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NATO: Analysts Debate Merits Of Murdoch Idea To Redefine Alliance

Soldiers from the NATO-led force on the streets of the Afghan capital, Kabul (epa) Media magnate Rupert Murdoch is pressing the United States to consider reshaping NATO. In a recent speech in Washington, and in a column in "The Wall Street Journal" -- which he owns -- Murdoch argued that Europe lacks "the political will or social culture" to contribute meaningfully to NATO operations. As evidence, he points to the problems now being faced by NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Murdoch calls for enlarging NATO to include non-European countries, like Japan, Australia, and Israel. Murdoch says the idea of "the West" should shed its geographical meaning and be redefined as "a community of values, institutions, and a willingness to act jointly."

RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully asked two analysts who specialize in international security what they think of Murdoch’s ideas.

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, American University, Washington, D.C.

Like Murdoch, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson sees Afghanistan as indicative of NATO's role in the early 21st century. But Jackson, a professor of international relations at American University in Washington, D.C., says Afghanistan is a good example of the NATO alliance doing the job it was created to do.

Jackson says not only was Afghanistan the host for Al-Qaeda while it was planning the attacks of September 11, 2001, it also threatens Europe with the production of opium and the training of Muslim militants who target NATO member states.

"It makes perfect sense for NATO to be involved in Afghanistan," Jackson says. "Afghanistan is a major source of nonstate social ills which affect European societies, but also the United States. The fact that the Taliban created these strongholds within Afghanistan, the fact that this was a place where the [Osama] bin Laden organization [Al-Qaeda] was able to hole up, I think, makes it pretty clearly a threat in a post-9/11 world."

Jackson says Murdoch's proposal sounds too much like a business deal, where countries agree to work together for a specific and short-term goal, then go their separate ways after the goal is met. But he contends that NATO, like any strong alliance, is more like a marriage, with shared values that go deeper than a specific task.

In Jackson's view, the United States has for nearly a century shed its sense of isolation and embraced Europe, developing deep political and cultural ties that remain long after World War II. Because of these ties, Jackson argues, it is almost unthinkable that the United States would dramatically change NATO's basic structure, much less walk away from it.

"The only way that it would make sense for the United States to say, 'We're not going to do this any more' would be if the United States were to fundamentally reimagine itself as a country and say: 'We have no specific commitment to Europe. We are our own country doing our own thing regardless of these historical alliance ties,' " Jackson says. "And that would basically be not just the end of NATO operations in Afghanistan, it would be the end of this thing we call the Western alliance, it would be the end of the trans-Atlantic relationship that was forged in the early part of the 20th century."

Jackson says the idea of composing different alliances for each crisis would be too much like U.S. President George W. Bush's "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, which he dismissed as being ultimately weak.

Michael Rubin, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C.

Perhaps NATO doesn't need to be disbanded, but it certainly needs a change in how it's run, says Michael Rubin, a resident scholar of international relations at the American Enterprise Institute, a policy-research center in Washington, D.C. For one thing, he says, it's too fractious.

"Part of the problem is, on one hand, in Europe, many of the politicians like to talk about European unity. But the fact of the matter is the European Union still operates with over 20 different foreign policies," Rubin says. "We're not going to see any serious German action with regard to its posture on Afghanistan until after the next German elections, and that's not a way to run a stability operation. Stability operations in Afghanistan have to be based on ground truth in Afghanistan, not political truth in Berlin."

Rubin says that explains why German forces in Afghanistan haven't been permitted to help their allies in combat areas.

Of course, Rubin says, Murdoch's proposal isn't perfect. He cites two negative aspects of a broader, less geographically based alliance.

"One is you don't have the structure in place, so you have to reinvent the wheel, although reinventing the wheel in some cases can be rather quick," Rubin says. "And then the second is the traditional issue of interoperability -- how well different coalition members can communicate with each other and how their weapons systems and ranking systems and personnel systems interrelate. That said, any coalition of the willing isn't necessarily going to exclude NATO members."

In fact, Rubin says, such an "ad hoc coalition of the willing" needn't replace NATO at all. The very fact that alternatives to NATO may exist, he contends, may be just what the trans-Atlantic alliance needs -- a little competition to persuade it to rededicate itself to its core mission.