| GEO World|
| NATO turns 60 tomorrow|
| Updated at: 2019 PST, Friday, April 03, 2009|
WASHINGTON: Since 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has linked North American and European defence, kept the Cold War peace, outlasted the Soviet Union, stifled war in the Balkans, and since 9/11 has confronted terror.
NATO has grown to 26 members as it turns 60 next week with a $1 trillion defence budget and 3.6 million personnel. France has just rejoined its military structure, after a long absence. Poland and other former Soviet bloc states are now in the club.
And NATO has never been busier. It is active in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, the Mediterranean and Africa, fighting terror, preserving peace, and helping rebuild shattered countries. The alliance still matters.
Canada, too, is pulling more weight. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has raised military spending to $20 billion. Our Arctic oversight is expanding. We are doing heavy duty in Afghanistan. And the military is larger and readier to fight abroad, with new ships, aircraft and armour.
Yet when Harper and the other leaders meet in Strasbourg on April 3 to fête the alliance's successes, they will also face harsh realities. NATO's credibility, consensus and cohesiveness are being challenged on several fronts.
American-European tensions were fanned by George Bush's invasion of Iraq, disagreements over Mideast policy and Iran's nuclear threat, the refusal of NATO members to expose their troops to risk in Afghanistan, and the stresses of coping with a resurgent Russia intimidating neighbours such as Ukraine and Georgia.
Europe's freeloaders will have to muster more political will and cohesiveness, and spend more on defence. Today, they are far from ready.
Created as a blunt tool to deter Soviet aggression, NATO members today "are called to protect our connectedness, not just our territory," four leading American think-tanks noted in a recent study: "Alliance Reborn: An Atlantic Compact for the 21st century." What needs safeguarding today is "the critical functions of societies, and the manifold connections those societies have with others." NATO, a regional grouping, must think globally.
Apart from Afghanistan-Pakistan and Russia, NATO must contend with radical ideologies and terror elsewhere, failed states, organized crime, cyber attacks, nuclear and biological weapons, and energy disruptions. All threaten the alliance community's well being.
While Harper and the others will issue a comforting "Declaration of Alliance Security," they must also begin reinventing the alliance, and Canada must play its part.
As it evolves, NATO should continue to draw strength from the trans-Atlantic partnership. But it must become less dependent on the U.S., with a stronger European identity. And it must work more closely with the United Nations and others, most likely via "coalitions of the NATO willing" from within its own ranks, on realistic missions.