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Public Statements

NATO Enlargement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE): Thank you very much.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome. It's an honor to have you here. Thanks for making the trip. Welcome home. And Ron and Bruce will be following you. We indeed have a distinguished group of witnesses this morning.

As all of you know better than most of us, this Friday marks the 54th anniversary of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Treaty. In the alliance's 54 years, 30 of which I've been sitting here in the Senate, I don't believe I've seen such a—I want to choose my adjectives correctly—such a concern—in some quarters, rancor—dissension and—well, I've attended so many conferences on "Whither NATO?" Most of them I have brushed off over the years as part of the necessary national inclinations of each of the countries responding to their political needs of the moment, but I think this is different.

To illustrate this turn of events and their consequences, I want to recall a few important facts.

During several weeks in January and February, France, Germany and Belgium blocked consensus in the North Atlantic Council for providing assistance to fellow member Turkey, which requested help under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty because it feared an attack by Iraq in the event of a war. Commenting on that bit of theater just last week, the head of the important French think tank—an important French think tank made the following statement: Quote: "That NATO was unable to meet the challenges of the age came as no great surprise to close observers of the organization. In the Kosovo war, its military structure was shown to be an American—to be too American-dominated to satisfy European needs; and while its political side could be used by the Europeans to constrain U.S. power, that made NATO too multilateral for the Americans. Its future as an effective and viable body has been very much in doubt ever since," end of quote.

Next month, the leaders of France, Germany, Belgium and other European countries, but not the United Kingdom, which was not invited, will meet to assess the prospects for an EU-based military alliance outside of NATO. The president of the Commission of the European Union, Mr. Prodi, praised this initiative, calling it "timely and good," end of quote. And with regard to transatlantic relations he added, quote, "It's evident that the Iraqi crisis has brought us to a new crossroads; we must choose a different path," end of quote.

Prodi said that the non-NATO military alliance would give Europeans more clout on the international stage and prevent them from being, quote,"left out of the management of world affairs," end of quote.

Now, I'm well aware that there is a "yes, but" response to each of these events. First, thanks largely to the skillful work of you, Mr. Ambassador, the question of the Article 4 assistance to Turkey was moved from the NAC to NATO's Defense Planning Committee, where France is not a member, and the alliance, at least temporarily, survived this crisis. Second, commentators, however articulate and provocative they may be, are just that, commentators, not people who have to make the tough decisions.

And third, I met last year with Mr. Prodi and I have tremendous respect for him, but he's not a political-military strategist. Moreover, he may be president of the European Union—the Commission of the EU, but he does not speak for the entire EU, as the governments of the UK, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Denmark and perhaps others will attest. Moreover, to put it somewhat crudely, that talk is cheap. The idea that the parliaments of all EU member states would suddenly have a security epiphany and appropriate the considerable sums of money necessary to bring their militaries into the 21st century at a level with those of the United States is, I would submit, not something you would like to bet your mortgage on.

Nonetheless, these events and many others of the last several months do point, in my view—and I hesitate to use this phrase; it's been so overused over the years—to a crisis in NATO that is unlike anything I've experienced since I've been here. We're faced with a quandary and a quantitatively new decision and a new situation, in which the very fundamentals of the alliance, I think, are being questioned unlike any time before. And I think we had better figure out how to respond to it. And we're going to reach an immediate crisis, God willing, with a swift and, hopefully—well, with a swift victory in Iraq, we're going to face this crisis fairly quickly about how and if we internationalize the responsibility for Iraq after Saddam is gone.

It's in this context, it seems to me, we have to assess the strategic benefits of further enlarging the alliance, which I support. At our last hearing, we heard from administration witnesses on the qualifications and contributions of each of the seven candidate countries. And we will continue our examination in another hearing on Thursday. And I agree with the chairman. I will join him on the floor in moving for the accession of the candidate countries.

But today, I'd like to address a more fundamental question on the nature and the direction of the alliance that these seven countries will soon be joining, hopefully. Mr. Ambassador, you are deeply engaged on a daily basis in what I believe are critical debates about the evolution of NATO. And I would welcome your views on some or all of the following questions. And you may think I'm being provocative with the first one, but I mean it sincerely.

Is the Bush administration truly committed to NATO? For many who have top positions in the administration had for the previous six to eight years been talking about how we are overextended in Europe; how we, in fact—it is not the most critical responsibility we have and that NATO is not as—does not have the utility it once had.

I'd also like to know have the political structures of the alliance become too multilateral for us, as is asserted by our French colleagues? Will we bypass NATO's structures in the future in favor of coalitions of the willing if future political discussions become too difficult for us?

Would we support changes in the decision-making process of the NAC to facilitate action? Five years ago, I—and I think the chairman as well; I don't want to tar him with the same brush—opposed successfully an amendment to the resolution of ratification calling for the creation of a dispute resolution mechanism in the NAC. I still see this approach as a cure worse than the disease. But I would ask you, Mr. Ambassador, from your experience in Brussels, how do you anticipate the accession of seven countries invited at Prague would affect decision-making in the NAC and discussions on the various NATO committees?

And finally, Mr. Ambassador, I invite you to share with us some of the strategic thinking currently going on among our allies.

Are they engaged in similar debates on how to improve the alliance structures and capabilities?

I'm also very pleased that both Ron Asmus and Bruce Jackson, who have been here many times and on whom we've relied over the years, are here to join us to contribute to this important discussion. Both Ron and Bruce have personally played key roles in the conception and implementation of the last two rounds of NATO enlargement. They are two of the most astute observers of the alliance, in my view, and I'm eager to hear their views on a broad range of questions regarding the possible directions NATO will take in the future.

Once again let me say, Mr. Ambassador, how delighted I am to welcome you. My questions are not, I know you—I hope you know me well enough to know, are not meant to be confrontational. I mean them sincerely. I am—I think that without—let me put it another way. I encountered—and I'll conclude with this, Mr. Chairman.

Right after I saw our good friend the senator from Nebraska outside the Foreign Relations Committee room outside the Senate yesterday, I walked upstairs, Chuck, and was greeted by two of our colleagues, who are both bright, enlightened guys, and they immediately started on me about what are we going to do to teach the French the lesson and what are we going to do to teach the Germans a lesson, and, by the way, Turkey? And it dawned on me that these were not people who don't think a lot about this. This was not just a knee-gut (sic) reaction coming from a guy in the street who's angry be because of what's going on.

And I said—all I could think to say was, I said, "Let me ask you a rhetorical question. How secure and well off do you think we'll be if 10 years from now we do not have close relations with Germany, France and Turkey?" And they looked at me like why in the hell would I ask that question; that's unfair. But there is a feeling here, a feeling that worries me, and I'd like to get some sense form you whether that feeling is felt in Brussels among our NATO allies: That we may, as my dear mother—God bless her, she's alive and well and strong at 85 years old—has an expression that she's reminded me of—I guess it's the Irish in me—from the time I was a kid. When I'd get angry, she said, "Joey, don't bite your nose off to spite your face." To be purely colloquial, I think we may be close to biting our nose off to spite our face here if we don't get this straight.

And so you've got a tough job, Mr. Ambassador.

I apologize, Mr. Chairman, for going longer than I should have, but I can't think of anyone who is more appropriate or more knowledgeable to have here this morning to discuss some of these topics with us than Ambassador Burns. Thank you.

SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR. (D-DE): Thank you.

Nick, I know I gave you a whole bunch of questions there. And I hope I get a chance, maybe, to get you alone and talk about some of this. And I don't expect you to be able to do that now, especially since so many members are anxious to speak. I'd like to focus on—in the brief five minutes we have on two points. But I'd like to make a point to you as well.

I hope the administration is prepared to support some of us who want to push back on this $150 million slush fund at the Defense Department. That really—with no oversight by State or Congress. And secondly, this new office in the White House to receive and distribute most of the supplemental monies that we're now giving directly to State and AID. But I want to talk to you about that later. That's just a little red flag going up here. We pushed back on it twice, and I hope we succeed in doing it again. But it's going to need—we're going to need some inside help on this one.

Let me go to my two questions.

I couldn't agree with you more about how prescient my chairman is, as well—was, as well—and is—as well as the need for a wider role for NATO in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, Nick, I'm not sure how to get from here to there. I don't think you'd find much disagreement among us up here that that is needed.

I recall when—as the chairman said in his opening statement, when immediately after 9/11, Article 5 was invoked; first time in NATO's history; when headlines in Le Monde said, "We are all Americans"; when Schroeder literally risked his government by a vote of confidence to send—I think it was a thousand crack German troops. I forget the number now. (To staff) Was it a thousand, Michael? Do you remember? (Returning) I think it was a thousand, to Afghanistan out of country. He won by one vote. And then we immediately stiff-armed him and said we don't need you. The French also committed forces. I don't want to get my chairman in trouble, but I think we had a discussion and we both made it clear to the administration, we thought, whether or not we needed those troops, politically we needed those troops, and it was very important. Made a plea to the president—at least I did. I think the chairman did. I don't want to again—saying please accept their help, for God's sake, NATO—this matters, pride matters. Humiliation is not a real good tool to use in—even if it's unintended—in foreign policy.

So how the hell—how the heck do we get from here to there? Initially, the State Department supported an expanded ISAF with NATO components in it. Now, I know you're not talking about the same precise thing. You're not talking about ISAF necessarily being expanded. Quite frankly, I'm not sure what you're talking about, other than an expanded role for NATO. But how do we get there, Nick? How do we—what is the chemistry that makes the Germans and the French and a number of our NATO allies who were—skeptical is not the word—hostile to our actions in Iraq, how do we get them in the deal in Iraq, which I think is critical, without engaging them in a way where they have some say, impact, input, in what this transition government will look like. Because there's an intense debate we hear about—I speak for myself—I hear about between the—my phrase, no one else's—the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis and the uniform-military- State Department axis, that says that on one side, we don't want anybody, we'll take care of security. Which I understand. And by the way, we're going to make sure the transition—we're going to pick the transition government, we're going to pick the makeup. We're not going to have NATO or anyone else involved in this. And lastly, we're not going to have anybody, especially the French, engage in any of this reconstruction effort.

Tell me, what—what elements do you have to have available to you to convince your colleagues that NATO should be engaged militarily in Afghanistan and in Iraq—larger in Afghanistan, and initially—and for as long as it takes in Iraq.

SEN. BIDEN: What's in it for our NATO allies? What -- (speaking aside) -- I apologize -- (returning to Ambassador Burns) -- What makes them—what thinking process do they have that says this makes sense for the alliance, to take on a more formal—which I strongly support—what ingredient, I mean, what's the thought process? What do you have to bring out to convince them that that makes sense if—or for them to conclude that? That's what I'm trying to get at. B. BURNS: Seventeen of our 18 NATO allies made it to Afghanistan after October of 2001 when we initiated military action in Afghanistan. Thirteen remain there. Some of them are in Operation Enduring Freedom, in the combat force, and some are in ISAF. I think what binds us together with them in Afghanistan is, they see the same threat that we do. What threatens Germany and France and Belgium—just to choose three NATO members with whom we've had a disagreement over the last couple of months—in Afghanistan is this threat of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism that they know could hit them as it hit us on September 11th, 2001. So we've never had any kind of divisiveness in the alliance about whether we should be in Afghanistan. The issue now is, should NATO go all the way and take the lead, take over the peacekeeping force? There are some countries that say, well, NATO shouldn't be that much out of area, or, are we ready for that kind of commitment? Other countries say only NATO can do it, to establish a command with SACEUR's authority and the political control of the North Atlantic Council and the ability to raise—to draw upon the 2 million troops that our 19 nations bring to the table. So I think it's common and shared interest, Senator, that binds us together with our allies.

The discussion on Iraq is quite different than Afghanistan, very different. When Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz came to NATO three months ago, he suggested to all the allies that NATO think of a role for itself in Iraq post-conflict.

Obviously, it wasn't going to be possible for the alliance to be part of the coalition because Germany and France and the other countries had made it clear they would not participate in offensive military actions. So Paul Wolfowitz suggested, how about a role for NATO once the fighting stops? We'll need many, many troops for peacekeeping, for reconstruction, for humanitarian assistance. We have to locate where the chemical and biological weapons are. We have to take custody of them, and then to begin to destroy them.

So those options are still on the table. And the United States is prepared to discuss with our allies whether or not they would like to come into Iraq after the conflict has ended. Most of the allies are telling us that they will need some kind of legitimizing U.N. Security Council resolution so they can go to their parliaments, as all democratic governments need to do, to where the power is, and say, This is why we should be in Iraq, because the international community has decided these are legitimate functions.

SEN. BIDEN: Godspeed, Nick.

SEN. BIDEN: What's in it for our NATO allies? What -- (speaking aside) -- I apologize -- (returning to Ambassador Burns) -- What makes them—what thinking process do they have that says this makes sense for the alliance, to take on a more formal—which I strongly support—what ingredient, I mean, what's the thought process? What do you have to bring out to convince them that that makes sense if—or for them to conclude that? That's what I'm trying to get at. B. BURNS: Seventeen of our 18 NATO allies made it to Afghanistan after October of 2001 when we initiated military action in Afghanistan. Thirteen remain there. Some of them are in Operation Enduring Freedom, in the combat force, and some are in ISAF. I think what binds us together with them in Afghanistan is, they see the same threat that we do. What threatens Germany and France and Belgium—just to choose three NATO members with whom we've had a disagreement over the last couple of months—in Afghanistan is this threat of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism that they know could hit them as it hit us on September 11th, 2001. So we've never had any kind of divisiveness in the alliance about whether we should be in Afghanistan. The issue now is, should NATO go all the way and take the lead, take over the peacekeeping force? There are some countries that say, well, NATO shouldn't be that much out of area, or, are we ready for that kind of commitment? Other countries say only NATO can do it, to establish a command with SACEUR's authority and the political control of the North Atlantic Council and the ability to raise—to draw upon the 2 million troops that our 19 nations bring to the table. So I think it's common and shared interest, Senator, that binds us together with our allies.

The discussion on Iraq is quite different than Afghanistan, very different. When Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz came to NATO three months ago, he suggested to all the allies that NATO think of a role for itself in Iraq post-conflict.

Obviously, it wasn't going to be possible for the alliance to be part of the coalition because Germany and France and the other countries had made it clear they would not participate in offensive military actions. So Paul Wolfowitz suggested, how about a role for NATO once the fighting stops? We'll need many, many troops for peacekeeping, for reconstruction, for humanitarian assistance. We have to locate where the chemical and biological weapons are. We have to take custody of them, and then to begin to destroy them.

So those options are still on the table. And the United States is prepared to discuss with our allies whether or not they would like to come into Iraq after the conflict has ended. Most of the allies are telling us that they will need some kind of legitimizing U.N. Security Council resolution so they can go to their parliaments, as all democratic governments need to do, to where the power is, and say, This is why we should be in Iraq, because the international community has decided these are legitimate functions.

SEN. BIDEN: Godspeed, Nick.

SEN. BIDEN: Has France considered, in order to have greater influence, as they say, joining up fully with NATO, totally integrating, in order to be able to impact on some of the decisions? If they had, you would not have been able to deftly move discussion of support for Turkey, as you did. I mean, is there any talk about that?

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