The Forgotten Europe
Bruce Jackson
Weekly Standard - Daily Standard
June 25, 2004

Later this week, the leaders of the Western world will gather in Istanbul for the NATO summit. There at the classical gateway between Europe and Asia as many as 60 heads of state will wrestle with the great problems of our time: the persistence of war and terror and the hope for democratic change in the greater Middle East.

Most will come to the shores of the Bosporus with a specific national agenda. President Bush will make the case for the success of his first administration and for the legitimacy of American intentions in international politics. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan will use the occasion to showcase Turkey's greatly improved democratic credentials and to appeal for Turkey's acceptance as a candidate for membership in the European Union. And the Western Europeans will struggle to keep up appearances in the face of the constitutional confusion and voter apathy that cloud the future of the European Union.

There will be much discussion of NATO's new missions in Afghanistan and, potentially, Iraq. And, there will be the inevitable debate on whether an Israeli-Palestinian peace is the precondition or consequence of the flowering of democracy in the Middle East.

In these debates there is the risk that NATO's leaders may leave important work unfinished and fail to see the possibilities before Europe that stretch from the Balkans to the doors of Central Asia. There are issues of immediate concern that must not be forgotten.

NATO's greatest success since 1989 has been in the Balkans where the defeat of Milosevic laid the foundation for new democratic states, three of which, Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia, are now knocking at the door of NATO membership. Next year, we face critical decisions on the status of Kosovo and the future of the federal union between Serbia and Montenegro. It is in everyone's interests to anchor the success stories of the region in NATO and the European Union. NATO needs to be unambiguous about its intent to invite Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia to join NATO in 2006.

The failure of both Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina to deliver indicted war criminals to the Hague Tribunal is a serious disappointment. While the NATO leaders cannot establish closer relations with governments that do not comply with war crimes statutes, neither can they be satisfied with the continued isolation of these nations from interaction with the rest of Europe. Today, Belarus has closer relations with NATO than Belgrade and Sarajevo. NATO must strike a better balance between realism and hope in the Balkans.

If NATO's mission will continue to include support for democracy, the alliance must comment on the persistence of instability and state-sponsored criminal activities on the borders of NATO member states. Belarus is universally acknowledged as the last dictatorship in Europe. NATO needs to state clearly why President Lukashenko will not be received at Istanbul. It should also condemn the international arms bazaar that flourishes in Transnistria under the protection of Moscow.

There is considerable confusion surrounding the general direction of NATO-Ukraine relations. This ambiguity is fueling suspicions in reform circles in Kiev that it is NATO, rather than the leadership of President Kuchma, that is responsible for the stagnation in NATO-Ukraine relations. The leaders of NATO need to send a message to the broader audience in Ukraine that free and fair elections in October are the precondition for closer ties between NATO and Ukraine.

The Rose Revolution in Georgia and the momentum for democratic change in the South Caucasus deserve a welcoming response from NATO leaders. The anticipated decision by the European Union to include Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in Europe's Neighborhood Policy suggests that the South Caucasus may be a region, like the Balkans, where the United States and Europe can form an effective partnership. NATO should propose to collaborate with the European Union in stabilizing the South Caucasus.

If the leaders at Istanbul begin to do the little things well, they will find it makes the big things easier. With a changing South Caucasus and a peaceful Balkans, we have the necessary components for a comprehensive approach to stability and security throughout the Black Sea region. With a firm stand on dictatorship and crime, we will have established a set of principles that will eventually lead to the decriminalization of the frozen conflicts which now mark the border of Europe. By making clear that we will not compromise on democracy or compliance with international obligations, we will have sent a message that Russia must stop its crackdown on political freedom and withdraw its forces from the Soviet bases which Moscow agreed to leave years ago. And, with the handover of the Bosnian peacekeeping mission to E.U. forces, we will have finally built an effective partnership between NATO and the European Union.

The summit in Istanbul offers the Euro-Atlantic alliance an opportunity to further unite a large and diverse community in the defense of democratic values. Our leaders should be reminded that great men who met in Versailles in 1919 to conclude the peace after World War I are remembered today not for what they achieved but only for what they forgot.

Bruce P. Jackson is the president of the Project on Transitional Democracies and the U.S. Committee on NATO.