Representatives of the nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will convene in Madrid this month to decide which new countries to accept into the alliance. The decision to expand follows several years of debate in the United States and other member states over the future of NATO and its mission now that the cold war, which inspired its creation, has ended.
With the NATO decision looming, AEI's New Atlantic Initiative (NAI) held its second annual congress in Phoenix, Arizona, on May 16-18. The event drew senior European and American diplomats, statesmen, and foreign policy experts. NAI, launched in 1996, has quickly developed into an influential institution supporting the revitalization of NATO and other cooperative efforts of the Atlantic community of democracies.
The gathering in Phoenix was preceded by an NAI-sponsored briefing and reception in honor of Czech President Vaclav Havel, which was held on May 13 in the U.S. Senate. President Havel has been an outspoken advocate of strong European-American ties and of NATO expansion. In an article published in the New York Times on the day of the reception, he argued that "serious consideration of the purpose and meaning" of NATO must accompany the acceptance of new members. In his view, the alliance should look on itself "not as a pact of nations against a more or less obvious enemy, but as a guarantor of Euro-American civilization and thus as a pillar of global security." Expansion is necessary because "a security vacuum in Central Europe exists today and could arouse unnecessary temptation among nationalists and those we suspect of nostalgia for power blocs and regional dominance."
Although the Congress of Phoenix included discussions of trade and other economic issues, NATO expansion and security concerns dominated the proceedings. Each of the three keynote speeches addressed the future of the alliance.
Lady Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Britain, urged Western nations not to lose their vigilance for security: "Because the risk of nuclear annihilation has gone, we in the West have lapsed into a dangerous complacency and relaxed our guard. In almost every Western country, defense spending has fallen and is set to fall still further; during the British general election campaign defense scarcely rated a mention. Yet defense, as Adam Smith famously wrote, is more important than opulence."
Paul Wolfowitz, dean of the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University, argued that the most important task of the Atlantic alliance is changing: "Although the purpose of cooperation between the United States and its democratic allies is strategic, the cooperation required is not primarily military. In fact, the ability to apply the combined economic leverage of the Atlantic community on major issues may be the best way to avoid military confrontations."
Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) reiterated President Havel's emphasis on the purpose of NATO: "Current discussion about the Atlantic alliance focuses mainly on the who'--who will be admitted to NATO, now and later. I want to ensure that the why' remains prominent in our minds also. There is a philosophical--indeed a moral--purpose to the alliance." Thus, in the senator's view, extension of membership in NATO to new countries will not be merely the sign of their participation in a military partnership but also an expression of "their embrace of democratic and free market institutions that distinguish them as nations with governments that truly respect the rights of their people."
Holding the congress in Phoenix proved to be a sound decision. Phoenix, with its astonishing growth in recent decades, is a symbol of American entrepreneurship and of the benefits of free trade. Foreign investment was largely responsible for its growth, and international trade remains vital to Arizona's economy. In Lady Thatcher's words, local support for the event was "not only a clear indication of America's enduring commitment to the Atlantic alliance, but also of the contribution that the processes of American economic change can make in underpinning that commitment."