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The Washington Quarterly 25.3 (2002) 7-13

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Redefining NATO's Mission:
WMD Terrorism

Richard G. Lugar

Will the United States and Europe succeed in fashioning a common strategy for a global war on terrorism? This question is crucial for the future of the trans-Atlantic relationship. Will we stand shoulder to shoulder, just as we confronted the Soviet Union during the Cold War? Are political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic willing to make the political commitment necessary to hammer out common objectives and policies and to recast our institutions to meet this challenge? We must ask ourselves whether we as leaders are prepared to draw the right conclusions and do what we can to reduce this threat or whether it will take another, even deadlier, terrorist attack to force us into action.

In 1996 I made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency. Three of my campaign television ads depicted a mushroom cloud and warned of the threat posed by the growing danger of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the hands of terrorist groups. I argued that the next president should be selected on the basis of a perceived ability to meet that challenge.

At the time, those ads were widely criticized for being far-fetched and alarmist. Recently, national television networks have replayed the ads, which are now viewed from a different perspective. The terrorist attacks of last September on the United States have graphically demonstrated how vulnerable we are. The terrorists seek massive impact through the indiscriminate killing of people and the destruction of institutions, historical symbols, and the basic fabric of our societies. The next attack could just as easily be in London, Paris, or Berlin as in Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; or New York City; and it could involve WMD. [End Page 7]

The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan has succeeded in destroying many members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban regime. President George W. Bush has made it clear that the United States will extend the military campaign to other countries and to other terrorist cells or governments that support terrorism. As the United States prosecutes this war, it should be mindful of the world from which it has emerged—the Cold War world with its residual instruments of mass destruction.

The sober reality is that the danger of Americans and Europeans being killed today at work or at home is perhaps greater than at any time in recent history. Indeed, the threat we face may be almost as existential as the one we faced during the Cold War, because it is increasingly likely to involve WMD use against our societies.

The Opportunity Ahead

Amid the current signs of crisis, we must not lose sight of the enormous opportunity we have to build a new trans-Atlantic relationship that can be a central pillar of the war on terrorism and the constructive prospects for peace that will follow. Unfortunately, neither side of the Atlantic has embraced this opportunity thus far.

The opportunity we have is twofold. First, overcoming the division of Europe is within our grasp. NATO and the European Union (EU) will hold summits in Prague and Copenhagen in November and December, respectively, and make historic decisions on their individual memberships. Both institutions are considering launching rounds of enlargement that will encompass many, if not all, of the countries from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Both NATO and the EU have also launched new initiatives to expand cooperation with Russia. If done properly, we should be able to say by the end of the decade that the job of securing a new peace in Europe is largely complete—a truly historic accomplishment.

We also have a second opportunity. September 11 showed, in an all too tragic fashion, that we still face existential threats to our societies and our security and that these threats largely come from beyond Europe. For a number of years, experts have been writing about the threats to our security posed by terrorism and the spread of WMD. Such threats seemed too theoretical and too abstract for...


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pp. 7-13
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Archived 2009
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