As the NATO countries take part in the last alliance summit of George Bush's presidency, from April 2-4 in Bucharest, there is widespread recognition that the alliance needs reinforcement. On the practical level, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan needs more men and equipment, particularly helicopters, to block resurgence of the Taliban. On the strategic level, the alliance's 1999 concept of its role and operations is in dire need of updating to reflect new realities in the wake of 9/11 and NATO's subsequent mission in Afghanistan. On the political level, new life needs to be pumped into the alliance's veins, to convince skeptical commentators, publics and parliaments that the transatlantic bargain is still a viable and valuable deal.
new commitments to the alliance mission in Afghanistan
will emerge from Bucharest. None of the allies will want to celebrate
NATO's 60th anniversary in 2009 by acknowledging that it is
incapable of handling the Afghanistan
However, the commitment to prepare a fresh strategic concept along with a new "Atlantic Charter," as advocated by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, may have to wait. As good an idea as it is, the reality of the American election schedule will enforce a delay. Do the European allies really want to take the chance of handing off a drafting process begun under President George Bush to a new American administration led by Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? There could not be a more awkward way for the allies to greet the next US administration.
Preparation of revised strategy and a new charter for NATO are highly political tasks, not appropriately left to a lame duck administration. This would be the proper perspective for the allies to take, even if one were betting that the Republican nominee will succeed President Bush.
In these circumstances, what should the European allies do? First, they should go along with the Bush administration's desire to invite Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia to join the alliance. These countries will not add significantly to the capabilities of the alliance, but their membership would be another important step in NATO's mission of helping tie up the loose ends left at the end of the Cold War. This step surely could be seen as the last major contribution of the Bush administration to the process of making Europe "whole and free," a process begun by his father's administration nearly two decades ago.
The administration's desire to put Georgia and Ukraine on track for membership is, not unreasonably, opposed by several European governments. The populations of the two countries are not yet sufficiently convinced of the wisdom of NATO membership to support giving their governments "Membership Action Plans." The fact that Russia opposes the move is the major concern for some European allies, but should not be the reason for delaying the first step toward membership for Georgia and Ukraine - they simply are not ready. Their time will come.
With regard to the future of the alliance, NATO leaders at Bucharest should support the goal of preparing a new strategic concept and a contemporary Atlantic Charter. They should even make it clear that the new declarations would have to tackle not only traditional security issues but also the "new" question of energy security and electronic warfare against NATO countries. The drafting project, however, should be left on the table for the allies, in concert with a new American administration, to tackle in 2009.
In the meantime, both the United States and the European allies need to devote more military and non-military resources to the mission in Afghanistan. Recent reports about the failure of the international community, including the United States, to deliver promised aid to Afghanistan are unfortunately not a surprise. American priorities have focused on Iraq, leaving Afghanistan as the step-child to Iraqi military and non-military requirements.
The fact that the United States has appeared to care less about the stabilization of Afghanistan has taken the Europeans off the hook. After all, if Afghanistan is not important to the United States, how can European countries make the critical difference? The recent decision by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to dispatch some 3200 marines to Afghanistan is the kind of leadership by example that perhaps will help bring allies along.
The renovation and political revitalization of NATO should be high on the agenda of the next American administration. Senators Obama, Clinton and McCain all say it will be if they are elected. In the meantime, perhaps French President Sarkozy, during France's EU presidency in the second half of this year, will set the transatlantic table by laying out a realistic plan for bringing France back into full participation in NATO and overcoming problems that have hampered NATO-EU cooperation in the past. We all can hope.
Stanley R. Sloan is a visiting scholar at Middlebury, College, Vermont, where he teaches international relations courses, and lectures frequently at the NATO College in Rome.
This essay is based on the author's latest book, Permanent Alliance? NATO and the Transatlantic Bargain from Truman to Obama.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Ruediger Lentz: Divides Inside the Alliance
- Wess Mitchell: NATO's Unhappy Warriors
- Nikolas Kirrill Gvosdev: Rapid Reaction: Moving NATO forward