Leading Article: A clear vision for Nato

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The Independent Online
THE DEATH last week of Dr Manfred Worner, Secretary-General of Nato, leaves a large space to be filled at a time when it is vital to maintain the momentum of Nato's search for a new role. The world is not becoming a safer place. As he himself observed, a gap has emerged 'between the vision of a new peaceful order in Europe and appreciation of the price to be paid to bring it about'.

He had a clear vision of what Nato should be doing. It must not only insure against any remaining military risks but also 'prevent, manage and resolve crises and conflicts', keep the United States committed to European security, prevent Europe sliding back into nationalism, and face the new risks emerging from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, migration and extremism. This is a formidable list for an organisation whose members are now busy cutting their defence spending following the demise of Communism. But he was right in principle. The end of Communism has replaced one large threat with many small ones. Nato must take a broader and more flexible view of its role.

Europe's existing security architecture contains several overlapping structures: the Western European Union, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe and the European Union itself. All make important contributions but Nato remains the essential foundation. It welds together the two great centres of liberal democracy, Europe and the United States, and provides them with the military forces, command structure and political co-operation to back diplomacy with credible threats of force. Europe may, and should, strengthen its own contribution to the alliance, but any attempt to stand alone would be misguided.

More debatable is just how broad and flexible Nato should be. Minimalists would confine it within existing borders. Maximalists would make it the world's policeman or open it to unlimited membership. Neither extreme makes sense. The old borders have become irrelevant with the spread of democracy eastward, but Nato cannot be everywhere and do everything. If it immediately opens its doors to Central and Eastern Europe it will provoke Russian fears - or the simulation of fear by ambitious nationalists. Nor can it offer credible security guarantees to endless new members. Full membership requires a serious military commitment, integrated command and solid political co-operation.

The provisional answer to the dilemma is the 'partnership for peace' which offers military co-operation without security guarantees. This is a necessary fudge while the situation in Russia and around its borders remains unstable. It should not, however, be a substitute for further thought. The collapse of Communism has opened up an historic chance to cure Europe of its chronic addiction to war. Dr Worner wanted Nato to be at the leading edge of that effort. He deserves a successor who will be no less committed.