It is becoming urgent that international organizations be reevaluated and reformed. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank have tried to adapt to post–Cold War conditions, but the United Nations is as mockingly perverse as ever, and the increasing ambiguity of NATO requires attention.
The most successful alliance in history, NATO established the principle that “an attack upon one is an attack upon all,” though the following clause in the treaty allowed member states to interpret that clause individually. The only time these clauses were invoked was following the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
America’s allies unanimously determined that they had all been attacked, and asked Washington what it expected of them. The campaign in Afghanistan resulted and, though the barbarous Taliban regime was sent packing in quick time, and NATO forces have remained in-country ever since, the U.S. quickly demoted that effort to a secondary status and plunged into Iraq, an enterprise that many of its principal allies, including Canada, France, and Germany, did not support.
George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld suspected, probably with some reason, that their allies were as interested in restraining the ferocity and breadth of America’s response and collegializing the decision-making process as they were in helping out. Yet the brusque manner in which the United States effectively declared that any country that was not actively supporting it in its conduct of what it called a war on terror was indistinguishable from an enemy, was not the sort of mature and sensible leadership of NATO previous American leaders from President Truman on had generally provided.
That takes nothing from the impudence of the French and German leaders, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, in forming a virtual anti-American alliance with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Even less does it excuse France’s sleazy financial dealings with Saddam Hussein, its championship of “smart sanctions” (“smart” meaning selectively and sufficiently porous to ensure great profit for France), or its padding around the temporary members of the U.N. Security Council obstructing American policy. The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, was infamously unable to answer when asked, at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies as the Iraq War got underway, which side France favored.
NATO today is essentially an arrangement between formerly Soviet-occupied countries in desperate need, for obvious historic reasons, of a U.S. military guarantee against Russia, and a cordial alliance that includes a democratic Germany; and the countries that joined the U.S.-led NATO originally to resist Soviet expansionism, and that now retain the American guarantee as a cost-free insurance policy. They believe in the “alliance of the willing,” meaning that they graciously accept the U.S. guarantee, but that, as each crisis arises, they will decide whether it pleases them to assist the Americans in doing anything about it. This does not fit the normal definition of an alliance.
NATO should become the foundation of a new alliance system, in which all passable democracies (a criterion the original NATO waived in several cases) agree on the defense of their own borders, including a carefully crafted policy of preemptive assault against plausibly apprehended terrorism, including defined failed states. NATO could also make parallel agreements with important non-democratic states such as Russia and China.
In 1941, President Roosevelt foreswore appeasement (in January) and eleven months later promised that “treachery” on the scale of Pearl Harbor “will never again endanger us.” The terrorists believe they have found a way around that double defense that deterred attacks on the U.S. for 60 years from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, by operating without nationality from anarchic or wilderness areas of ineffective states, and by exploiting those willing to sacrifice their own lives in what Osama bin Laden called a “massacre of the innocents.”