Mon, Feb 21, 2005 - Page 9 News List

A vital and enduring alliance

The US Secretary of Defense explains the historical and future importance of the US-Europe alliance

By Donald Rumsfeld


In recent years, many experts and commentators have said that the Atlantic Alliance would crumble or become irrelevant. As a former ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), I can say from experience that such dire predictions are nothing new. As America's current Secretary of Defense, it is clear to me that the transatlantic partnership is as relevant and essential as ever.

Consider the historic events that have taken place in the past year and the role played by the US and Europe. NATO added seven new members -- nations eager to contribute to the Alliance in powerful ways. In Afghanistan, eight million voters, 40% of them women, chose their first democratically elected President in 5,000 years. In the Palestinian Authority, a democratically elected president offers the hope of a new chance for peace. In Ukraine, ordinary citizens demonstrated the depth of their commitment to free and fair elections.

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein's former subjects braved threats and voted for the first time with ballots that offered a choice of 70 political parties, rather than only one. Across the country, voters arrived on crutches and in donkey carts, passing by posters that threatened: "You vote, you die." What a damaging blow to the extremists, whose ideology the voters so clearly rejected.

While there have been differences over Iraq, such issues among longtime friends are not new. Consider just a few of the divisions that have come up among NATO allies over the past decades. In the 1960s, France decided to pull out of NATO and to expel NATO from France. In the 1980s there was profound disagreement and controversy over President Ronald Reagan's decision to deploy medium-range missiles in Europe. In fact, as NATO Ambassador in the 1970s, I had to fly back to testify against legislation in the US Congress to withdraw America's forces from Europe in the middle of the Cold War.

Our Atlantic Alliance has navigated through some choppy seas over the years, but we have always been able to resolve the toughest issues. That is because there is so much that unites us: common values, shared histories, and an abiding faith in democracy.

Today, we also share a common enemy. Extremists have targeted all civilized societies across the globe: in New York and Washington; Istanbul; Madrid; Beslan; Bali; and more. They do not seek an armistice with the civilized world. They will not negotiate a separate peace. They would like nothing better than for America and Europe to be at odds, rather than working together.

The arrests of numerous terrorist suspects last month by French and German authorities made clear that no one nation can do the critical work necessary to win the struggle against extremists. Often quietly, America and European nations are sharing intelligence, capturing terrorists, and disrupting their finances. As a result, some three-quarters of known al-Qaeda leaders have been killed or captured, and others are on the run.

Nor can any one nation stop the proliferation of dangerous weapons. This is why some 60 nations have joined the Proliferation Security Initiative in an effort to keep deadly weapons from dangerous regimes. In 2003, German, Italian, British, and US authorities confiscated nuclear equipment bound for Tripoli, leading to Libya's decision to open its weapons inventories to inspectors.

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