General Wesley Clark on NATO's Future

Today former presidential candidate Wesley Clark is a Democratic graybeard, but not so long ago, he was a military wunderkind. West Point, Rhodes scholarship, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. In that post, he helped Bill Clinton define a novel new doctrine—humanitarian intervention. By bombing Belgrade, they ushered Slobodan Milosevic from power and halted the Serb attack on Kosovo. Clark spoke to NEWSWEEK's Adam B. Kushner about NATO's changing role in Europe, the Middle East and the war on terror. Excerpts:

Kushner: Why does NATO still matter?
Clark: NATO is an organization in which nations pledge themselves together with the strongest pledge one nation can make to another, which is that an attack on one represents an attack on all. That's still the most powerful relationship between states. Among all other international organizations, there are none stronger than the relationships of NATO.

But attacks on nations don't happen the way they used to.
No, but they still face security threats, and NATO has a consultative mechanism and a set of standing relationships that help harmonize national security policies. It's like a consensus machine. It's also a major force for stabilizing Eastern Europe, which is still dominated by fears—some founded, some unfounded—of inappropriate influence by Russia.

Consensus is all well and good, but is that a first-order priority in fighting terrorism?
You've got to share information and coordinate action. Though there are also bilateral relationships, which are preferred by the intelligence community. There are some NATO partners who don't get the same level of candor and detail as others.

Is there any multilateral body that does intelligence-sharing well?
NATO is as good as it gets. Even against terrorism, the advantages are clear, because terrorists aren't located only in countries outside NATO—there are internal security threats. So the internal security of one country is a matter of external security for another.

Is Eastern European security still a worry of NATO's? Is its mission outdated?
I hosted the Russian chief of defense in Bosnia in 1997, and talks were candid. Those exchanges were shut down by the resurgence of the traditional power ministries and men like Yevgeny Primakov, who reestablished the grip of the intelligence services on the military. It became impossible for me to call my Russian counterpart. Since then we've seen threats to Eastern Europe and the action in Georgia. In the Czech Republic, our allies are very worried about what it might mean to "reset" relations with Russia. I heard from Condi Rice in 2000 that the Clinton administration had somehow destroyed relations with Russia and that the new team would make things better. Now we're [talking about "resetting"] relations again.

Was President Bush's membership push for Georgia and Ukraine productive?
The idea that you bring these countries into NATO and then there's no problem doesn't make sense. … One of the problems we saw [in the Bush years] was the overmilitarization of U.S. foreign policy and too much focus on just the areas where there was an imminent national security threat.

What does NATO do now that the U.S. has stepped up ownership in Afghanistan?
When the U.S. gave this mission to NATO, it didn't deliver a success strategy. It was more like, "Take the mission. We'll leave a few forces there just in case, and good luck!" In terms of development, you can't simply corral villagers when they don't have a livelihood. You can't limit yourself to poppies just because the Taliban makes money from poppies. So do villagers! … NATO is not really able to deal with economic developments.

If the U.S. resets relations with Russia, does it still need a missile shield in Poland?
It's really about Iran. If there's a way to assure Russia of our intent, we should.

They don't seem to want to be assured.
It's something they use; it's an asymmetrical issue. For them it's about Europe, for us it's about Iran.

So it shouldn't be halted.
Well, I'd like to see it work. But barring a breakthrough with Iran, it's an essential ingredient of Western security.