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Friday, Nov. 26, 2010


NATO's new look

Every 10 years, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization reassesses the world and its place in it and forges a new mission statement that tries to align the institution, its members and their desire to create a more peaceful and stable world. This year, that effort has yielded a "new strategic concept" that underscores NATO's global role.

It may seem strange that NATO would extend its reach to distant corners of the world, but the drafters of "Active Engagement, Modern Defense" (the title of the New Strategic Concept) rightly noted that "Crises and conflicts beyond NATO's borders can pose a direct threat to the security of alliance territory and populations." Thus, "NATO will therefore engage, where possible and when necessary, to prevent crises, manage crises, stabilize postconflict situations and support reconstruction."

The goal is simple in theory — to transform a Cold War alliance into a flexible organization that is ready for new and diverse threats. The list of concerns ranges from piracy to cybersecurity; battles could be fought within alliance members' borders or in far-off nations. Even though the logic of that step makes sense, it is nonetheless a remarkable decision given the considerable misgivings that color NATO's involvement in Afghanistan. There are now 150,000 troops in the largest combat deployment in NATO's history and the first outside its original area of operations. They are struggling to support the government of Afghanistan and defeat the Taliban insurgency even after 10 years of fighting.

NATO had said it would withdraw those forces by 2014, but officials dispute whether that date is a goal or a deadline. At their Lisbon summit last weekend, the officials agreed that they would hand over responsibility for security to the Afghan government by 2014, but some troops would likely remain. At a minimum, NATO and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed to "a long-term partnership between NATO and Afghanistan that will endure beyond our combat mission."

But while there is much that is new in the New Strategic Concept, there are important historical legacies as well. Thus, while NATO is committed to creating conditions "for a world without nuclear weapons," the leaders conceded that "as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance."

The organization is trying to combat the nuclear threat in new ways, however. Since the proliferation of ballistic missiles is "a real and growing threat to the Euro-Atlantic area," the New Strategic Concept identifies missile defense as a core element of NATO's new strategy. NATO will reach out to Russia and other partners as it develops that system.

This arrangement is designed to transform Russia's relations with an organization that once identified Russia as its raison d'etre. As U.S. President Barack Obama explained, "We see Russia as a partner, not an adversary," a view that was echoed by other NATO leaders. His counterpart, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, said that that is the only way to go forward, demanding "a full-fledged strategic partnership between Russia and NATO" — "Otherwise, it's a no-go."

In practical terms, at this point it means that Russia will send its defense specialists to join a technical study with NATO counterparts to determine how such a system would work. Russia will also increase cooperation with NATO in combating terrorism, narcotics smuggling and piracy. Moscow also promised to allow increased transit of nonlethal NATO equipment and supplies across Russian territory to and from Afghanistan.

This is an important shift in Russia thinking. Only months ago, Moscow called the planned missile defense system a threat to its own nuclear forces. It is not clear what convinced Russians to change their minds. The Obama administration has labored mightily to assuage Russian concerns about the design and purpose of its missile defense deployment. Part of the credit probably also goes to the New START agreement reached by Washington and Moscow. It was a confidence-building exercise that demonstrated how the two nations can work together. That underscores the need for the U.S. to ratify the START treaty, a move that seems — incredibly — to be increasingly in doubt.

Missile defense is one of the stated reasons for U.S. Senate hesitancy to agree to the treaty. Last weekend, Mr. Medvedev warned that "If we fail to agree on missile defense, it could be a new arms race coming our way."

By reaching out to Russia, NATO officials believe that they "have a real chance to build a security roof for the entire Euro-Atlantic area." And beyond. NATO seeks in the New Security Concept to reach out to all nations that are prepared to partner with it and work together to realize peace and security. While those potential partners are not identified, Japan is clearly high on the list of prospects.

This is a challenge to our government and the nation as a whole. Japan must decide what role it wishes to play in the world and how it can best contribute to international peace and security.

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