A New Job For Solana

Nato secretary-general Javier Solana likes to joke that he keeps Nordic hours in the morning and Spanish hours in the evening. In other words, the 56-year-old Spaniard is a workaholic, and never more so than during the war over Kosovo. At 3 a.m. recently, a member of the U.S. delegation to NATO was startled to receive a call from a Solana aide. Solana had asked the aide to find out how Washington was reacting to the day's events--and report back immediately. "He's got one of the toughest jobs in the world right now," says one NATO diplomat.

Solana's impressive performance under this pressure hasn't gone unnoticed. EU leaders meeting in Cologne last week named him their first High Representative for foreign and security policy. He faces the daunting task of promoting an old but elusive aim: a common defense policy that would allow Europeans to embark on at least limited "autonomous" military actions without always relying on the United States. European leaders stress that the project would only complement NATO, not replace it. But the EU will dissolve the Western European Union, a smaller defense organization, taking over and expanding its mandate.

Solana is likely to step down from his current NATO job before his term expires in December. He deserves much of the credit for the fact that the 19-member alliance didn't come unglued over Kosovo before last week's breakthrough. A legendary practitioner of phone diplomacy, Solana also travels virtually every week to the major capitals, with occasional visits to refugee camps. "To stand idly by while a brutal campaign of forced deportation, torture and murder is going on in the heart of Europe would have meant declaring moral bankruptcy," he said last week.

Solana's role as NATO's chief represents a remarkable turnabout for a Spanish socialist who campaigned against his country's joining the alliance in 1982. "Only idiots never change their opinions," he said later. During the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, Solana, a self-described "pragmatic Marxist," saw the United States and NATO as Franco's allies. Yet he went on to study and teach physics at several American universities. After Franco's death in 1976, he entered Parliament. Once the Socialists came to power in the 1980s, Solana and other moderate leftists saw NATO membership as a symbol of Spain's evolution into a normal, democratic country.

As foreign minister in the early 1990s, Solana championed Spain's expanding role in European institutions. This, in turn, prompted his strong support for NATO expansion after he became secretary-general. At the same time, Solana worked hard to coax Russia into a new partnership with NATO, which was suspended when NATO began its air war against Yugoslavia.

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, it's hard to find Solana detractors. One alliance diplomat snidely observes that the Spaniard has turned to international politics because he no longer has any chance of becoming prime minister at home. Solana needs "to smell power," he says. But no one questions Solana's skills as a consensus builder, which he will have to exercise mightily if he's to convince national foreign and Defense ministers that he can speak for them in his new job. Given the continent's legendary rivalries, this is almost like trying to order up a miracle. But after Solana's successes at NATO, he may be Europe's best bet to make it happen.