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Op-Ed: Send Message Of U.S.-NATO Solidarity


And now, The Opinion Page. As President Obama and NATO leaders discuss Afghanistan, cyber security and terrorism at a two-day summit in Chicago, some question the purpose and direction of the alliance 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright argues that despite some recent splits in leadership and an imbalance between American and European military capabilities, NATO is an indispensable and unique international asset.

Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, what's the future for NATO? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Secretary Albright joins us by phone from Chicago. She's co-chair of the Chicago NATO Host Committee. And nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Very good to be with you. Thanks so much.

CONAN: And when the newly elected president of France now vows to pull his troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, doesn't that further expose the splits in NATO which had vowed: in together, out together?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I do think it poses a problem, but I don't think that it is insurmountable. The - as I understand it, the French have said that they would continue to support the overall effort in Afghanistan, which we have generally talked about. The fact that once the specific, very military part of this is over, that the United States and the international community is committing itself to a civilian program in terms of training, restructuring, education in a variety of different civilian activities. And while I'm not privy to the details, it's my understanding that the French are going to be supportive of that activity.

CONAN: So as long as they're making a financial contribution and sending some people to work with Afghans, that's good enough?

ALBRIGHT: Well, just to provide a little bit more context, I did work on what is known as the new strategic concept of NATO, and one of the aspects that we talked about was something called the comprehensive approach which puts the military and civilian activities together, shows the fact that the international community can and should act in both arenas. And so I'm sure that President Obama and the other NATO allies would have liked to have seen some change in the French position of the campaign. I think that - again, from what I have read - I think that, in fact, they are going forward with the idea that they will be helpful in the civilian part.

CONAN: And earlier this year, of course, NATO was involved in the - excuse me. Last year, NATO was involved in the intervention in Libya, and it was Germany, then, who decided to sit that out. Are we not getting sort of a NATO a la carte?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that these are the issues that they're all going to be working on. NATO has obviously expanded a great deal from its original membership - 11, 15, 19, kind of moving up the scale - and therefore, it does allow for the capability of not everybody doing everything all the time. And I do think that among the issues that are going to have to be talked about are how to deal with an enlarged NATO with different kind of duties, and responsibilities and relationships.

And the question is how that is done so that you don't have a two-tiered or three-tiered NATO. But these are the kinds of issues that all institutions that - I mean, NATO is over 60 years old now. The idea that it has developed certain adaptability in order to be able to deal with somewhat different kinds of membership, level of support and, most interestingly, different kind of goals and different missions that they are supposed to go on. I mean, this is an alliance founded in 1949 against the Soviet Union, a place which no longer exists, and then now has the responsibilities of looking at a series of global challenges that affect all the members.

CONAN: And one of those challenges it faces is in Syria, right on the borders of NATO member, Turkey, which is involved in a desperate fight at this moment as it continues to crack down on protesters and as it appears to be emerging in a civil war. And a lot of people looked at the experience in Libya and say, NATO is not ready for this.

ALBRIGHT: Well, again, you know, I know this is always irritating to people that are not into this on a day-to-day basis, but every one of these situations is somewhat different. And the statecraft and the art of diplomacy is to try to figure out what is doable where, and what is the instrument that you use. And I do think that NATO had a successful mission in Libya. The situation in Syria is different in terms of the conflict itself; the composition of Syria, which is much more sectarian divided according to various groupings than Libya was; the location of it; the kind of robustness of the provisional - of the rebel group or the composition of it; and the fact that the Russians are making it life complicated at the United Nations. So everything is a little bit different.

The Turkish issue is very interesting because that's a border issue, refugees that are crossing borders and a member of NATO on the other side. So these are the kinds of considerations that have to be really looked at. And I'm sure that they're looking at all the aspects in terms of the humanitarian ways that the international community can be involved.

CONAN: And you mentioned a NATO with different tiers militarily. Libya exposed yet again, that there's the United States, and then there are everybody else. The United States needed both at the high-end, in terms of sophistication, in terms of a lot of its capabilities, and rather among mundane things like air-to-air refueling, which is something only the United States has the capacity to do for a large numbers of aircraft over a large period of time.

ALBRIGHT: Well, I mean, we know that we are the most powerful military in the world, and it is with great pride that Americans say that. And I do think, obviously, there are different capabilities in the different militaries in terms of who's got the airplanes, who has the skill? But I think that is where the military committee of NATO, and how they manage that, is something that is exceptionally important. And again, I would stress the fact that there is nothing kind of stultified about NATO, that it is an institutional that evolved, that looks at its problems, and I think they recognize it. I mean, I know when we were in one, when I was in office and two, later with the strategic concept, a reality in terms of what is doable and who has to do more. And I don't think it a sign of weakness, but more a kind of a sign that the - that NATO is relevant and adaptable.

CONAN: We're speaking with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Her op-ed appeared in The Chicago Tribune. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION. And let's get some callers in on the conversation. David is on the line with us from Springfield.

DAVID: Concerning NATO, it was born in 1949 as an alliance against the former Soviet Union and led by Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, a Republican, and Glen Taylor, a Democrat, who ran for vice president with Henry Wallace on the Progressive Party in 1948. They did get about 13 votes against it. It went through by a pretty good size vote, and I do not believe that Stalin had any intention to invade Western Europe. The Soviet Union had suffered 18 to 20 million dead in the war, vast war damage in the country, and Stalin was in no position economically to invade Western Europe. He didn't want to do it. There was just too much rebuilding to do.

I believe it was a power play on the part of former President Truman, and it was also a boondoggle because it created jobs which were not essential because after the war, there were some unemployment, and I believe that was the firm purpose of NATO, a power play and a boondoggle. And in today's world, NATO provided the - didn't Clinton use NATO to attack Serbia back around 15 years ago?

CONAN: Well, Secretary Albright would know a little bit about that.

DAVID: Yeah. And I don't believe there was any need to attack Serbia because the Albanians were in the wrong. They have taken over Kosovo without just cause. That was always part of Serbia going back to the 1200s or the 1300s.

ALBRIGHT: I have to say, I hate to be rude, but I disagree with every single word that the caller has said, every single word.

CONAN: The - getting back...

ALBRIGHT: And the reason that I do is that I understand the history of Europe. I was born in Czechoslovakia, and NATO was formed after the coup in Czechoslovakia in February 1948 because Stalin, in fact, had created the satellite nations that for 50 years he kept under his control. And it was not until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union that half of Europe became free. And the Serbs where attacking people for who they were, that is Muslims, about anything that they'd ever done. And I think it was the most justified action that NATO took, and it saved the lives of a lot of different people. And I think NATO has been a very basic military and political alliance for the Western world for the last 60 years.

CONAN: Referring back to Kosovo and the intervention NATO made there, this was a decision to bypass the United Nations Security Council with the belief that if it was presented there, it would have been vetoed by Russia.

ALBRIGHT: Well - and this was an issue, frankly, because when we were in office, we were trying to get the multilateral support for this, and it would have been nice to have an overall U.N. mandate. By the way, there was a Security Council resolution earlier which has talked about the importance of doing something in the Balkans for peace and security. But in order to get a specific mandate for the Kosovo air war, we did want to go the Security Council, but we learned very quickly that the Russians were going to veto it. But we did not go unilaterally. That's why we went to NATO. It was NATO action, and frankly, the first time that NATO had to go to war.

And to go back again to what the previous caller said, the deterrence and the shield that NATO provided for all those years made it clear that they didn't have to go to war. But at a time when there was unjustified killing taking place, NATO really did have an instrumental role multilaterally under, you know, so that it was not at the U.N., but it was with NATO.

CONAN: Madeleine Albright's most recent book is "Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948." She's with us by phone from Chicago where the NATO summit is wrapping up. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Let's go next to Peter. Peter with us from Berkeley.

PETER: Thanks for this opportunity. I heard Vijay Prashad on NPR just over the weekend, and I thought his point - his two points about the danger of too much distance between a civilian control and a global military force was good and also the danger of lining up a huge, you know, bifurcated of blocs there with Russia and China on the one side and their allies, and then the rest of the world perhaps represented by NATO. And I think it's so important. I love to get the secretary's reaction to really look at where we're going, and what is our global ideal, and what is doable. But maybe NATO could just change its name, become a global treaty alliance, but we should keep in mind the ideal of a Congress of the Earth that's directly elected to replace the United Nations and that could be the civilian control of a global police force.

CONAN: Secretary Albright?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I, unfortunately, didn't hear the program over the weekend, but I do think that the ideal is that there not be fighting against peoples and countries for gain of land or power or resources, but, that in fact, that there be some way that there be free trade among nations and the capability of countries to live together. That is a very big ideal. I don't ever see there being anything like a world government or anything like that. I don't think that that is - a lot of people don't want it. I happen to think it wouldn't work, and I would not be for it.

But I do think that what is important is to try to figure out what the institutions are that work for the 21st century. The institutions that we're living with now were created in the middle of the 20th century under different conditions, and I think we're talking about NATO. I think NATO is adaptable. What I - what we've been talking about also that's interesting and was very visible here last night when I co-hosted a dinner for all the countries that are part of the Afghanistan military operation, is that NATO has more partners than it has members, so that you have countries such as Australia and Japan and Conga, a small island, you know. I mean, basically, where, in fact, there are ways to use other partnerships that support NATO and create a kind of a web of alliance structures or partnerships that can deal with trying to provide stability for various parts of the world that are not directly - those that are the member states of NATO. It's called out-of-area. So that, I see, is a possibility.

CONAN: Let's see if we can squeeze one more question in. This is Jeffrey. Jeffrey calling from Miami.

JEFFREY: Oh, hi. Thank you very much. I was just wondering if I could have the guest make a comment about the relationship between France and Libya militarily and the arms sale that went on between Europe and Libya, and how exactly one can - it can be OK, basically, for that relationship to exists but then Europe to push military action on to Libya after they were selling them weapons for many years.

CONAN: Secretary Albright, is that...

ALBRIGHT: What - I don't know specifically about that, but the truth is that, unfortunately, there are many places where weapons have been sold by a variety of countries that then the weapons are used for a different purpose than was originally intended. And so part of the difficulty here is trying to figure out when weapons sales are done, what control mechanisms exist for that. But I don't see that as the major dominant part as to why the French were interested or why any - why NATO went into Libya.

NATO went into Libya because Colonel Gadhafi had called his own people rats and cockroaches and was planning to kill them, and it is under a new concept of responsibility to protect, that if a ruler of a country is determined to exterminate his own people, then the international community has some responsibility to do something about it, which responds to the - kind of the point that earlier caller made.

CONAN: All right.


CONAN: Jeffrey, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

JEFFREY: Thank you.

CONAN: And Secretary Albright, as always, thanks very much for your time.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you so much for the great questions. I appreciate it. Thanks, bye-bye.

CONAN: Madeleine Albright served as secretary of state under President Clinton. She's co-chair of the Chicago NATO Host Committee. Her op-ed, "Navigating the Future of NATO," ran in The Chicago Tribune. You can find a link to it at our website, at npr.org. Her latest book, "Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War." She joined us by phone from Chicago.

Tomorrow, the stakes and the goals of this week's nuclear talks with Iran. Join us for that. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.