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Remaking NATO

November 22, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


TOM BEARDEN: In the central European capital of Prague, part of the Soviet bloc for 50 years, the leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty organization ended their historic two-day meeting aimed at reshaping the alliance. Formed 53 years ago to defend Western Europe against the Soviet Union, NATO now stretches to the Russian border. Yesterday the alliance invited seven former Soviet satellites and republics to join. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria are expected to become full members in 2004. They will join three other former Warsaw Pact countries– Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland– who were admitted three years ago.

Before the summit formally began this week, President Bush challenged his NATO partners to keep the alliance relevant.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Free nations must accept must accept our shared obligations to keep the peace. The world needs the nations of this continent to be active in the defense of freedom, not inward-looking or isolated by indifference. Ignoring dangers or excusing aggression may temporarily avert conflict but they don’t bring true peace.

TOM BEARDEN: NATO leaders responded by agreeing to support the recent UN Security Council demand that Iraq disarm, to modernize NATO’s military forces, and to create a new 20,000-strong strike force over the next four years. Once formed, the rapid reaction force could be deployed quickly against terrorists or hostile nations.

SPOKESMAN: To accomplish an effective tool.

TOM BEARDEN: Today, the alliance signaled it wanted to expand ties and cooperation with ex- Soviet republics in the caucuses and Central Asia. After the meeting, President Bush traveled to Russia for a visit with President Valdimir Putin in his hometown of St. Petersburg. Russia has resisted NATO expansion in the past, but also now has a formal cooperation arrangement with the alliance. Mr. Bush reassured Mr. Putin there was nothing to fear from an expanded NATO.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The mood of the NATO countries is this: Russia is our friend. We’ve got a lot of interests together. We must continue our cooperation in the war on terror. And the expansion of NATO should be welcomed by the Russian people.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): As regards to the expansion, we… you know our position well. We do not believe that this has been necessitated by the existing facts. But we hope to have positive development of our relations with all NATO countries.

TOM BEARDEN: President Bush then headed to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius and a meeting with the new Baltic members of NATO.

MARGARET WARNER: Is there a future for NATO in this new age? We get four perspectives on that. Robert Hunter was U.S. Ambassador to NATO in President Clinton’s first term. He is now a senior advisor at RAND, a research organization. Charles Kupchan is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of a book focusing on the European- American relationship, called "the end of the American era." Stephen Sestanovich dealt with Soviet and Russian policy in the Reagan and Clinton administrations. He’s also at the council on foreign relations and a professor of international diplomacy at Columbia University. And Angela Stent is director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Welcome to you all.

MARGARET WARNER: As we just saw, the President challenged NATO to step into this new age and reshape itself. Bob Hunter, how far did he get this week?

ROBERT HUNTER: He got as far as he wanted and farther than anybody thought. Not only has NATO stepped up to the mark in the last decade to close the book on the 20th century. It is now opening the book on 21st century security — not only to get allies to do more militarily and not so much in money as in capacity to work with us — it is going to take a while — but also to think about the challenges of weapons of mass destruction, where the Europeans are just as vulnerable as we are, and also to take more seriously the war on terrorism. It’s not always going to agree, but this is the great repository of capacity, and I think the allies have got a new lease on life working together for this future.

MARGARET WARNER: How far do you think he got, Charles Kupchan?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think on the surface all went well there. Was a good atmosphere and Bush shook Schroeder’s hand, the chancellor of Germany, so maybe there is a repair of the relationship there. But I think beneath the surface, NATO is in more difficult shape for several different reasons. One is Europe is coming together gradually rising and serving more of a counter weight to the United States. Second, America’s strategic priorities are shifting. We are no longer focused on Europe. We are looking at the Middle East, northeast Asia. In that sense, Europe is slowly falling off our radar screen. Third, I think the political relationship between the United States and Europe is beginning to wear thin, in part, because of American unilateralism and the sense that the United States is no longer a multilateral player as it has been in the past.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it, Angela Stent? In the communiqué it mentioned terror and weapons of mass destruction as new threats. But in the one area in which it would have practical application Iraq policy, really all the President got was simply an endorsement of the UN, not a commitment by NATO as an organization to enforce it.

ANGELA STENT: The Europeans still don’t agree that Iraq necessarily has the potential, the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction. They don’t agree. We have to accept the British on this. The British government agrees with this, but the population of Europe does not. They’re skeptical about the policy of preemption, the new U.S. policy that you should take action before anything happens. They reject the idea that Saddam Hussein is connected to al-Qaida and in general, most Europeans reject the idea of a war on terrorism because they think you have to deal with what they see as terrorism’s root causes which are globalization, poverty, all of these other things. And finally, I think that most Europeans believe that unleashing a war on Iraq would have very bad consequences in the Middle East — that the Arab-Israeli question has to be resolved before this is done. There really is no consensus beyond the UN resolution to move to use force in Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: So Steve Sestanovich, is that political climate going to make it hard for these NATO members to deliver on the other pledge they made at the summit, which was to create this 20,000-strong rapid reaction force, a high-tech force?

STEPHEN SESTANOVICH: Well, you put your finger on one of the things that drives American officials crazy, when they think about their relations NATO, and that is European capabilities. Even if all of the disagreements that have been described here were resolved, and there were full support for American policy European capabilities are so far behind those of the United States, it’s probably, if you take the whole of the European Union, $150 billion gap. And American officials will tell you that–.

MARGARET WARNER: In defense spending.

STEPHEN SESTANOVICH: In defense spending. American officials will say what is it they’re getting even for the amount that they spend? This has been brewing for a while. In the Kosovo war, the Pentagon felt that the Europeans were basically able to do very, very little. That was more dramatic even still in Afghanistan. And the question is how long will it take the Europeans to get even a capability to deploy 20,000 men? A lot of American officials are very pessimistic about this, but of course, so are the Europeans, too. Not one European country has proposed increased defense spending since September 11.

MARGARET WARNER: So does that make this just a hollow pledge, this rapid reaction force?

ROBERT HUNTER: Rapid reaction force will do very limited things. But there are very limited things that are probably going to be needed to be done by NATO. We are not talking about confronting the Soviet Union or going into Iraq. The United States does not want NATO as a whole to go into Iraq. It wants it to control the major military action if it comes to that.

MARGARET WARNER: In part, because they don’t want to share command the way they had to do in Kosovo.

ROBERT HUNTER: In Kosovo it was different. You needed the political support of all the countries so Mr. Milosevic would get the message. But with regard to Iraq, there is that support, the UN Resolution is strong stuff. The United States will work with the allies that have the capacity to go into Iraq with us. Britain certainly, you get a UN resolution, France. The rapid reaction force first gives the countries a capability to do the things they’re more likely to have to do. It gives them access to high technology weaponry if we share the high technology with them. It also gets a relationship with the European Union. There will be a NATO rapid reaction force, a European Union rapid reaction force — same soldiers. So it serves a double purpose and it also sends a political message to the people of the United States, the Europeans are not going to leave us behind. They do care about the things that matter. So I think this is a positive development.

MARGARET WARNER: Is that the main reason, the political reason, that Secretary Rumsfeld proposed this rapid reaction force last September, to find some way that might not cost a fortune for NATO to still be a player militarily?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think it had a lot to do with that, because the Bush team was preparing to go to the NATO summit. Yes, expansion is a big deal; it puts these countries on the right side of history, but Americans are saying what does this do for us in our new war on terrorism in and right now this country is terrorism 24/7, and if NATO is going to be focused on European defense, Kosovo, Bosnia, people are going to say why, why are American troops still there is in the Bush administration was trying to find a new rationale for NATO that would direct it toward the war on terrorism. I’m less optimistic than Bob Hunter that it is going to work, partly because 20,000 troops is not a lot of troops and partly because the Europeans are really not interested in turning NATO into a global strike force. They’re not interested in toppling Saddam Hussein. They’re really interested in locking in European peace. And that’s why I think we really are seeing a parting of the ways with the EU ultimately assuming more responsibility for European defense and the U.S. is basically going to decamp from Europe and head to the Middle East.

MARGARET WARNER: What do you think, Angela Stent, the expansion of NATO in bringing in the former Warsaw Pact countries does to that divide, the friction?

ANGELA STENT: The new ones coming in, the three new ones that joined in 1999 are in pact more pro-American or at the moment are more pro-American and less critical of the American concept of use of force than are the traditional members of NATO. And I think one of the reasons why the United States has pushed this further expansion of NATO is to get more countries in the alliance that are going to back it up on its views. Now I don’t know how long that lasts. Certainly, the three new members of NATO are pretty pro-American. And if there is another round of NATO as we heard in the piece you had, then maybe there are going to be more pro-American countries.

MARGARET WARNER: But is it because as President seems to suggest, the new members have a more recent experience with tyranny or threats? I mean why are these countries more robust, more eager to sign up for some of these causes?

ANGELA STENT: They haven’t been members of the European Union. They don’t share the–.

MARGARET WARNER: They’re happy to be in the club?

ANGELA STENT: They’re happy to be in the club and they saw the United States defeat communism and the Soviet Union. That’s why. I think that is going to last for sometime. I don’t know how long though.

MARGARET WARNER: How does Russia fit in all this? First of all, were you surprised that Putin didn’t seem particularly exercised about the expansion, at least not publicly? Is that for real Steve Sestanovich, and why?

STEPHEN SESTANOVICH: The Russians have been very calm about this for quite a while, particularly since September 11. That gave them the way of explaining what their cooperation with NATO is going to be about. They now say routinely, if other countries want to join NATO, it’s their business. We really don’t see the point of it, but we can’t object. The defense minister yesterday said it’s not our business. And the foreign minister said we recognize NATO’s contributions to European security. So they have decided this is something they are not going to fight. But more importantly, they’ve reoriented what they think their relationship with NATO is going to be. It used to be the thought they wanted to have a good relationship with NATO to keep it from expanding and keep from it doing things they didn’t like. Now it’s to find out, they say, how to actually cooperate. There is going to be a conference in Moscow next month, for example, that the Secretary-General is coming to, which is about refashioning defense ministers to fight terrorism. That’s something the Russians are really interested in. They don’t have to make up– this is not make work cooperation. This is the real thing for them.

ROBERT HUNTER: Look. Mr. Putin is very shrewd. Whether he has made a strategic alliance with the west or just tactical, we don’t know for a while. That’s one reason to keep America with NATO in Europe until we know what the Russians are going to do, but he looks around and he says the antiballistic missile treaty, who needs that, so we traded that. He looks at the expansion of NATO and says these people are not going to fight us. We used to say that NATO that defense implaqueable and aggression incompetent; they know that. What does he need? American blessing for what is happening in Chechnya, the President gave him. A chance for him to say Islam is bad which he did in quite rude terms in Europe the other day. He needs to get into the World Trade Organization. And he needs some cooperation with NATO to do the kinds of things that he is trying to get on. He wants the United States to at least not ignore Russian interests in the Caucuses and Central Asia. This has been a good deal for the United States in terms of the war on terrorism and Putin has gotten what he needed. So the NATO thing is really secondary.

ANGELA STENT: Now the U.S. and Russia have new and good relationship since September 11 of last year. Russia has arguably been more important on aspects of the war on terrorism than NATO has. He is not losing anything. He has a special relationship with President Bush. The NATO issues are less important.

MARGARET WARNER: Charles Kupchan, does the U.S. still need NATO and if so, what for?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think the U.S. needs NATO to continue moving eastward, hopefully attach Russia to Europe but I think we are in a period in which NATO is going to lose its relevance for the United States. We are no longer going to be a European power because Europe will be at peace as rich as we are and we have all these important fish to fry elsewhere. So I think this is a kind of a switching decade in which the United States, rather than seeing NATO as the centerpiece, will see NATO move off to become more of a sideshow, and ultimately, I think the EU, the Europeans will have to step up to the plate, spend more on defense and assume more responsibility for their own defense, because like it or not, the United States is no longer Europe’s guardian.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it?

STEPHEN SESTANOVICH: We used to need NATO because European security what is we worried about most. And there is no way to protect it and to assure that interest except through that alliance. Now our concerns are elsewhere. So the issue isn’t so much one of inevitability. It’s can we choose to cooperate and do our interests converge enough? A lot of people see big divergences. Charles is right about that.

MARGARET WARNER: I take it you disagree.

ROBERT HUNTER: In the 1990s, when we made NATO, we had an institution. It’s what did we need NATO to do and is it relevant? It turned out to be so. The issue right now is security for the nations, which countries do we want to work with, whether it is militarily or economically. It’s the European countries, the great repository of economic power, political engagement. Whatever we want to do whether it’s in Iraq post-crisis, war on terrorism, reshaping the world, the people we have to work with are the Europeans whether it’s NATO, European Union, bilateral why not look at it in the realities of security rather than say this institution doesn’t quite hack it. That’s not the way the world is built.

MARGARET WARNER: Bob Hunter, Angela Stent, Steve Sestanovich and Charles Kupchan, thank you all.