Henry Kissinger argues that "the timing of [the] sudden [European] quest for autonomy" from NATO "is puzzling, even jarring" ["The End of NATO as We Know It?" op-ed, Aug. 15]. This statement is puzzling. Throughout this decade, the Europeans have sought the ability to act militarily without necessarily calling upon the United States -- and hence NATO. The European Security and Defense Identity is to be built within NATO, in order to avoid duplication of resources, and will be "separable but not separate" from the Atlantic Alliance.

Last December, the British and French proposed that the European Union be the executive agent for the European Security and Defense Identity, and this was blessed by the rest of the European Union well before the Kosovo conflict. At last April's Washington summit, NATO as a whole -- including the United States -- ratified the arrangements that Mr. Kissinger sees as somehow undercutting transatlantic cohesion and NATO's sense of purpose.

The Europeans fully and formally agree that NATO must be the primary instrument of transatlantic security. In developing a security identity, they are working to complete European integration, which was given major impetus this year by the introduction of the euro. They also are responding to U.S. demands over many years that they shoulder a larger share of the burden of providing security in their own back yard. Thus this supposedly "sudden" European goal of having "the capacity for autonomous action backed up by credible military forces" has long been welcomed by the United States.

Mr. Kissinger also neglects NATO's core functions, to which all the allies are committed. Acting militarily in Bosnia and Kosovo was important to demonstrate that NATO could halt conflict in Europe. But the alliance's broader roles are to ensure America's necessary strategic engagement on the continent; to modernize NATO's military capabilities to meet tomorrow's challenges; to provide lasting security and stability in Central Europe; and to design a place for Russia in an encompassing European security system. These are consequential and coherent purposes. Coupled with steps taken to achieve them, they already meet Mr. Kissinger's appeal that NATO be "a living institution systematically adapting itself to new realities."

ROBERT E. HUNTER

Washington

The writer was U.S. ambassador to NATO from 1993 to 1998.

Henry Kissinger raises important issues about the justification for NATO to go to war. He is entitled to his view that national interest is separable from humanitarian concern and that it alone should motivate military action, even though this will strike many as overly simplistic. More surprising is that Mr. Kissinger characterizes Europe's center-left leaders as throwbacks to the 1970s, motivated by the sort of anti-American sentiment for which that period is famous. This view apparently lies behind his judgment that Europe's political leaders want "independence" from America, want to opt out of NATO and drive their foreign policy by reference to television footage of world events rather than rational strategic objectives.

If any of this were true -- and Mr. Kissinger offers no evidence for his assertions -- this extraordinary lurch in European thinking would, indeed, be "puzzling, even jarring." But plentiful statements from England's Tony Blair, Germany's Gerhard Schroeder, France's Lionel Jospin and others indicate their firm commitment to NATO and their belief that a stronger, more effective Europe in foreign policy and security will strengthen NATO and therefore benefit America. All that is being proposed is that "Europe needs to develop the ability to act alone in circumstances where, for whatever reason, the U.S. is not able or does not wish to participate," as Tony Blair said long before Kosovo.

As Kosovo demonstrated, American involvement is badly needed to win any serious war. But should U.S. taxpayers and U.S. troops always have to resolve any problems that exist on Europe's doorstep? I can think of no better way than this to alienate America from Europe, and that is the last thing European leaders want or need.

PETER MANDELSON

London

The writer is a member of Britain's House of Commons.