NATO legislators look to future

By Doug Bereuter

NOTES FROM PRAGUE — Meeting in this beautiful old city in the heart of New Europe, legislators from the 19 NATO nations recently began healing the wounds in the alliance that were opened during the Iraq crisis. Having gathered for the spring session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, supporters and opponents of the war agreed to look beyond a dispute in the past and focus on how best to protect our nations in the future. During the five-day meeting in the Czech capital, there was a concerted effort among the 214 assembly members to de-escalate the heated rhetoric of national leaders that grabbed headlines for several months and undertake a reasonable and respectful debate about the future of the alliance.

As a French colleague and friend suggested, now is the time for the “camp for war” and the “camp for peace” to come together as a “camp for democracy,” working to defend our nations and further the prosperity of our peoples. The first step will be to reach a common understanding of what constitutes the greatest threat to our security today. Soviet communism has collapsed, but security threats have not disappeared. Forging a common response requires the NATO nations to first recognize the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, terrorist states and the nexus of these three.

In this effort, Europe and North America must be partners, not rivals or counterweights. Given the challenges we face, efforts to turn the EU into a counterweight to the United States are neither in the interest of Europe or the United States. We cannot waste energy and effort on diplomatic struggles with one another in light of the urgent common challenges of confronting terrorism and WMD proliferation and of creating the required Alliance capabilities.

While many commentators are searching for new missions for NATO, its original mission — the collective defense of its members — must remain its primary purpose, albeit with a changed focus on terrorism, WMD proliferation and terrorist states. At the same time, my European and Canadian colleagues recognize that NATO can undertake related missions that will enhance security and stability on its periphery and help contain the main threats to its member nations.

Dating back to 1991, NATO has reached out to the former communist lands of Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as the states of North Africa. The North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the Partnership for Peace, the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council have helped tie these nations to NATO and helped to build understanding among former adversaries. Both Europe and North America must continue to reach out to these states to help expand the zone of security and prosperity enjoyed by the NATO member states.

In addition to its collective defense role, NATO has become the pre-eminent organization for conducting peace-enforcement operations, having gained valuable experience while helping to end conflicts and stabilize societies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia. Recently, NATO has agreed to apply this expertise outside of Europe by taking over command in August of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which already has a strong commitment from many NATO nations.

NATO ultimately should play a similar role in Iraq. While the United Nations is well-suited for undertaking humanitarian relief and civilian reconstruction efforts, its experience in peace enforcement missions leaves much to be desired. The decision by NATO to provide planning, force generation, logistics and communications support to the Polish-led division in Iraq is an excellent first step for the alliance and will help one of our newest allies play a leading role in the stabilization effort.

Finally, it may be time to consider whether NATO might have a role to play in helping effect a lasting peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. While the United States and its allies have some differences in their Middle East policies, all share a stated commitment to a secure Israel and a democratic Palestinian state. If a NATO peace operation could help alleviate security concerns on both sides in that conflict, we should consider making such a contribution to solving a conflict that has had negative consequences for our own security.

As long as threats remain to the security of Europe and North America, NATO will have a role as the primary institution through which its members provide for their common defense. At the same time, the ancillary missions of the Alliance — partnerships and peace operations — enhance security for its members and partners. It is time to move beyond the differences of the last few months and to discuss how best to use an alliance that has served us well in the past to address the security challenges of the future.

Rep. Doug Bereuter, R-Neb., is president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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