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February 13, 2004

Al Haig speaks up on NATO and Western Civilization.

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

By Alexander M. Haig, Jr.

Volume 5, Number 1
February 2004

This document is the text of the keynote speech delivered by Alexander M. Haig, Jr. to the Foreign Policy Research Institute conference on "Is There Still a West?," February 12-13, 2004. A trustee of FPRI, General Haig is former Secretary of State and former Supreme Allied Commander Europe.


By Alexander M. Haig, Jr.

I am delighted to speak to you today here in Philadelphia under the auspices of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. FPRI is near and dear to me and we have had some history together. After returning from the Supreme Command of NATO in 1979, I became an Institute Senior Fellow at the suggestion of FPRI's founder, the late Robert Strausz-Hupe. Two of the Institute's scholars, Woody Goldberg and Harvey Sicherman, worked with me to produce an important book on the Alliance. Later, they joined me in Washington during my time as Secretary of State. I'm not sure that any of us fully recovered from the experience! But we all benefited from Robert's talent, skill, and devotion to the idea of the West. That idea, embodied in the Atlantic Alliance, rescued Western civilization from the dangers of communism during the Cold War. Under NATO's protection, both sides of the Atlantic flourished together as never before.

In recent years, however, the concept of the "West" has been challenged. Critics of our values question whether the West as constituted is even worth defending. Others doubt whether the democracies have anything to give the rest of the world. After the Cold War ended, the doubters increased. They argued that the Soviet Union having expired, it might be time for NATO to be retired.

Then came September 11, 2001. After rallying together, we and some of our European allies then fell into a quarrel over how to deal with the dictator of Iraq. This very public dispute aggravated earlier doubts. Soon the critics of NATO, the only industry that never knows recession, were in full cry. I can sum up their position this way. First, NATO is no longer necessary, having fulfilled its great mission of deterring the Soviet threat. Second, judging by the split over Iraq, it does not work all that well anyway.

The critics have had their say. Now allow me mine. First, NATO is more necessary than ever precisely because much of its most important mission has not been achieved. Second, the Atlantic Alliance is actually in better shape than most people think, even on the issue of Iraq. Third, we can adapt to the new challenges only if we understand the reality of the military, intelligence, and political work before us.

Let me begin with the unfinished business of the Atlantic Alliance. Far too many on both sides of the Atlantic have forgotten the main purpose of the partnership. It was not only to deter the Soviet Union but also to facilitate the reconciliation of the European nations whose quarrels twice plunged the world into war. Today's European Union is the monument to that reconciliation.

But while the pundits have been fixated on the sophistries of the war over Iraq, we have failed to notice that the European Union may be facing the greatest crisis in its history. Most members are increasingly opposed to political and economic arrangements that effectively give Paris and Berlin license to protect their unsupportable welfare states. Unbelievably, the European Commission is preparing to sue France and Germany for violating the Stability Pact, a key backstop for the unified Euro currency. While analysts on both sides of the Atlantic pontificate about common European Union foreign policies and common European Union defense policies as a replacement for NATO, in Europe today there is neither the money nor the political will to do either.

We ought to face the truth. Our European allies, trying to deepen and expand a contentious economic union, have not reached a common identity. They will be hard pressed to sort out new arrangements much more suited to an international economy far more complex and global than ever imagined by the founders.

Therefore, is this the time for the Atlantic Alliance to dissolve, throwing huge additional doubts about the future of the European experiment? A Europe "whole and free" has been the bipartisan pledge of American presidents since the end of the Cold War. It is the integration of transatlantic security that remains the bedrock upon which the European experiment must rely. This is not finished business, not by a long shot.

Nor are we out of the woods on the relationship of the West with Russia. Over the last decade, NATO has expanded further east. Many former Warsaw Pact members have joined. Others aspire to do so. This expansion should be put in a geopolitical perspective. Many of those nations formerly under Soviet domination have been anxious to join the Alliance because, in their view, NATO is the only organization that will protect them against a recurrence of Moscow's ambitions. Others would argue that this is a profoundly backward attitude. After all, the Soviet Union is no more, its fire extinguished.

I would put it differently. The flames may be out but the embers are still smoldering. Russia's direction remains uncertain and current signs are not so promising. On his recent visit to Moscow, Secretary of State Powell wrote in Izvestiya of the new Russia: "Political power is not yet fully tethered to law. . . . Key aspects of civil society-free media and political party development, for example"-have lost their post-collapse independence. Let me put it in plain English: President Putin is an authoritarian, not a democrat. He wants a strong state more than he wants a free one.

The foreign policy picture also gives "pause," as General Powell put it. Moscow's leaders still seem to regard the near abroad as a kind of sphere of influence that Russia has a right to dominate. How else can we explain the presence of Russian troops in Georgia? Or the warning that new members of NATO should not have Alliance forces based in them?

No one can be sure how the often-agonizing evolution of post-Soviet Russia will turn out. Meanwhile, for various reasons, the United States will be reconfiguring its military posture in Europe. In the process, we should not allow, or give the appearance of allowing, Russia to dictate what we do. We must assure new NATO members that they are indeed fully part of the Alliance. We cannot afford two NATO's, one an "old Europe," fully protected by the Alliance, the other a "new Europe," which remains subjected to a Russian sphere of influence.

In short, even as we focus on the wider challenge of terrorism, we should not forget the older challenge of a Europe whole and free. We are not there yet. Let the fire department remain on standby alert. Only through the stability guaranteed by the Atlantic Alliance can the Europeans work out the terms of their union.

I turn now to my second point. The Alliance is working better in the War on Terrorism than most people think, even on the issue of Iraq. To understand this situation, and the very public difficulties of the past year, we should keep in mind a troubled history.

As some of you have come to expect, I'll be blunt. Both U.S. and European policies designed to deal with international terrorism have been a 30-year chronicle of abject failure. As an American, I find little in this record to boast about. In Lebanon and later Iran-Contra, for example, the Reagan Administration failed in a way that encouraged the terrorists. I resigned because of Lebanon and what I believed to be excessive Saudi influence in our capital. Subsequent American presidents did little better. It took the invasion of Kuwait for us to get started on that arch terrorist Saddam. Then having helped to draft a restrictive charter for the "Gulf War," we failed to finish the job. That made Saddam not just a survivor but a hero. As for the Clinton Administration, just think of the list: the first World Trade Center bombing, Khobar Towers, the Cole, the two embassies, while al-Qaeda and its many affiliates metastasized under our noses. We just didn't face up to the task. Instead, we retreated into passive half-measures that relied on the civil court system and an occasional cruise missile attack to put off the day of reckoning. That day arrived on September 11, 2001. President Bush found himself face to face not only with the disaster but was heir to thirty years of lost American credibility. That left no alternative but to make war on terrorists, including Saddam Hussein, the beneficiary of earlier failures.

There is a bad and complicated history here; and we will need the maximum effort to overcome it. Re-establishing credibility is painful and often bloody. Yet, we are in better shape than meets the eye. I'm not talking only about intelligence sharing and police cooperation, both essential parts of the war on terrorism. Consider the following evidence. The U.S.-led war in Iraq has benefited directly from French and German military help. If you watched American and British planes flying in the skies over southern France, if you saw the flow of coalition forces on the roads leading south from Germany at the time of the Iraq invasion, you would never have imagined that Paris and Berlin opposed the war.

On the diplomatic side, the German Foreign Minister has declared again and again that Germany is ready to play its part in assuring the success of U.S. efforts in Iraq. Germany and France have also cooperated in pushing the Iranians toward cooperation on nuclear inspections. NATO itself is in Afghanistan and may yet play a role in Iraq. The point is that the political divisions over one element in the war on terrorism did not translate into a disruption of essential military cooperation.

We should therefore be careful not to exaggerate or aggravate the breach. The Atlantic Allies failed the diplomatic test on the first round but contained the damage. In the final analysis, no one here or in Europe wished to injure the fundamentals of NATO over the fate of Saddam.

Even though I am reassured that the Alliance still has a pulse, that is not enough. We shall have to do better-much better-in the future if we are to win this global struggle. This brings me to my third and final point: How to overcome the military, intelligence, and political challenges of the war on terrorism. It may surprise you that I think we face a severe military challenge. After all, the initial U.S.-led coalition campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq achieved rapid victory with few casualties. Coordinated air, ground, and sea power reached into the most remote battlefields, quickly destroying enemy formations with skill and precision. Some have taken these campaigns to mean a new type of warfare that substitutes firepower for manpower, airpower for infantry, and technology for physical presence on the battlefield. And to a degree, it does.

But, is this still evolving style of warfare, very much the child of necessity, as well as strategic design, to beomce the model for NATO's future strategy, let alone our own force structure? Is it ready to become the model for all of NATO to emulate? The answers are not in yet. But here is the challenge. Let's not fool ourselves. We should not allow recent successes to blind us to the limits of technology.

Our victory depended heavily on a highly skilled coalition military force that included infantry and armor able to improvise and modify plans in the midst of battle. No technological innovations or machines can replace this age- old human dimension of warfare. We will continue to need "boots on the ground."

Most importantly, success in war means more than winning the first encounters. We need coordination between the campaign and the post-war plans if victory is to be secured. The forces on hand must be up to that task. And so must their civilian leaders.

I will turn now to a most sensitive issue, our intelligence. The war against Saddam was justified by his defiance of U.N. resolutions for over a decade. He nullified the cease-fire that ended the 1991 war. This was a fundamental challenge to international order and the U.N. itself, far more fundamental than the size of his stockpile.

Even more significantly, as noted, it was a challenge to America's already-squandered credibility. Washington had organized the war to defeat him in Kuwait. Washington had held the sanctions in play against increasing international criticism. But Washington had failed to resolve the problem of a terrorist with the intention and means to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and to use them. And two American presidents, President Bush and President Clinton, had passed the problem along.

Our intelligence, and those of other states, all agreed that Saddam had the intentions and would have the means to accumulate a new arsenal of WMD once the sanctions were lifted. And no one-no one-expected those sanctions to last much longer. Indeed, they were already being violated wholesale. Let us also not forget that the no-fly zones protecting the Kurds and, less effectively, the Shiites from Saddam's vengeance, were being contested almost daily by Iraqi anti-aircraft fire. Those were our pilots, and British pilots, they hoped to bring down.

Clearly, Saddam was an urgent crisis long overdue of resolution. He had shown that you could pursue aggression and terrorism, and, despite American and international opposition, you could live to fight another day. Beyond any doubt, the Bush Administration would have had to face this crisis sooner or later. 9/11 made it sooner. Any war on state-sponsored terrorism would have Saddam at the top of the list.

So the intelligence was right on the big issues of intention and preparation. The debate is whether we should have known the real state of the stockpiles. A fallible intelligence service is not necessarily inept. But when I read that the CIA is still critically short of operatives on the ground, it reminds me of 1979 when I barely survived an assassination attempt in Belgium. The then-Director of the CIA told me it was the work of Belgian nihilists. Apparently, they were so nihilistic, no one had ever heard of them. Nor could they be found. So, I asked the West Germans what they knew. Within three months, they said it was the Baader-Meinhof gang hired by the KGB. Later, when the wall fell and the East German part of the gang was rounded up, its leader confessed to the accuracy of the charge.

It's not only a matter of money or recruiting. If we're ever going to get this straight, the Congress of the United States will also have to look at itself instead of proliferating commissions. The CIA was seduced by technology because the Executive Branch drove it that way and because Congress put it out of the covert business. Our Presidents, Senators and Representatives did not like the sort of people employed by the CIA to gather information on the ground. They weren't the kind that you would want your mother to meet. They could nenver join Philadelphia's Union League. Worst of all, they won't look good testifying to Congress. The CIA's troubles in this respect are all homemade. We'll have to risk some dirt if we're going to be serious about the intelligence business.

Finally, one more challenge must be surmounted.

To fight the war on terrorism, we need a transatlantic forum or institution able to concert the diplomacy, unify the strategy, facilitate intelligence exchange and military reform. In short, we need NATO. Or to be more precise, we need to re-energize NATO.

NATO can be the forum to reconcile differences and take joint action. It can be the inculcation of new military forces and doctrine. And the alliance enjoys a unique public legitimacy on both sides of the Atlantic. I think we are moving in that direction. It will be easier to do so, however, once we engage in a little intellectual hygiene. A few bad ideas need to be washed away. For example, the notion that the United States can remake the world in its own image, on its own, as a reaction to violence from abroad dates from Woodrow Wilson's time. It's an old populist con detached from reality; calling it a neocon doesn't make it any better. Does anyone believe that the United States can turn Afghanistan and Iraq into thriving democracies; reconcile India and Pakistan; transform the Middle East and do it all with a 10-division army and a $500 billion deficit? Frankly, we're lousy imperialists. We have neither the civil service nor the patience. Further we lack the ambition. As Secretary of State Powell told the Archbishop of Canterbury, the only territory we've ever asked for is enough ground to bury our dead.

There is another bad idea that needs to be washed away. Some of our European critics hide a visceral anti- Americanism under the banner of multilateralism. They play upon people's resentment of an America that does not always speak softly or tactfully. But when you peel back the veneer, you find something we have seen before. These critics are the lineal descendants of those who opposed American leadership in the Cold War. Then, they argued that NATO's effort to sustain a credible deterrence was the real threat to peace, not Soviet military power. Now they argue that America, not the terrorists, threatens the peace. They were wrong then. They are wrong now.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that the opponents of American action must offer an alternative that actually deals with the problem. He's right. President Bush warned that if multilateralism becomes a slogan for inaction, it will simply turn the UN into a League of Nations. I agree. But the proven basis for a working multilateralism is the Atlantic Alliance. If we cannot put together a coalition of the West before we go to the UN, then forget about doing it once we get there.

I recognize that there are risks, big risks in this approach. NATO has a lot of unfinished business in Europe. We may overload it by adding to its burdens the coordinated campaign of the war against terrorism. The allies may not agree. Things can get worse. They usually do before they get better.

Yet, there is little choice but to take the risks. When all is said and done, terrorists threaten the international order every bit as much as the dictators of old. Everything we have built up, the entire web of international relationships, our great cities, our global communications will be lost if terrorism becomes the way to succeed in achieving political objectives.

Some have called this a war of civilizations. I disagree. It is more accurately a war for civilization. Not theirs, for the terrorists have none, but ours. The war against terror is thus a war for the West and all those who share, or wish to share, our values.

In this grouping of the West, I also include many Muslim peoples. The Turks, good members of NATO, are evolving a synthesis that combines a Muslim faith, a democratic government, and a modern economy they hope will become part of the European Union. President Bush has noted that more than half the world's Muslims already live under democratically instituted governments. In Indonesia, Pakistan, and even Saudi Arabia, a violent struggle has commenced between those anxious to join modern civilization and those who hope to destroy it. This, too, is a war for the West.

It is a war we must win.

Churchill once said that when nations have had the power they have not always done right, and when they wished to do right they no longer had the power. The Atlantic Alliance, working with other nations, including a growing China, certainly has the power. There is a West. And by putting NATO to work for it, we can assure not only the peace of the 21st Century but also the future of our civilization.

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