Time to Modernize the U.N. and NATO

America and its allies are at each other's throats over Iraq. France and Germany are blocking the U.S. Washington accuses NATO of weakness and threatens the U.N. with irrelevance. Europe charges America with arrogance. There is little agreement on foreign policy and fraying commitment to global institutions. And for good reason: The policies and institutions are themselves archaic, built for another era, organized around different dangers, and in desperate need of reform. It's time to modernize them.

It is true that America is now the dominant power, but it is also true that this isn't the first time. After three world wars--the First, the Second, and the Cold War--the U.S. was left standing stronger than any other country. But following the first two, America led efforts to build new international institutions and create new global foreign policies to deal with the threats of the next era. In the '90s, after the Cold War, there appeared to be no such need--a mistake in judgment. It took September 11 for America to realize that new dangers had arisen in the world and that the policies of the Cold War, containment and mutually assured destruction, would no longer work. Rather than rational states, suicidal fundamentalist groups, perhaps armed with catastrophic weapons, are now the major threat to the nation.

The tensions in the alliance arise partly because Germany and France (and many people around the world) do not appreciate what has changed. The U.S. has neither made a case for nor built a consensus around a new post-September 11 foreign policy. It should do both. When does a nation lose its right to sovereignty? Why does preemption apply to Iraq and containment to North Korea? Europe must think about when, if ever, it thinks military force is appropriate in the world. Most importantly, NATO and the U.N. should be revamped so that the U.S. can work through these multilateral organizations effectively. Rising democratic nations such as India, Turkey, and Poland must be given power, and vetoes should be replaced by simple voting majorities. Russia vetoed U.N. action in Bosnia as thousands died. France and Germany are blocking majority NATO support for the U.S. in Iraq--and even for defending its own member, Turkey, from the fallout of war. This needs to change.

The terrors of the 21st century are upon us. There's no time to lose.

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