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NATO: Expert Sees Russian Instability As Biggest Challenge

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was established at the beginning of the Cold War to protect its members from possible Soviet military expansion. But since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the nature of the threats has changed dramatically -- and so too has NATO's role. Our correspondent in New York describes the views of Andrzej Karkoszka, a leading expert on Central European security, about these changes.

New York, 18 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- An expert on Central European security says the biggest challenge now facing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is potential Russian instability.

Andrzej Karkoszka, a former state secretary in Poland's Ministry of Defense, said at Columbia University in New York that with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia no longer presents a military threat to the NATO alliance. But, he says, the future direction of Russia remains crucial:

"The only problem we have as far as the security domain is concerned is instability, unpredictability, because we still don't know whether Russia has passed the point of no return in [its] economic and political reforms."

Karkoszka says European security depends on peace and stability in Russia. To this end, he says, NATO countries must engage Russia in a positive dialogue.

"The outcome of pan-European continental security is much more dependent now on what's going on in Moscow than on what will be done with NATO enlargement or in Brussels. NATO is very effective in helping and building up and opening up and engaging Russia. But finally, we will be secure only when Russia is democratic, [when] Russia is secure, Russia is affluent, Russia is friendly and peaceful."

Karkoszka told the students that recent changes to the alliance, seen partly in NATO's intervention in Kosovo, have been both positive and negative for member countries.

Karkoszka says NATO's original mandate -- to protect its members from military threat -- is now muddled. He says the loss of NATO's core value as a purely defensive alliance has led to a redefinition of the group's purpose to a more political role.

But Karkoszka says there is no clear definition of how far outside NATO's traditional area of Europe the alliance is supposed to act. While Karkoszka says NATO would probably not intervene in Africa, he says it's an open question as to whether NATO would become involved in a potential Russian conflict.

Moreover, Karkoszka says the military potential of the alliance is diminishing. He notes that the lack of a military threat in Europe has led some NATO countries, including Germany, Belgium, and France, to cut their military budgets.

Karkoszka says some countries have even questioned whether to continue to invest in supranational structures, such as NATO. Karkoszka says this trend could disrupt NATO's planning process.

The expert also says the reduction of the U.S. military presence in Europe at the end of the Cold War has led countries to wonder how committed the U.S. is to the alliance. Karkoszka says NATO needs a strong leader to bring assets, leadership, and purpose. While some countries call for independence from the U.S., Karkoszka says the United States is alone in its ability to back up promises with material assets.

Karkoszka says another potential danger is what he calls NATO's vague nuclear policy. While some argue that the lack of clarity can be a strong asset because it leads to deterrence, Karkoszka says it can also inadvertently ratchet up the level of permissible action.

But, in spite of the problems, Karkoszka argues that some of the changes have revitalized the organization. NATO allies, he says, share common values and an interest in keeping security and stability. Moreover, Karkoszka notes, NATO has 50 years of experience to draw upon as it faces current challenges.

Karkoszka says in spite of the U.S.'s partial withdrawal from Europe, the country continues to provide strong leadership. And, he says, NATO has an efficient system in place to bring together command-control, communications, defense planning, and intelligence.

In the final analysis, Karkoszka says one certainty anchors NATO: the need for cooperation. He says the military threats of today's Europe are long-term and unpredictable. And these, he says, can only be met by a general adherence to the classical function of NATO.