Morning Bell: What’s at Stake in Bucharest

Conn Carroll /

The early reports out of President’s Bush’s trip to Europe for tomorrow’s NATO summit in Bucharest all seem to focus on the U.S. backing of Ukraine’s and Georgia’s bids to join the alliance. While NATO should pursue membership for those two former Soviet republics, there is so much more at stake.

The Bucharest summit comes at a crucial time for the future of the alliance. The International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan has exposed strategic and political shortcomings that the U.S. must address. Afghanistan is the alliance’s first out-of-area mission and its ultimate success or failure will go a long way to determining if it represents a vision of the future for the alliance, or a one time exception.

If NATO members want the organization’s interests to extend beyond Europe, some in the alliance will have to assume a more equitable share of the burden. NATO is already showing dangers of turning into a two-tier alliance, with some members unwilling to send troops to southern Afghanistan. The U.S. must push to end such caveats and should also push NATO members to meet their previously agreed upon benchmarks of 2% of GDP spending on defense.

What must be avoided at all costs is France’s one-time offer of additional troops for Afghanistan in exchange for U.S. and British backing of an independent European Union defense structure and a leading French role in NATO’s command structure. President Bill Clinton resisted a similar French effort to infiltrate NATO command in 1997 and Bush should do so again at Bucharest. France should only be welcomed back into integrated military NATO command structure when Paris affirms NATO supremacy in European defense and security.

There will always be serious threats to global security. If Europe’s major powers genuinely believe that the world’s response to these threats should be multilateral, they should invest in a thorough reform and revitalization of NATO. Anything less than a high-level endorsement of NATO on both sides of the Atlantic will doom it to marginalization.

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