November 16, 2005 | Scripps Howard News Service

What Good Is NATO?

World War II was fought against totalitarianism of the Nazi, Fascist and Japanese Militarist varieties. After the war, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created to defend the Free World from the totalitarian threat represented by Communism and the U.S.S.R.

A half century later, the Soviet Union is gone and communism is widely seen as a failed movement. So should NATO now fade away too?

Jose Maria Aznar, the former Spanish Prime Minister, thinks not. Instead, he believes, NATO should be “reinvented” so that it can address Militant Islamism, the totalitarian movement that has been utilizing suicide terrorism as a weapon of war from New York to Madrid to London to Baghdad to Mombassa to Istanbul to Tel Aviv to Amman to Bali and beyond.

Why this transformation is imperative and how it can be achieved is the subject of a new report drafted by two far-sighted policy analysts: Rafael L. Bardaji and Florentino Portero, representing Madrid-base think tanks led by Aznar (the Strategic Studies Group and the Foundation for Analysis and Social Studies).

This week, Aznar presented his NATO report at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He also received an endorsement for it from the Committee on the Present Danger, whose chairmen are former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey, and whose honorary chairmen are Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ).

Aznar believes that NATO's credibility and future are on the line. More important than that:  “It is our freedom that is at stake and NATO must do whatever is needed to defeat those who threaten it.”

NATO might begin simply by recalling and reaffirming its original purpose: “to preserve collectively freedom and democracy.” Aznar argues that the alliance should openly acknowledge that the major threat to those institutions now comes from totalitarian movements that seek support among the world's 1.2 billion Muslims, and whose leaders state openly that “they are against democracies without distinctions.”

“We should take very seriously their ambitions, no matter how ridiculous or delirious they may look to us,” the report argues. In the 1930s, Americans and Europeans knew there were “fanatics” planning terrible atrocities but failed to respond effectively, paving the way to a global conflict that would consume millions of lives. To repeat that mistake, Aznar warns, would be both irresponsible and tragic.

The report proposes aggressive measures to prevent terrorist organizations and their sponsors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction – a circumstance that could make the atrocities of 9/11/01 look like a practice run.

It calls for improved coordination of homeland security measures; also enlarging NATO to include other democratic nations such as Australia, Japan and Israel.
Perhaps most controversially, it recommends “approval of democracy-building as an objective of peace operations over and above the goal of nation-building.” To accomplish this, the report contends, will require the “creation of an operational command for post-conflict democracy-building operations, establishment of a joint fund to finance these missions and creation of a ‘Partnership for Freedom'” 

In other words, Aznar wants to see a multilateral effort working against “regimes based on fear and oppression” and doing everything possible to foster the development of institutions that guarantee human rights for those who do not now enjoy them.

Any proposal supported by a group of statesmen as diverse as Aznar, Shultz, Woolsey, Lieberman and Kyl should be taken seriously by the Bush administration. And, at a time when even some Republicans appear to be going wobbly on the war, this report has the advantage of increasing multilateralism – without either ceding powers to the U.N. or asking favors of such fair-weather friends as French President Jacques Chirac. 

The Aznar report concludes by predicting that “the threat of Islamist terrorism will end up becoming the greatest priority sooner or later.” Waiting, he believes, will prove costly. By contrast, “standing up to our enemies as soon as possible is the best way of eliminating their destructive potential.” 

Today, however, NATO is “badly prepared to fight and defeat Islamist terrorism because it continues to be anchored in the strategic situations of the past. …NATO must become a veritable Alliance for Freedom, one whose primary objective is to defeat terror …and to secure collectively our liberties, our democracies, our values and our way of life before it is too late.”

Those are strong words. They come from Europeans who seek not rivalry with the United States but a renewed and reinvigorated partnership. Isn't that what most Americans want as well? 

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies a policy institute focusing on terrorism. He is also chairs the policy subcommittee of the Committee on the Present Danger.

Read the Spanish Translation.