Courtesy Reuters

NATO's Price: Shape Up or Ship Out

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization remains today a unique and invaluable alliance. The single most important international institution serving U.S. national security interests during the Cold War, NATO has since continued to function as a reliable instrument for multilateral military cooperation. The alliance's outreach programs and the lure of membership for former Soviet bloc countries have constituted the core of U.S. security policy in central and eastern Europe for a decade. Just as a healthy and effective NATO is vital to U.S. national security, a strong U.S. commitment to the alliance is vital to NATO's future health.

The conventional policy debates about NATO's uncertain future focus on the challenge that terrorism poses to the alliance's military missions and capabilities, as well as on which countries should be next in line for accession -- both key topics at the November NATO summit in Prague. But these debates lose sight of a more fundamental problem: the very qualities that make NATO work are at risk. Nato is a uniquely effective multilateral military alliance precisely because it is a political security community of countries with common values and democratic institutions. Nato works only because it is both military and political in nature. Dilute NATO's political coherence, and the result will be a one-dimensional traditional military alliance that cannot operate effectively.

THE GOLDEN RING

Regrettably, the current obsession with how military missions will be defined and whether members spend two percent of their GDPS on defense has obscured a more urgent crisis: NATO needs to take steps to ensure that old, new, and prospective members live up to its political standards, thereby securing the organization's coherence and relevance. If NATO is truly dedicated to protecting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, its own members cannot be exempt from upholding those principles.

The golden ring of NATO membership has certainly served as a powerful incentive for internal reform and Westernization throughout central and eastern Europe. But what happens now that

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