Events

NATO and the Transatlantic Relationship after the Iraq War

December 10, 2003 // 11:00am12:30pm

Andrew Michta addressed two broader issues facing NATO today, first its transformation since the Prague decision, and second, the special relationship that has developed between Poland and the US since the war in Iraq. The topic of NATO's transformation has brought up many questions since the end of the Cold War. As postcommunist countries voiced their aspirations to join western security structures, questions have been raised about NATO's role in a postcommunist Europe, how much expansion Russia would allow, and how far NATO's borders should reach. To a large extent, these questions were answered by the decision taken in Prague last year, at which NATO pledged to admit 7 additional member states. Michta contends that this was a crucial turning point in the organization because the enlargement signified that NATO has become a primarily political, rather than a security, institution.

The 96 to 0 vote in the US Senate could be interpreted in two ways. Either the US wanted to reward these countries for their strong backing of the US in the war in Iraq, or else it showed that there is little or no interest in NATO, and since no one cared about enlargement, it was an easy vote to cast. Michta's sense is that the truth is somewhere in the middle of these two assessments; although it is clear that NATO is not the important security institution it once was, it should not be viewed as obsolete.

Also, enlargement of NATO means that new East European entrants will now need to face the reality of crafting a clear foreign policy, which at times will mean choosing between Europe and the US. Among the new NATO members, Poland has assumed the most assertive role in seizing the opportunity and taking risks involved in becoming a real ally to the US. A special relationship has been forged between Poland and the US to the extent that even though Poland does not have the resources to be an important power, its loyalty to the US has given the country a lot of political capital. Poland will use this capital to reap tangible economic benefits from its involvement in Iraq, namely, to gain contracts in rebuilding Iraq and grants to forward its military modernization goals, although such benefits have yet to be forthcoming from the Bush Administration. These potential gains may work to ameliorate the largest problem in Poland's special relationship: low public support for the war in Iraq.

Jeff Simon focused on the future of the alliance and the impact on NATO partnership countries. Less skeptical of the alliance than Michta, Simon cited the importance NATO values have had in postcommunist East Europe. The core principles democracy, free markets, minority protection, good relations with neighbors and fully-functioning institutions have helped to encourage reform in previously unstable regions. Simon asserted that these principles must continue to guide the work of the transatlantic alliance.

Simon contends that NATO's capabilities are not really profound. This was clear when the alliance invoked its Article 5, after 9/11. Although the US was grateful for the show of support, the Administration became increasingly frustrated with the complexity of bargaining with many actors for help in its mission. Its decision to go on unilaterally and turn its back on NATO was perhaps a seed that led to the souring transatlantic relationship, but it was also a sign that NATO may not have the institutional capacity to be useful in certain circumstances.

NATO's goals have changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War. Indeed, NATO has become committed to expanding to a wider geographical area and to a broadening functional agenda. The anti-terrorist declaration agreed upon at the Prague Summit and the idea of fostering the creation of border troops and cross-border police cooperation are examples of the broader reach NATO hopes to achieve.

Enlargement is the most obvious example of its new widening policy, but much is happening with NATO's partners that sets the tone for how the new NATO will operate in the future. Simon believes that the best success stories of NATO come from the regional partnerships that NATO has encouraged. Few would have believed that NATO would have produced military cooperation agreements between post velvet-divorce Czech Republic and Slovakia, between Poland and Ukraine, the Baltic Battalion, or the South-Eastern Europe Brigade. These partnerships may serve to bring in other countries, such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and even Russia into cooperative military partnerships with NATO members. Although NATO may not enlarge to all of these countries in the future, a valuable example is given by Austria, Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden and Finland, which do not actively seek NATO accession, but nevertheless have close ties to the alliance. In dealing with possible future members, it is essential to keep the door to NATO open in order to give credence to the conditionality involved in the accession process. Countries such as Serbia and the Adriatic Charter countries Croatia, Macedonia and Albania will not make progress on adopting NATO's core values unless there is a credible promise for NATO membership.

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  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
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