NATO's Uncertain Future: Comments After the Prague Summit

At the Prague NATO summit, Slovakia, together with six other countries, was invited to join an alliance that is now well on its way to becoming a second-class organization.

At the Prague NATO summit, Slovakia, together with six other countries, was invited to join an alliance that is now well on its way to becoming a second-class organization. This is why Russia did not protest NATO enlargement this time around, because she increasingly recognizes that NATO is losing its effectiveness.

There are two principal reasons why NATO is on the way to becoming a second-class organization. The first one, one that has already been well explored, concerns the continuing imbalance of power between America and Europe and the abysmal "capabilities gap" that has emerged concerning their respective military capacities. In a nutshell, America is strong, while, compared with America, Europe is weak.

A second, and more serious reason, however, is the growing difference of opinion between America and Europe on how foreign policy ought to be conducted. America and Europe see the world and assess the threats present in it in increasingly different ways. (1) The United States maintains that in the contemporary world, peace and security might have to be ensured by means of power, that is, by deterring potential aggressors or by eliminating them, pre-emptively if necessary.

Many Europeans, on the other hand, believe that peace and security can be secured through diplomatic negotiations, international treaties (for example, on disarmament) and common supranational institutions.

When one surveys the globe, a realistic appraisal leads to the conclusion that, in most cases, the American answer is right. The European approach applies to those countries only that are liberal democracies and that subscribe to a common concept of justice and recognize the same values. In other words, the European concept functions exclusively within those countries that might be described as belonging to "the West."

Here, it is possible to negotiate in good faith and rely on agreements and institutions. However, not all of the rulers in the world embrace Western values.

Many despots do not want their serfs-or anyone else, for that matter-to be free. This means that agreements alone cannot guarantee peace and security. This can only occur when agreements are backed by a credible threat of force.

After all, a despotic ruler would not hesitate to violate an agreement that he has accepted if he thinks that it is advantageous for himself-as recent developments in North Korea have proven. The despot does not reject aggression as a matter of principle; aggression is simply a matter of expediency: just one more tool to achieve his ends. He will violate an agreement without any twinge of conscience every time he thinks that this will pay off. He keeps agreements only when he accepts that the price of violation would be horrific-the destruction of his regime or his own personal elimination. Therefore, armed power remains necessary in order to deter potential aggressors. The security of the world's liberal democracies, therefore, is only guaranteed by their military potential-and their willingness to use force, if necessary.

America, therefore, needs such allies that share its view on the world and have adequate military potential-the European strategy for solving conflicts only applies within the framework of Western civilization. As a result, many believe that continental Europe is becoming increasingly irrelevant to America. When one scans America's likely partners in the future among the major powers-among them, Great Britain, Turkey, Israel, India and Russia-one cannot help but notice that some of America's main European partners during the Cold War are absent. NATO's importance is declining precisely because of the imbalance of power between America and Europe and the difference of opinion on how to deal with threats in the world.

NATO needs the United States for its existence, but the reverse is not also true. Therefore, the question of whether NATO will keep its relevance depends upon, among other things, whether America will be able to find more allies able to join "coalitions of the willing" from within the alliance than simply Great Britain and Turkey. It seems that the former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe will be such allies-an assumption that was confirmed at the summit in Prague. The military contribution these new allies can offer to America will be negligible, but their diplomatic contribution can be essential. In view of their unforgotten experience with tyranny, they are psychologically better situated to understand and support the American position toward tyrannical regimes and "rogue states" much better than Western Europeans. If, within NATO, they become active supporters of the American view on the world, NATO will become more relevant to the United States. However, if the United States cannot have any allies in NATO-whether this involves diplomatic support for the

American position or the ability to support it actively in the field, NATO will become not only a second-class, but also a downright irrelevant alliance. Afghanistan and Iraq may prove to be the first tests of whether NATO has a role to play in the 21st century.

(1) See, for example, the two-part essay by David Rivkin and Lee Casey that appeared in earlier issues of In the National Interest on this subject.

Roman Joch is a fellow of the Civic Institute, a conservative think-tank in Prague.