Satellites and NATO Unity

SINCE the emergence of Gorbachev, glasnost, and perestroika, foreign policy watchers have been debating the political, social, and economic implications of these forces on Eastern Europe. However, it is not until recently that transformation of the European military security framework could be seriously discussed. The historic opening of the Berlin wall, together with Moscow's dramatic announcement that Warsaw Pact countries may leave the alliance, have irrevocably changed the debate on the future of European security. These changes do not make NATO obsolete, but confront the alliance with challenges and opportunities for navigating a peaceful transition to a new Europe.

While a consensus is building among analysts on the presence of change in the security realm, there is no consensus on how to deal with this fast moving process. Some argue that Western leaders ought to do everything in their power to accelerate changes in the post World War II order, while others seek to slow down change in an effort to manage a seemingly unpredictable process.

Even before the remarkable events of recent months, the NATO alliance was losing cohesion. In the Spring issue of Foreign Affairs Richard Betts argued that NATO has reached a ``mid-life crisis.'' Traditionally, what kept the alliance together was the shared perception of a threat. As the perception of an outside military threat diminishes the internal threat of the alliance unraveling increases. The inability to agree on how to deal with the changes in the Warsaw pact threatens to exacerbate tensions among NATO partners.

A timely initiative exists that can provide internal cohesion and orientation for the Western alliance, while preparing for the restructuring of the military security framework in Europe. Building consensus during a time of rapid and dramatic change in the traditional East-West security relationship is a daunting task. At this critical historic juncture unity is in greatest need. The development of a NATO satellite observation and verification system offers a focal point for countering both internal and external threats to the alliance.

A NATO observation satellite system would help refocus the alliance onto the challenges confronting the establishment of future arms control regimes. It would complement the formation of an ``Open Skies'' aerial reconnaissance regime advocated by President Bush. Incomplete information on adversarial intentions and capabilities has contributed to what some have described as the ``mad momentum'' of the arms race. Information can provide the confidence needed for a transition to a new European order.

As a result, if President Gorbachev is serious about transforming European security a NATO observation satellite system provides an essential capability to facilitate this transition. If Gorbachev fails, the NATO system maintains a critical security back-up. With a potential reliance on offshore forces, information will become central to European security.

Aside from a NATO observation satellite system augmenting US reconnaissance capabilities, it would involve our European partners directly in the security monitoring process. Substantively and psychologically this would reflect the changing relationship between the US and its increasingly powerful allies. And a NATO observation satellite system could aid in the management of emerging, non-traditional security threats such as global environmental change.

From the European perspective, the US has viewed its partnership with the Europeans as one that did not involve sharing - only selective giving. A notable exception to this pattern was the development of a NATO communications satellite system in the 1960s. US leadership in this initiative brought the alliance closer together, while providing the Europeans with important capabilities.

A NATO observation satellite, unlike the case of communications, would not be a one-way street. Although the US has flown very large aperture cameras in space with excellent resolution, the Europeans can contribute in multispectral imagery and space-based radars. Current and planned European and Canadian observation satellites, while not individually or collectively suited for a range of verification, monitoring, and alliance building objectives, are valuable for a NATO observation satellite effort.

The Europeans understand that the essence of an alliance involves the sharing of power. However, the Europeans are now arguing that sharing technology, which is something the US has been reluctant to do in the past, is a form of power sharing. A NATO observation satellite system can serve as a vehicle for transferring technology, hence power, to our European allies while maintaining US access to important economic markets such as optics, sensors, and telecommunications.

The search for stability and consensus in Europe is central to transforming the global security scene. As the US and USSR move from a relationship of conflict to a relationship of shared challenges and cooperation, innovation and bold actions are required. Leadership in the formation of a NATO observation satellite system offers President Bush a promising initiative to ride the crest of change in Europe and the world.

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