This week, Romania’s capital of Bucharest will host representatives from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (Nato) 26 member nations. The alliance will make critical choices about its mission in Afghanistan and about expanding to several former Soviet-bloc nations. These decisions need not, and should not, be further delayed for yet more “consultations” in capitals across Europe.
Nato needs clarity of purpose. A display of timidity in Bucharest could derail its recent progress in adjusting to the demands of the still new 21st century. Moving beyond its traditional mindset is a strategic imperative for the alliance to remain relevant. There is no better way than by extending full membership to Albania, Croatia and Macedonia and by beginning the process to bring Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance through membership action plans. While European commitments to the mission in Afghanistan are being questioned, the determination of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia to contribute to tough missions is clear.
As was the case with Nato invitations to other former Soviet-bloc nations in 1999 and 2004, this year’s expansion would consolidate democratic and economic gains in south-east Europe. For several years, under membership action plans, the governments of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia have been preparing to join the ranks. They now meet the necessary criteria. They have shown their commitment to human rights and regional stability by protecting the rights of ethnic minorities. They have built sound defence capabilities in intelligence, medical support, and special operations. Perhaps most important in light of Nato’s shortcomings, these countries have made use of those capabilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. The operational — and attitudinal — contributions they bring to Nato will far outstrip their size.
With respect to Georgia and Ukraine, both nations are democratic, politically mature, relatively stable and committed to the international community after the 2003 Orange and 2004 Rose revolutions. Neighbouring Russia recently suggested it might turn its nuclear arsenal on Ukraine or incite civil disorder in Georgia if either takes steps to join Nato. Undeterred, the Georgian and Ukrainian governments have expressed their clear desire to initiate membership action plan proceedings. Silence on this in Bucharest would amount to a rejection of Georgia’s and Ukraine’s international aspirations. It would serve as a green light to Russia to continue the tired rhetoric of the Cold War.
The administration, bipartisan majorities in Congress, and most members of Nato have expressed support for extending membership to nations in south-east Europe and for partnerships with those nations beyond. Why then the hold-up? All five nations would also bring to Nato an appreciation of the vigilance required to defend liberty. With their peoples’ first-hand experience of Communist occupation, they see in Islamic extremism the dangers of an all too familiar totalitarian ideology.
Its mission in Afghanistan has been a historic step towards transforming Nato to meet new challenges of the 21st century. But its work there has laid bare some hard truths about the state of the alliance. Outdated rules of engagement, uneven national commitments, and a lack of sufficient urgency among several of its members are indisputable facts. And so, too, are the possibilities of failure and creeping irrelevance if Nato does not act wisely. Bucharest presents an opportunity to advance the interests of all 26 member nations by expanding the Nato alliance. It is a time for US and European leadership.
The Wall Street Journal
Edited excerpts. Donald Rumsfeld is former US ambassador to Nato and former US secretary of defence. Comments at firstname.lastname@example.org