Is NATO the War on Terrorism's Greatest Victim?

As wars end, diplomatic and political autopsies begin. It is too soon to draw firm conclusions about the ``war on terrorism'' as waged in Afghanistan. But it is not too early to draw other preliminary conclusions. One concerns the almost revolutionary changes now being contemplated in NATO's relations with Russia. Less visible is the deep and self-inflicted wound that, I suspect, has opened within NATO itself.

From the beginning of this crisis, on September 11 th , NATO's European members (as well as other countries, of course) promptly lined up with the US in moral and political solidarity, and with offers of cooperation. For the first time since NATO's founding, Article 5 of the Washington Treaty was invoked.

The Washington Treaty was signed half a century ago to meet the Soviet threat at the Cold War's outset. Article 5 is the Treaty's keystone, because it says that an attack against one member of the alliance shall be considered an attack against them all. This article distinguishes NATO from virtually any other defensive alliance in human history, in the sense that it incorporated an open-ended guarantee of collective defence. Until September 11 th , it had never been activated.

Here was a momentous event in NATO's 52-year history, and you might think that its activation would lead to a process of collective defence by NATO. Britain and a number of European NATO allies, including France, Italy and even Germany, quickly offered to provide military forces. But the Bush Administration did not want collective defence and it did not want NATO to get involved: apart from a small, essentially marginal military contribution by Britain, in essence the US intended to fight this war by itself.