One Treaty the Bush Administration Supports: Long Live NATO

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Seven more nations are joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and three more Central European nations have their applications pending. Although the Bush administration has set an overall course in foreign and military policy of treaty-breaking and unilateralism, it remains a strong proponent of NATO expansion.

Founded in 1949 as a security buffer against the Soviet Union, NATO has not only survived the end of the cold war. It is flourishing. Despite criticism that a post-cold war NATO would unnecessarily propagate the West-East security divide that shaped international relations for the four decades of the cold war, the U.S. government has led the drive to energize and expand NATO. In 1999, after contentious debate in the U.S. Senate, the U.S. approved the accession of Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary to NATO. Leading the NATO enlargement lobby was the neoconservative Committee to Expand NATO, which brought together several prominent neocons now serving in the Bush administration, along with conservative Democrats such as Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute and the Democratic Leadership Council.

After succeeding in advancing the first post-cold war round of enlargement, the Committee to Expand NATO (renamed U.S. Committee on NATO) launched its "Big Bang" strategy to bring ten more nations into the NATO fold. After an initial meeting of the ten new prospects in Vilnius, Lithuania, with the aid of the U.S. Committee on NATO the so-called Vilnius Group began pressuring Washington and NATO headquarters for membership.

The U.S. Senate in May 2003 unanimously approved the accession to NATO of three Baltic nations (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and four other countries of Central and Eastern Europe (Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Slovakia). In a White House ceremony on March 29, 2004, President Bush hailed the accession of seven additional nations to NATO, which will formally admit the new members at a ceremony at NATO headquarters in Brussels on April 2. Bush noted that all the new NATO members are "helping to bring lasting freedom to Afghanistan and Iraq."

Three other nations of the New Europe bloc–Croatia, Macedonia, and Albania–are next in line to receive an accession invitation from NATO. Although it was Donald Rumsfeld who is credited with first using the term "New Europe," the term has long been circulating among neoconservatives who view with deep disgust Western Europe’s tendency to support diplomacy over war and its deep commitment to multilateralism and the international rule of law. As the White House began laying the groundwork for the "coalition of the willing" against Iraq, President Bush himself repeatedly used the term "New Europe" in statements about NATO enlargement. In a July 5, 2002 speech hailing the leaders of the Vilnius group, the president declared, "Our nations share a common vision of a new Europe, where free European states are united with each other, and with the United States through cooperation, partnership, and alliance."

President Bush told the newest NATO members that "all member nations must be willing, and able, to contribute to the common defense of our alliance." Many of the new members have joined NATO in the belief that it will lead to economic prosperity and shield them against any future extraterritorial ambitions of the Russian Federation. But President Bush regards the new members as enlistees in Washington’s own global ambitions in the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia. During the White House welcoming ceremony, President Bush noted that NATO’s mission extended far beyond the perimeter of the alliance. "NATO members are reaching out to the nations of the Middle East, to strengthen our ability to fight terror, and to provide for our common security," he said. But NATO’s mission extends beyond global security. "We’re discussing," said Bush, "how we can support and increase the momentum of freedom in the greater Middle East."

At a time when it appears that the U.S. is becoming increasingly isolated, the Bush administration is exercising strong leadership over what the president describes as the "most successful military alliance in history." The Bush administration has lashed out at European critics of its neo-imperial policies and dismissed the dissident Western European nations as representatives of the "old Europe," but it rests secure in the knowledge that U.S. military leadership and America’s military dominance are central to NATO and that NATO is the centerpiece of transatlantic relations. Given that most European nations lack strong militaries of their own and that EU still lacks a unified security infrastructure, the ever-expanding NATO operating under U.S. direction will likely remain an effective instrument of U.S. hegemony, not only in North Atlantic but also from the Gulf of Finland to the Black Sea, and from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf.

President Clinton supported the first phase of NATO enlargement, as did the internationalists of both political parties. The driving ideological force behind NATO expansion, however, has been the neocon polemicists and operatives who see an expanded NATO as one in which the power of mainland Western European nations is diminished and U.S. hegemonic power is consolidated. But it’s unlikely that NATO expansion would have proceeded so quickly without the concerted backing of the U.S. military-industrial complex. For its part, the U.S. military was eager to establish U.S. military bases and forward-deployment sites in the "transitional states" of the former Soviet bloc. And U.S. military contractors had an eye on the new markets for their latest weaponry when the new NATO partners militarized to meet the compatibility requirements of the alliance. Integration into NATO requires integrating weapons systems–creating a multibillion-dollar market for jet fighters, electronics, attack helicopters, military communication networks, and all the gadgets needed by a modern fighting force.

NATO expansion cannot be written off as a neocon conspiracy. But neither should one assume that the neoconservatives are so dismissive of the "appeasers" in Europe and so preoccupied with the Middle East (and especially the security of Israel) that they don’t have a grand strategy for a restructured Europe. "Strengthen America, Secure Europe. Defend Values. Expand NATO" was the motto of the U.S. Committee on NATO. The committee’s slogan concisely summarizes the main arguments of the NATO expansion lobby in the United States.

The U.S. Committee on NATO and the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, both of which were organized by PNAC’s Bruce Jackson, were disbanded in late 2003, apparently because its members believed that they had accomplished their mission. But the neocon camp continues working to shape the transatlantic political and military agenda. Jackson and Scheunemann continue their work in Eurasia through their Project on Transitional Democracies. Another ideological partner in the neoconservative effort to restructure the transatlantic alliance is the New Atlantic Initiative of the American Enterprise Institute, whose goal is "the admission of Europe’s fledgling democracies into institutions of Atlantic defense." Like the AEI itself, the New Atlantic Initiative is dominated by neocons such as William Kristol, Samuel Huntington, Norman Podhoretz, Joshua Muravchick, Richard Perle, and Daniel Pipes. AEI’s New Atlantic Initiative also includes on its advisory board military hard-liners such as Donald Rumsfeld, right-wing political figures like Newt Gingrich, and realpolitikers such as Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, as well a few Democrats such as Thomas Foley–all of whom share the neocon vision of a "New Europe."

The cold war is long over, but with the support of U.S. supremacists in both parties NATO lives on as America’s global cop.