New Role for NATO?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 9, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: I do not think that NATO needs to become the policemen of the world. I think that would be asking too much of this Alliance.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) has been meeting with her counterparts in NATO (search). She says the Alliance can protect democracy without trying to force anything on the world.

Joining me now to talk about NATO's role, Ambassador Robert Hunter, former U.S. ambassador to NATO. He is a Senior Fellow at the Rand Corporation.

So, what Condoleezza Rice seemed to be saying is NATO can do some things to help out in Iraq, help out other places, maybe Iran, without becoming, essentially, an arm of the United States; the world's policemen in lieu of the United States.

Is that what the Europeans are worried about, that we're just going to use NATO as the world's policeman and stand back in the shadows ourselves and hide?

ROBERT HUNTER, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, NATO wouldn't do it anyway, because you have to get a unanimous vote, and that's 26 countries. And it's been enough of a struggle to get the allies to go as far as Afghanistan, which is the other side of beyond.

But what I think they're most concerned about is whether the Bush administration has moved beyond its first term strategy, which took it into Iraq, to see whether it's going be a little more cautious with regard to Iran, and also whether it's going to be more proactive, more forward leading on Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

Events this week seemed to give some encouragement to the Europeans. Condi Rice has been on a charm offensive, done it very effectively. And you've had Mr. Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas talking peace. So, Europeans right now I think, are looking at Mr. Bush with more hope than they had before.

GIBSON: OK. But Iran is a way bigger problem than it seems like the Europeans are giving it credit for. It seems to be on the verge of popping out a few nuclear weapons and long range missiles and so forth. Why is it we're so worried about it and the Europeans don't appear to be?

HUNTER: Well, I think the Europeans are concerned about it, but they want to try something else before military power is tried. The Vice President the other day, or the Secretary of Defense, rather, said that Iran is several years away from getting nuclear weapons, so there's some time to play with.

I think what the Europeans would like the U.S. to do is to make the kind of offer to Iran that we've already done with North Korea, which is, "You behave and we won't attack you." And if that can be possible, and I think you'll find the Europeans marching in lock-step with us to prevent this from happening.

We all have to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons. No doubt about that.

GIBSON: Yes, but the Europeans' approach to this -- Americans, you're right, we sort of, rattle our sabers and make truculent hostile noises and hope people get it. But the Europeans go and give stuff, trade deals, give just plain cash, arms deals, the works, and then when it doesn't work, they say, "Well, let's do it some more."

Why should anybody pay attention to that approach?

HUNTER: Well, I think what we've been doing with regard to Iran is a much more coordinated strategy on the two sides. It's no accident that Condi Rice, when she was over there, put Iran smack in the center of the agenda. That tells the Europeans that when President Bush comes next week, George Washington's Birthday, and he meets with NATO and then with the European Union, this is something that's really going to be on his mind.

She's also saying, "OK, let's give your way" which we've been supporting incidentally, to negotiate with Iran a chance. But if that doesn't work, there's some other shots we got in the locker: "You Europeans are going to have to pay attention to it." So, I think we're actually a lot closer on this now than we were a couple of months ago.

GIBSON: Well, you're very confident and optimistic about that. Pardon me from being less so.

HUNTER: Well, no, I'm no optimist at all. I try to figure out how do you get people to work with us and how do we work with them in order to accomplish what we have to accomplish, which is...

GIBSON: What the Europeans seem to do is they seem to take offense whenever the United States offers to use or threatens to use force in a problem, as if it makes them smaller because they have no force to use.

HUNTER: Well, I don't think that's exactly fair. In Afghanistan, for example, there is a U.S.-led fighting force. There's seven allies that are part of that, including the French. You've got French Special Forces serving under U.S. command in combat. You got a NATO force in Kabul that's commanded by a French general. All 26 NATO allies are there.

You got NATO and you've had it in Bosnia, had it in Kosovo, had it in Macedonia. You've got a lot of effort by the Europeans filling in behind us and next week -- I'll make your prediction -- they're going to step up to the mark and agree to a massive training program for Iraqi security personnel. Not in Iraq, but in Jordan, Germany, elsewhere, places like that.

GIBSON: I hope the word "massive" is the operative word. Ambassador Hunter, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

HUNTER: Thank you.

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