NEWS

Souda is ‘very important’ to the alliance, which must keep training and renovating forces

How will the training center in Souda be funded? That’s got to be worked out. But we are very pleased that a number of allies in the Mediterranean have offered some of their facilities for NATO; we have to keep training and renovating our military forces. Souda is a very important installation, and we are pleased that the Greek government has put it forward for NATO. In NATO, costs are sometimes borne by all of us together, sometimes by an individual member. Before you left Greece I told you I thought you would be the most important American in Europe. After two years, what can you do to bring Europe and the US together in real terms? First, I wouldn’t want to overrate my own abilities. I would say the most important American in Europe is Tim Howard, who’s the goalkeeper for Manchester United. He doesn’t play for Panathinaikos? Unfortunately not, but I wish he did. But seriously, we in NATO have gone through a turbulent year. And certainly 2003 was in many ways a difficult year for the alliance because we had in NATO – a year ago this week – a question of whether under Article 4 our armed forces should provide assistance to Turkey. And the fact that we hesitated and that we had a debate and actually had a big disagreement about it was not helpful to NATO. But I think we’ve rebounded since then. We’ve made the decision to go into Afghanistan, we’re there collectively, and NATO is responsible for peacekeeping. And we made a decision in Munich two weeks ago that we’re going to expand our operations there. I think we’re doing quite well in Iraq. Eighteen of our 26 NATO allies have troops in Iraq. And many of our European allies have now suggested that NATO ought to take over the Polish division in Iraq, once there is a sovereign Iraqi government that requests such a thing, and the US would very much support that. There hasn’t been a specific suggestion, but last week the German foreign affairs minister said that his country would not block such a decision. NATO is working very hard in Kosovo; it is working hard in Bosnia and planning a possible end to our mission and a transition to an EU mission. So I think NATO is back, fully recovered, and I do sense in the alliance a fair amount of unity even with France, Germany and the US on these big questions, not perfect conformity of views, but a fairer degree of unity, and certainly the situation is far better now in February 2004 than it was in February 2003. We have to assume it’s natural in a democratic alliance. It’s not the Warsaw Pact. We’re going to have disagreements from time to time. If you look at the last 50 years, and think of Suez, Vietnam, the Pershing missile crisis of the ’80s, of the very bitter disputes over Bosnia, and now we had Iraq last year. In any democratic grouping you’re going to have differences; we have to accommodate those differences and look forward. Through compromise, and through understanding each other, we have a stronger alliance. I think NATO has been able to do that because it comes out of the crises a different institution. What about the role of consensus in decision making in NATO? The US supports consensus and I believe all the other NATO countries do too, because it’s worked for 55 years. NATO is different from the EU, the UN, the OECD. We are a collective defense organization and a political alliance of countries and we discuss the most important political questions. Do we go to war or not? Do we send our troops into a difficult situation? No country wants to subordinate that decision to a majority vote; no country wants to be on the losing end of a vote. Each member country has the right to agree or to block a decision that will harm its vital national interests. A member country can withdraw so as not to express an opinion or block a major decision it doesn’t agree with. There’s room for that in NATO. Countries don’t have to join a consensus or not. If they absent themselves for a decision, the decision goes forward. There have been precedents for that and that’s fine. We are a tolerant and liberal organization in that respect.