Advancing Europe's Security

Ed. Note: In advance of his trip to Spain and Belgium this week, the following op-ed by Vice President Joe Biden has been posted on-line by the International Herald Tribune today and will be published in the newspaper tomorrow, May 6, 2010:

This week I will sit down with NATO ambassadors to advance the ongoing dialogue among the United States and its closest allies on the future of European security. I do so because the United States is firmly committed to the view that any decisions about Europe’s security must be made in close coordination with our European allies and partners. We will decide nothing about our European allies and partners without them.

The United States and Europe can take much pride in what we have achieved together: We have built the most successful alliance in history, one that has kept the peace in the Euro-Atlantic region for more than 60 years and helped transform Europe into a beacon of democracy and prosperity. These achievements have been sustained by security institutions, principally NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, built through the cooperation of Americans and Europeans over decades. But now it is vital that we ask how these institutions, which have served us so well, should adapt to the challenges — and opportunities — of a new era.

NATO is revising its “strategic concept,” which contains the guiding principles for NATO’s strategy to deal with security threats, to prepare the alliance for the challenges of the 21st century. Russia also has come forward with new ideas about European security. These issues deserve thoughtful consideration and discussion. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined our approach to European security in a speech in Paris in January. As she pointed out, the United States does not believe Europe needs new treaties or institutions, but will instead seek to create a more secure Europe that takes into account the changing nature of the threats we face, and respects the core principles of existing institutions such as NATO and the O.S.C.E.

We will seek to uphold these principles by moving forward along the following, parallel tracks. First, we need to work together to broaden our commitments to reciprocal transparency about all our military forces , including both conventional and nuclear forces, and other defensive assets in Europe, including missile defenses. Our hope is to do this with Russia. We no longer see Europe in zero-sum, Cold War terms.

Promoting trust within Europe requires understanding how neighbors understand their security challenges and how they intend to confront those challenges. And the new START treaty demonstrates that trust and certainty are best built by increasing the exchange of information about our doctrine, forces and intentions.

We will come forward with proposals to improve military transparency through a variety of steps, including enhanced exchanges of military data and site visits. Just this week, the United States released information about the size of its nuclear weapons stockpile. We think it is in our national security interest to be as transparent as we can about the U.S. nuclear program. We call on other states to do the same.

Second, we will explore reciprocal limitations on the size and location of conventional forces . These should be relevant to the world of today and tomorrow, not yesterday’s world. We should also be steering our militaries away from basing their exercises on scenarios that bear little resemblance to reality, instead working together to plan for real threats, especially those that come from outside of Europe.

Third, we have to devote more attention and resources to deterring and combating security threats to Europe that come from outside Europe . The threat of war among major powers that haunted Europe for centuries has receded, even if regional flashpoints remain. This is a great achievement, but today the Continent faces new and pernicious threats: the spread of weapons of mass destruction to rogue regimes with access to ballistic missile technology, the ongoing threat of terrorist attack enabled by havens in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the prospect of cyber-attack by criminal networks and other actors, and significant energy security challenges. No nation in Europe is immune from such threats; they affect all countries on the Continent equally. Our common efforts, including through NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and our efforts to combat global terrorism, underscore this. We must focus our efforts to address these external challenges and update our security arrangements to meet the true risks we face today.

Fourth, we need a more effective conflict-prevention, conflict-management, and crisis-resolution mechanism to defuse crises before they escalate. The Russia-Georgia crisis in August 2008 reminded all of us that we cannot take security in Europe for granted or become complacent. To prevent such events from recurring, we support the creation of an O.S.C.E. Crisis Prevention Mechanism that, in situations of tensions between O.S.C.E. states, would seek to prevent crises before they start. And in the case that they do, it would empower the organization to offer rapid humanitarian relief, help negotiate a cease-fire, and provide impartial monitoring. We also believe that the O.S.C.E. should facilitate consultations in the case of serious energy or environmental disruption and dispatch special representatives to investigate reports of egregious human rights violations.

Finally, we must affirm that security in Europe is indivisible, the importance of territorial integrity for all countries in Europe, and the right of states to choose their own security alliances . Sustainable security in Europe requires peace and stability for all of Europe — not old or new Europe, East or West Europe, NATO or non-NATO Europe. It includes the partners and friends who seek the stability and prosperity that comes with the democratic standards of the E.U. and NATO.

We seek an open and increasingly united Europe in which all countries, including Russia, play their full roles. The indivisibility of security also means that all European countries must abide by certain shared rules: above all, a commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states and the right of all countries to choose their own alliances freely. The threat or use of force has no place in relations among European powers. Nor can we allow large countries to have vetoes over the decisions of smaller ones. And most importantly, we cannot permit the re-establishment of spheres of influence in Europe.

The United States crossed the Atlantic twice in the last century in the defense of Europe and stood shoulder to shoulder with our allies through the Cold War. We did so because of our shared values and because of our shared security — the recognition that the peace and stability of Europe is essential to U.S. security. That is just as true today as it was in the 20th century and that is why we are engaging vigorously in the debate over the future of European security.

There is still much to do as we seek a fully democratic, secure, peaceful and prosperous Europe. With these principles, we can reinvigorate and guarantee European security for a new era.

Joe Biden is Vice President of the United States

Related Topics: Foreign Policy, Georgia
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