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NATO Must Be Saved

Whoever thought that NATO - that most successful expression of transatlantic solidarity - had found new cohesion after the divisive Iraq crisis should visit the alliance's headquarters. True, the Istanbul summit in late June produced a veneer of harmony, and NATO headquarters is, as usual, busying itself with frequent meetings of now 26 national delegations, innumerable committees, and the mountains of printed paper it churns out. Something essential, however, is missing: NATO's spirit. Many, if not most, of the members no longer recognize NATO as central to their national interest.

As one high official puts it, the organization is like the old and bruised car one keeps for as long as it functions but will dump when repairs get too costly. There is still some use to be had from the old vehicle: it leads some 6000 troops in Afghanistan, assures a fragile security in Kosovo, and may, as was decided by NATO in June, be helpful in training Iraqi forces. NATO is still nice to have around. But, with the exception of those who have only just joined, few governments on either side of the Atlantic seem to fear major disaster if it gently faded away.

That, not the falling-out among major allies over the Iraq War, is the cause for the deep crisis the modern world's oldest and most successful alliance now finds itself in. The policy differences over America's Iraq adventure exacerbated the crisis, but also obscured its true cause.

This explains why neither the US, nor its opponents or supporters in Europe, ever sought a thorough discussion of the operation in the NATO Council before, during, or after the Iraq war - they realized their views were already too far apart to be reconciled. That is also why the modest efforts now being undertaken by the alliance to assist America in trying to stabilize Iraq will not stitch NATO back together again.