Despite the Thaw, NATO Shouldn't Melt

HISTORY tells us that alliances do not last once they outlive their purpose. Just last May, NATO was basking in the self-congratulatory glow of its 40th anniversary. As a result of the dramatic changes in Europe in recent months, including the de facto disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, many now predict NATO's early demise. Traditionally, alliances are based upon the perception of a common threat. With the recent agreements to withdraw Soviet forces from Czechoslovakia and Hungary, a likely similar return from Poland, and an expected 50 percent reduction of Russian troops in East Germany through the conventional-forces negotiations in Vienna, clearly the military threat from the Warsaw Pact is fast disappearing.

The armed forces of the East European countries themselves can no longer be viewed as enemies. The National People's Army of East Germany, once considered the most disciplined, is evaporating day by day in anticipation of reunification. What then, many ask, is the need for NATO? Why not plan on withdrawing American forces from Europe soon?

These questions are made all the more urgent by the current conundrum regarding the relationship between a reunified Germany and the NATO alliance. There are some in West Germany, principally within the left wing of the Social Democratic Party, who are stirring the domestic political caldron by questioning the continued need for alliance membership. But the Federal Republic is not about to leave NATO. This would be seen as too destabilizing by all her allies and neighbors and, fortunately, by a majority of her own citizens.

But once the two Germanys are united, are NATO's borders thereby extended eastward? And what happens to Soviet forces in East Germany? Surely Moscow will want to maintain its forces there until they are further reduced and eventually eliminated in parallel with those of the United States through arms control negotiations. Yet how can Soviet combat troops be left on the territory of a NATO country? No doubt this anomaly was on Gorbachev's mind as he recently declared in the most forceful terms his opposition to a united Germany within NATO.

Such critical questions demand the most carefully developed answers. And these answers must be rooted in a broad, longer-term perspective. The current temptation to rush to judgment as the unification steamroller moves on must be resisted. We are at a truly pivotal moment in history. And we are talking about nothing less than the central political order of the 21st century. If this new world order is not wisely created, we may doom ourselves to tragedy in much the same manner that the new order created by the Versailles peace settlement after World War I broke down in just two decades.

In constructing the new architecture of Europe, we need not start from the bare ground. We will, however, need to transform several existing institutions as well as seek novel approaches.

First, NATO must become more of a political and less of a military alliance. No longer will its central purpose be to fight or deter a war, but rather to provide a framework for stability as the vestiges of the cold war are dismantled. This means an active role in monitoring and verifying new arms control agreements in Europe providing for drastically reduced levels of men and weapons.

Because Soviet military power remains formidable, NATO's defense forces will be needed for some time to provide insurance as well as reassurance against their possible use. The existing military strategies of forward defense and flexible response, however, will need to be replaced by concepts that entail smaller, more mobile, and more defensively orientated units. It is within this context that the future level of American troops should be decided.

Ultimately, NATO must be the bond which ties a united Germany to the West and which continues to tie the US to Europe's security. This may require a devolution of some current US roles and responsibilities within NATO to the Europeans. There should be a fresh reappraisal of the role of the Western European Union, an organization designed to enhance European defense by the West Europeans themselves, with a view toward its expansion.

Second, the European Community must accelerate the pace of its move towards political unity. Brussels should no longer wait until the achievement of the 1992 goals for an integrated European market before addressing what has been thought of as the longer-term issues relating to Europe's coalescence.

In the next quarter century there will be three poles of power - North America, Asia, and Europe - and power will be measured principally in economic and political terms. (The Soviet Union's remaining nuclear arsenal will not provide it with much leverage, and in economic terms the USSR is likely to remain comparatively weak.) If Europe is to play its rightful role in world affairs, its western half should now put its house in order by greatly deepening the process of integration.

Third, the Conference on Security and Cooperation, which came out of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, should provide the necessary bridging mechanism for bringing East and West Europe together. For a long time Washington was skeptical of its utility, but now its time has come. This 35-nation process, which deals with political, economic, military, human rights, and military questions and which has the advantage of including the US and the Soviet Union, should be used to create the new pan-European order of the next century.

It urgently needs institutional development including a secretariat. The expected summit meeting of the CSCE nations later this year is an opportunity that should be seized.

The cold war, as we have known it, may well be over. But it would be a grievous error to disband NATO, to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as we celebrate. Rather, we must come to understand that we are entering a critical transitional phase in world affairs. This new era will require all the wisdom and acumen that was brought to bear after the end of World War II.

The best way to proceed is purposefully to transform the three institutions of NATO, the European Community, and the Conference on Cooperation and Security in Europe so as to enable them to deal innovatively with the changed circumstances and new opportunities.

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