A NATO For The 21st Century

Ronald D. Asmus argues that Israel should be made a member of NATO to send Iran a message:

The United States already has a de facto security commitment to Israel. Any future U.S. president would go to the defense of that country if its existence were threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran. And in spite of the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic voices that one can hear in Europe, there is little doubt that European leaders such as Tony Blair, Angela Merkel and even Jacques Chirac would also stand tall and defend Israel against an Iranian threat. Given this situation, basic deterrence theory tells us that it is more credible and effective if those commitments are clear and unambiguous.

The best way to provide Israel with that additional security is to upgrade its relationship with the collective defense arm of the West: NATO. Whether that upgraded relationship culminates in membership for Israel or simply a much closer strategic and operational defense relationship can be debated. After all, a classic security guarantee requires clear and recognized borders to be defended, something Israel does not have today. Configuring an upgraded Israel-NATO relationship will require careful diplomacy and planning. But what must be clear is that the West is prepared to match the growing bellicosity against Israel by stepping up its commitment to the existence of the Jewish state.

I highly doubt that the viciously anti-Israel and often anti-Semitic European bureaucracy would ever allow Israeli membership into NATO, although the possibility of some kind of close operating relationship isn’t out of the picture. Israel will never become a full member of NATO because the Palestinian threat to Israel’s existence would never allow them to invoke Article V of the NATO Charter. Imagine what the European reaction would be if a Palestinian suicide bombing led to Israel calling for collective action in response to an attack. They’d be well within their rights to do so if they were a NATO member, but Europe would certainly not ever wish to be in the position of officially recognizing Palestinian terrorism for what it is.

However, Asmus does lead to a good point. NATO as an institution was designed to fight the battles of the Cold War, a war that is now long since over. In an age of terrorism, close cooperation between Western nations and their allies are as important as ever, if not even more so. NATO worked to dissuade the Soviet empire from pushing into Western Europe, but at the cost of weakening the Europe’s ability to defend itself. NATO became a defense welfare system in which European nations could rely on the strength of the United States military to protect them. With the US military having been dramatically pared down through the post-Cold War period, we can’t continue to cover Europe while fighting terrorism in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa.

The new threats of our time require new thinking about collective action. The threat we face aren’t Soviet tanks racing down the Fulda Gap, but 19 men with boxcutters on civilian airliners. The old doctrines, such as containment and Mutally Assured Destruction don’t work when you have countries that are infected with a virulent fanaticism. The Global War on Terrorism is a war that combines military force with the interception of terrorist finances, the disruption of sleeper cells, and a commitment to preventing failed states from becoming petri dishes for terrorism.

That means that each and every country needs to pull its weight. When President Bush states that you’re either with us or with the terrorists, it was a less than subtle way of stating that neutrality is not an option in this war. Groups like al-Qaeda will find purchase wherever they can, including the West. The September 11 attacks were planned in Hamburg and Kuala Lumpur, along with Kandahar and Quetta. A country that does not take the threat of terrorism seriously could well end up being the spawning ground for the next attack.

NATO’s focus on collective defense needs to shift to meet the realities of the 21st Century. Inclusion of front-line states like Israel, Afghanistan, and Iraq into a collective defense framework should be a priority for fighting terrorism. If the EU wishes to have a rapid-reaction force that can respond to terrorist incidents, the US should provide them with support towards that end. Front-line countries should be strengthened so that they can fight off terrorist threats and prevent groups like al-Qaeda from reforming in their territories. Countries like Iran should face a unified opposition that stands strongly and firmly against unstable regimes obtaining nuclear weapons. Networks like the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network have destabilized our globe, and we need to ensure that such a network never starts up again.

Asmus is right that the threats of al-Qaeda and a nuclear-armed Iran require a new framework for collective defense. However, NATO is specifically designed to fight the conflicts of the last century. With NATO expanding to include former Soviet bloc countries and even Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, it’s time to rethink the organizational structure of NATO and ensure that becomes an organization dedicated to fighting the threats we face now and the threats that may emerge in the future.

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