Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Worried and Reassured on NATO

Keeping the trans-Atlantic relationship strong and healthy is a key foreign policy priority for the Czech republic. However, I fear that in recent years a certain degree of erasing of the landmarks has been taking place.

In the past, NATO had very clear and defined geographic and mission limits. It performed a more limited number of tasks than perhaps some people felt it should--but it completed them well. There was also an implicit bargain: NATO membership did not commit a state to absolute and total support of all U.S. policy priorities, but at the same time there was to be genuine burden-sharing in ensuring protection and stability for what remains a key region of the world. So growing U.S. involvement, say, in Vietnam during the 1960s did not cause alliance members to conclude that sooner or later they would be drawn into that conflict.

That understanding has been eroding in recent years. The expansion of NATO's area of operations to include more of the greater Middle East; the addition of new peace and stabilization missions; even a view of NATO not as a collective security organization but as the armed face of the world's democracies--have all made it harder for everyone to determine when NATO obligations are or are not being met.

So take the question of Iran. Is the threat that is said to be posed to the world by Iran's move to acquire the capabilities that would facilitate a nuclear break-out something that NATO as the alliance should be concerned about? If so, should policy be set by the alliance as a whole, with the U.S. certainly as primus inter pares, but not able to insist on a specific course of action largely opposed by other members?

I see the seeds of dual frustration--an American complaint that other NATO states are shirking the burden of the alliance; other states complaining that the U.S. takes the attitude of "when the avalanche has started, it is too late for the pebbles to vote" in terms of how it approaches consultations with its partners.

These are just some first impressions. I might also note that the missile defense issue (basing radars in the Czech republic) is the front and center issue. I'll try to devote a more substantial post to the ongoing debates.

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