The NATO alliance proved its value in the first decade after the Cold War. But the hard work of building a lasting system of European security for the 21st century has just begun. Failure now to sustain practical success and political support would show NATO's recent renaissance to have been short-lived.
No other alliance in history has re-created itself for times as different as the Cold War and today's challenge to construct a Europe "whole and free." From the start of the 1990s, when NATO seemed to have outlived its usefulness, it has emerged indispensable once more to Europe's long-term security. The world has witnessed its progress from an outdated alliance looking for a mission to a set of new missions demanding an alliance to fulfill them. America's necessary and permanent strategic engagement on the continent has been confirmed; the virtues of collective defense have been validated, even in the absence of a palpable military threat; the newly free nations of central Europe have convinced the West that they must be fully engaged in all Euro-Atlantic institutions, including the premier military alliance; the allies have accepted the need for NATO to stop conflict in the Balkans; and they have understood that coherent effort within the alliance is essential for resolving the central conundrum of the future of Russia.
Democracies at peace are never easily motivated to forestall crisis and conflict. Although NATO's new design is largely done, building the edifice and buttressing it against future stresses will require time, effort, and resources.
At the 1997 NATO summit in Madrid, the allies invited Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join, and pledged that the door would be open to any other European country "ready and willing" to shoulder the responsibilities of NATO membership. Alliance leaders must now validate that promise with concrete steps, must relate the criteria for new entrants to political and strategic purpose, and must ensure that the alliance remains strong, relevant, and able to act. The alliance must give
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