Henry Kissinger's Aug. 15 op-ed column ["The End of NATO as We Know It?"] was disappointing on a number of counts:

To ask whether we are seeing the end of NATO as we know it is odd, because the alliance has been trying to reinvent itself since the end of the Cold War. It makes little sense to lament the shift from the defensive alliance of old when to sustain that model would be out of sync with prevailing strategic conditions.

The European allies have not launched a "sudden" quest for autonomy. The problem of constructing a place and a form for an improved European foreign policy has been central for some time. The jolt to Europeans from the dominant role the United States carried in the Kosovo conflict advertised the widening gap in NATO military capabilities in a way that studies and declarations never could.

Mr. Kissinger criticized NATO for being "increasingly preoccupied with peripheral, essentially psychological, activities such as the Partnership for Peace," but then concludes that the political structure of NATO should be broadened and strengthened. What does that mean, if not activities such as the partnership and others that have flowed inevitably from the need for NATO to be outward- rather than inward-looking to overcome Europe's divisions? Outward doesn't mean global. Even under the broader reach of its emerging strategic concept, NATO will remain regional.

Condemning NATO for treating foreign policy as an aspect of domestic politics and ideological goals rather than as a pursuit of long-range strategic objectives does not flow logically from declared attachment to universal human rights principles nor even less from the Kosovo experience. NATO's intervention there requires critical scrutiny, but whatever one concludes about its wisdom, it can be understood as a piece of a strategic conception that is far clearer than references to nonexistent defensive requirements or undefined national interests.

It would be nice if NATO leaders could be "concrete" in responding to Mr. Kissinger's call for answers to where and what humanitarian causes NATO will project military power, with what risks and at what price. But the complex challenges of the strategic environment will mean that formulas will count for less than skillful balancing of values and interests.



The writer is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy.