[OUTLOOK]Smiles in the Atlantic groupingThe Munich Security Conference is to global strategy what the World Economic Forum in Davos is to business and Hollywood’s Academy Awards to movies: the premier event of the year. In Munich last weekend, fifty foreign and defense ministers gathered for two days, surrounded by U.S. senators, European parliamentarians plus assorted hangers-on such as journalists and think-tankers.
Was there anything interesting apart from 4,000 police from all over Germany holding at bay the same number of protesters who accused NATO of war-mongering and other imperialist crimes? Yes, the atmosphere this year was so much warmer than in 2003 when Americans and Europeans had gone into stubborn confrontation mode. Last year, during the run-up to the Iraq war, it was a slugfest of fear, contempt and recrimination. The Americans felt betrayed by their European allies, and the Europeans were angered by U.S. arrogance along the famous Bush line: “Your are either for or against us.“
What a change there was this year. Don Rumsfeld, the U.S. secretary of defense, set the tone by celebrating the enduring community of values between America and Europe. In a pointed reference to the demonstrators outside, he said: “We share the same lack of desire to grab territory and impose our will and values.” Instead of just pronouncing what U.S. foreign policy was going to be, he patiently explained to the Europeans why America insists on a right of pre-emption: “If somebody just throws snowballs at you, you can absorb the blows. But when weapons of mass destruction enter into the game, you have the obligation to act differently. You have to ask: ‘What is the risk if you don’t act?’” The implication was that nations cannot be expected to suffer the first blow; they must pre-empt to forestall a deadly strike.
Most friendly among all the Europeans was France, as represented by its defense minister Michele Alliot-Marie. Only last year, many Americans regarded France as public enemy No. 1, and not completely for the wrong reasons. Paris had tried its worst to organize an anti-American coalition that would stop the Iraq war in the UN Security Council.
What a wondrous change this year! Here was a French defense minister praising the value of NATO, which “has work to do all over the world.” The Euro-American Alliance was already “enlarging its horizon,” that is, beyond Europe. Then Ms. Alliot-Marie praised the NATO Response Force as a “rapidly and easily deployed instrument” to intervene.
It got better still. The nation that, under Charles de Gaulle in 1966, had thrown NATO headquarters out of France while defecting from the integrated command, now vowed to be a “foremost contributor” to the NATO Response Force, pledging 25 percent of the ground troops.
Why this miraculous transformation from the hellish days of a year ago? In one sentence: Both Europe and the United States have learned that they cannot do without each other. In Iraq, the United States learned that it is easy to win a war all by itself; it was far harder to win the peace that way. You need a community of like-minded nations for legitimacy and support ― not only the Atlantic alliance but also the UN.
The Europeans have realized that they cannot afford to have the United States lose the peace in Iraq. They have understood that the Arab Middle East, when left alone, is a breeding ground for weapons of mass destruction and terrorism ― and that Europe is a lot closer to this theater than America. This is why NATO might very well end up in Iraq, provided that there is a UN mandate and a formal request by the United States.
The only country that would presumably not send combat troops to Iraq is Germany. At least that is what Foreign Minister Fischer said during the conference. But, in a fundamental turn-around from last year, Mr. Fischer added that Germany “will not seek to block a consensus [within the Alliance].”
In short, Europe and America have sobered up. The Americans have come to understand that they must seek consensus and legitimacy and the Europeans have understood that they must define European security in wider terms than just the European continent. The threat is no longer Soviet armies, poised to strike into Germany and beyond. The threat comes from the greater Middle East, including Afghanistan. Indeed, as one French observer put it, “Right now the greatest threat is in and around Chechnya. After the occupation of Afghanistan, Chechnya has become the favorite training ground for terrorists all the way to Algeria.” And Algeria is jut a few hundred kilometers across the Mediterranean from France.
Those who predicted that NATO would die once the Soviet Union was no more are now having second thoughts. Nobody wants to get out of NATO, and many nations are clamoring to get in. The longest-lived alliance in history still has a few decades to go.
* The writer is the editor of Die Zeit, a German weekly, and an associate at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.
by Josef Joffe