufficiently prepared enlargements can only distort its vocation and, in the end, diminish its effectiveness.

Michele Alliot-Marie is the French minister of defense.

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