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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU and NATO Must React To Eastern Crisis

Less than five years ago, few serious Western European politicians would have questioned the future of the European Union and NATO, the twin pillars of the region's prosperity and stability. Yet since 1989, uncertainty, change and insecurity have become the dominant features of our times. There are growing fears, expressed quietly in government and more openly in the media, that an insidious process of decay is eroding both NATO and the EU. NATO is subject to strain because its member states seem unable to define its role now that the task of collective defense against Soviet power has been completed. Some countries hoped that the alliance could serve as an anchor for stabilizing the new democracies of central and eastern Europe. But when push came to shove, NATO bowed to Russian pressure not to admit these states into its ranks. Some members also believed that NATO could justify its existence by taking on the role of a fireman putting out conflicts such as those in the former Yugoslavia. However, NATO got its fingers badly burned when it attempted even a very limited intervention in the Bosnian war. The bottom line is that, without a common adversary or a common cause to cement their relationship, NATO's 16 members have no good reason to maintain that relationship in its present form. The fundamental content of the alliance is, in any case, disappearing as the United States continues to reduce its military presence in Europe. With the EU, matters are somewhat different. It ought to have a bright future, uniting Europe's democracies, forging common economic and security policies and steadily expanding to take in the central and eastern European states. Unfortunately, things are not quite working out that way. There are profound differences among the EU's 12 members -- soon to be 16 -- about the direction forward. In particular, France is determined to lock Germany into a politically and economically integrated Europe before Germany overwhelms its neighbors. Though the French rarely say it out loud, the aim is to make sure that Paris can keep a leash on Berlin and act as Europe's real leader. German public opinion is by no means sold on these ideas. Germans are increasingly reluctant to exchange their Deutsche mark for a common European currency merely to soothe French fears. Politicians in Germany's L?nder provinces, who wield great power in the decentralized German system, are also skeptical about France's vision and want a much bigger say in the conduct of Europe's affairs than the French are willing to permit. Several other arguments are developing in the EU over issues such as the powers of the European Parliament and the degree to which a majority of states can overrule a minority on matters of policy. It is a sign of the times that even Italy, traditionally a "good European," has begun insisting on a greater role in Bosnian peace efforts and by demanding a seat on the United Nations Security Council if that body expands to include Germany. The result is that the EU, like NATO, has dodged the most vital question of all, namely the stabilization of central and eastern Europe. This region is rife with tensions and is crying out for urgent measures to make it secure. The West's response has been timid, and the mounting danger is that the EU and NATO will be swept from the scene by some whirlwind from the east.