Nation-Building Is A Role For NATO

Financial Times, 29 May 03, by Richard Lugar *

* The writer is chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee

George W. Bush's trip to Europe this week is perhaps the most important by an American president in two decades. Feelings are still raw from the dispute over Iraq between the US and some of its oldest Nato allies - notably France and Germany - but the president and Congress have resoundingly reaffirmed America's commitment to Europe and to the transatlantic alliance. This month, the Senate voted 96-0 to admit seven new members to Nato: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. This was an important step in underpinning democracy and human rights in eastern Europe and moving towards a "Europe whole and free", in Mr Bush's words.

The president will use this show of support for Europe to begin the strengthening of transatlantic relationships. In doing so, he should make clear that Nato, formed by Europeans and North Americans to defend their countries against a common foe, the Soviet Union, now has a crucial role in battling against the new common enemy, global terrorism. The political rift over Iraq has given ammunition to those who wrongly believe that Nato has outlived its military purpose. These critics contend that the seven new members, which add to the alliance about 44m people and 200,000 combat troops, are not important because it no longer matters who is in Nato.

That view misreads both the past and the future. I argued in the early 1990s that Nato had to expand and accept new missions beyond defending its own territory, that it had to go "out of area, or out of business". The "new Nato" proved itself in the Balkans, with military operations and a robust peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and an extended campaign in Kosovo.

Mr Bush can point to Nato's value in Afghanistan. Nato partners provided important bases, shared intelligence, blocked the flow of funds to terrorists and gave over-flight rights during the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Military forces from Nato countries have since been working on land, sea and air to root out the remaining resistance there and in the rest of the world. That mission will take a big step forward in August, when Nato assumes leadership of the international security assistance force in Afghanistan, which has so far been headed by individual Nato members on a rotating basis. This is an overdue move that will help cement the Karzai government's authority in Kabul and beyond, preventing the country from lapsing into warlordism and again becoming a haven for terrorists.

The alliance has also started to adapt to the demands imposed by the war on terrorism. Last year, at Mr Bush's urging, it committed itself to building a 20,000-strong reaction force that can deploy quickly with combat capability. The seven new members will help by bringing the additional troops needed for extended missions, and niche capabilities in such areas as chemical weapons detection. In the light of the split over Iraq, it is important to note that the new members also bring a pro-US stance. If the past is any guide, they will be eager to help with the post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq. Many of Nato's members and partners feel that deploying their troops alongside America's is the best training they can get. Mr Bush will stop first in Poland, one of Nato's newest members (it joined in 1999, along with the Czech Republic and Hungary). Poland has already proved its value to the war on terrorism by agreeing to head a multinational force in northern Iraq, a role made possible only by its integration into the alliance. Other Nato partners may soon volunteer to work with the Poles in Iraq.

Clearly Nato is as vital as ever. But the president should make clear that more needs to be done to make it a stronger and potentially more successful force in the war on terror. The alliance should explore how it can contribute to long-term peacekeeping and humanitarian duties in Iraq. The parlous security situation makes it evident that outside troops must stay there for a considerable time, in an environment more hostile than peacekeepers usually face. Will Nato be equal to the modern challenges of global security? Iraq risks becoming a fundamentalist theocracy or a so-called failed state, a terrorist breeding-ground. We have seen the consequences of allowing failed states such as Afghanistan and Somalia to fester. Successful "nation-building" must be an important objective for US policymakers and their Nato partners.

Iraq and Afghanistan must serve as models of how to make a sustained commitment to peace enforcement as part of the broader war on terror. Rehabilitating chaotic states is a complicated and uncertain business. At a minimum, it will require a broad range of military and peacekeeping skills, international legitimacy and more resources than the US can comfortably muster alone. In short, this vital endeavour will require Nato if it is to have the best chance of success.