The current Republican front-runner for the 2008 presidential nomination, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, last month unveiled a dramatic and sweeping proposal for transforming the North Atlantic alliance:
“We should open the organization’s membership to any state that meets basic standards of good governance, military readiness and global responsibility, regardless of its location.”
Giuliani’s proposal, which he repeated in a campaign speech in London on Wednesday, is the latest version of an idea that has enraptured the American foreign policy community: the vision of a US-led global alliance of democratic states capable of projecting force and influence. It takes the rather glib notion that NATO’s mission in its defined “North Atlantic” area is finished (“its founding rationale dissolved with the end of the Cold War”) and as a result, as Giuliani himself concludes, “the alliance should be transformed to meet the challenges of this new century.”
One might first take issue with the notion that NATO’s core mission is “finished” given the number of threats that still press in on the Euro-Atlantic region. NATO’s essential role in helping to promote cooperation among European states—states which a generation ago might have seen each other as dangerous enemies—is far from over.
Why would NATO members want to transform one of the world’s most successful regionally-based alliances into a much more amorphous entity that, in the long run, would fatally compromise the security umbrella that its members prize?
So far, almost completely neglected in any of the US discussions is what happens to the Article 5 guarantee, what is arguably the “heart and soul” of NATO—and what differentiates it from other European collective security organizations such as the OSCE. Article 5 commits all members to view a military attack on one NATO state as an attack on all, committing other NATO states to come to the assistance of their beleaguered comrade.
If both NATO and non-NATO states view the guarantee as meaningless rhetoric, a fine statement of intentions but with no automatic trigger, its value is irreparably diminished. NATO has kept the peace precisely because it was absolutely, fundamentally clear that any attack undertaken on NATO within its geographic area of operations would be met by a unified response. In turn, that geographic limitation built into the Washington Treaty has been essential in maintaining alliance cohesion—because Europeans understood that they were not committed by their obligations to NATO to declare war on a state that attacked the United States in the Pacific, or Britain in the South Atlantic. The US had firm allies to guarantee the safety and security of the North Atlantic region, vital to its own prosperity and defense; its allies were secure in the knowledge that they were not committing themselves to defense of distant lands that did not impinge on their vital interests.
Simply because states share similar forms of governance, to assert that they must all have similar interests is preposterous. Advocates of “NATO gone global” have yet to demonstrate that Danes, Italians or Canadians are prepared to commit themselves should India, Japan, Australia, Bostwana or Chile are attacked. The unease with which a number of NATO member states faced the prospect of whether NATO obligations could be invoked if Turkey were to face an attack from Iraq (had Ankara allowed the US “coalition of the willing” to use Turkish territory as a staging point for an attack on Saddam Hussein) demonstrates that there is no rush in many NATO states to expand the number of countries subsisting under an Article 5 guarantee. And NATO’s mission in Afghanistan is hardly serving as a demonstration of the alliance’s robust ability to engage in security and nation-building operations out of area.
What is odd is that Giuliani himself seems to recognize that a rhetorical global alliance of democracies isn’t of much use, but he contents himself with lecturing the Canadians and the Europeans that NATO’s “members must always match their rhetorical commitment with action and investment.”
Nothing prevents the United States or any European state that wants to create a global alliance from doing so. Destroying a successful regional security organization to achieve that end, however, doesn’t sound like good advice at all.
Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest and blogs at The Washington Realist.
Related Material from the Atlantic Community:
- John Koenig says US and EU ‘Focused Like a Laser Beam’ on Global Challenges
- David Haglund thinks Afghanistan Is Testing German-Canadian Ties
- Egon Bahr Asks Europe to Say No to Globalizing NATO
- Thomas Speckmann on Why America Wants to Iraqize Afghanistan