NATO Future: The Wimps And The Warriors

As NATO prepares for its summit next month in Bucharest, European governments are facing a high-stakes game of chicken. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has warned that unless European members increase their contributions to the war in Afghanistan, NATO risks becoming a "two-tiered alliance," divided between the willing and unwilling to fight. "Such a development," said Gates, "with all its implications for collective security, would effectively destroy the alliance."

Gates's message comes as NATO is still struggling to redefine itself nearly 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet threat it was designed to counter. The United States and Europe have been trying to create a more flexible alliance capable of responding to smaller threats from rogue states and terrorists. But if NATO can't unite in Afghanistan—arguably the global headquarters of the terror threat to the West—then where can it unite? The warning from Gates suggests the answer may be nowhere.

Gates is, however, being uncharacteristically melodramatic. NATO is an alliance of democracies, which will inevitably follow the will of their own people first. That's true of Germany, one of the countries Gates was alluding to. But it was also true of America in Kosovo, says retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 1997 to 2000 oversaw the war in Kosovo. "My instructions from the secretary of Defense were to take the least challenging sector in Kosovo … the one where we would have the least risk," says Clark. "If we had never done it, then I'd feel holier than thou. But we did do it. It's always been like that in NATO."

The "two-tiered alliance," with its image of wimps and warriors, may be a "catchy phrase" but it's nothing new, says retired Gen. James L. Jones, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 2003 to 2006 and the man who oversaw the extension of its Afghan mission. He says the United States has always "outcontributed" the other members, and that disagreements over missions are natural among democracies, and aren't getting worse in Afghanistan. "I wouldn't say it's any more difficult now than it was a year ago," says Jones.

Still, the future is unclear. Daniel Fata, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of Defense for European and NATO policy, says the alliance emerged stronger from spirited debate over Bosnia and will emerge stronger from the Afghan debate, too. Some experts, however, are now predicting that NATO is destined to become what Charles Kupchan, former director for European affairs at the National Security Council, calls an "alliance à la carte," in which members are freer to opt in or out of missions. What no one sees is NATO's destruction—that was probably just Gates's way of pushing Europe to do more. "I'm not concerned," says Clark. "NATO gets real cantankerous."
Christopher Flavelle

Inflation Watch: How Bread Explodes
Since ancient times, when Romans used bread and circuses to placate the plebes, flour shortages have been synonymous with revolt. Now, with rising demand pushing up global grain costs, a growing list of rulers face bread rebellions.

Violent protests calling for government action to ease grain prices have broken out from Morocco to Uzbekistan. In Yemen, where bread prices recently jumped almost 100 percent, riots led to 12 deaths.

In Egypt, affordable loaves have become so scarce that men have donned veils to sneak into shorter bread queues for women. Such bread-line unrest will likely affect local council elections in April, with the hard-line Muslim Brotherhood poised to benefit, says Steven A. Cook, Egypt expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. He notes that in 1977 rising bread prices sparked urban riots that almost toppled Anwar Sadat. World leaders would do well to remember: inflation hurts, but bread price inflation can kill.
—Seth Colter Walls

First Ladies: Move Over, Mrs. Putin
Until the glamorous Raisa Gorbacheva swept into Helsinki with her Gucci handbags, Kremlin wives had a reputation for looking like Soviet refrigerators. So how does Russia's new First Lady, Svetlana Medvedeva, shape up?

Seems the elegant blonde's been turning heads ever since she met her future husband in seventh grade. "Sveta was one of the most beautiful girls in school," recalls Irina Grigorovskaya, her former math teacher in St. Petersburg. "Very stately looking."

Fast-forward to present-day Moscow, where Medvedeva's become something of a social star by attending charity bazaars, runway shows by fashion-world darling Valentin Yudashkin, and parties thrown by the likes of pop diva Alla Pugacheva. Russian celebrity mags often include her in their "best-dressed" lists, and she's credited with introducing her husband to yoga. But Medvedeva's not all catwalks and nightlife—before staying home to raise her 12-year-old son, she attended financial university and worked as an economist. These days, she's also active in sponsoring orphanages, promoting cinema and heading up missions for the Orthodox Church. Beneath this bombshell exterior hides a solid core.
Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova

Kids These Days: Teen Lit Goes Glossy
Chanel Vamp makeup, Jimmy Choo heels, Absolut vodka: they're the kind of products you'd expect to find in a glossy magazine. But they're popping up with astounding frequency in novels aimed at teen girls, according to a new study by Naomi Johnson, a communications-studies professor at Virginia's Longwood University. Johnson looked at six best-selling books from the "Gossip Girl," "A-List" and "Clique" series, and found that brand names appeared an average of more than once per page: 1,553 references in all. Johnson also noticed a degree of snobbery at work: references to Keds served to label the girl wearing them a loser. Other lessons: don't wear Target bikinis; do wear Chanel. (A spokesperson for Alloy Entertainment, which holds the copyright for each line of books, told NEWSWEEK that it doesn't accept payment for product placement in its titles.) "The life lesson here," Johnson says, "is that you can buy your identity."
Eve Conant

Fast Chat: Husband To a Hostage
Juan Carlos Lecompte's wife, former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, was abducted by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2002. NEWSWEEK's Joseph Contreras spoke with Lecompte after a Colombian raid killed the FARC leader in charge of negotiating the release of hostages.

Contreras: What was your reaction to the news of the military operation that killed FARC commander Raul Reyes?
Lecompte: It made me very worried ... Fortunately, the FARC issued a communiqué a few days ago stating that they would not carry out reprisals against the hostages.

Do you believe the raid was a deliberate effort by the Colombian government to sabotage those negotiations?
It's very curious because every time we see a light at the end of this tunnel ... [President Alvaro] Uribe always does something to block the process to free the hostages.

What is your opinion of the U.S. government's role in this hostage crisis?
My mother-in-law ... asked U.S. Ambassador William Wood for help a few years ago. She mentioned the three American defense contractors who have also been held hostage by the FARC for the past five years, and [she was basically told] there's nothing to be done on their behalf.

Leadership Track: Wowi Factor
Something strange is happening in Europe: as national leaders flat-line, big-city mayors are on the rise.

Two are even in line for national office. Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni has transformed the capital into the nation's only urban-growth story, and into the narrative behind his run to replace failed Prime Minister Romano Prodi. In Paris, the openly gay and Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoë won kudos for his support of alternative lifestyles, of bike and bus lanes, and of cleaning up dog poo. Delanoë's approval rating has at times been 30 points higher than that of President Nicolas Sarkozy—making him a live candidate to lead the Socialists nationwide.

While big-city life has always been different, two of Europe's mayors are really different. In London, the flamboyant socialist and traffic-fighter "Red Ken" Livingstone appears poised to win a third term, while dour P.M. Gordon Brown struggles in his first. The most peculiar case is Berlin, where Mayor Klaus Wowerei has somehow made a virtue of low growth by branding his city "poor but sexy"—a good place for the unemployed to hit the cafés. Germans call him "Wowi," while Prime Minister Angela Merkel has played it way too safe to get a nickname.

The common thread here: quality-of-life reforms that have strengthened these cities as lures for the creative classes, and for tourists. Don't be surprised if that scores national votes.
Adam B. Kushner

Join the Discussion