Munich Security Conference Nato's Moment of Truth

Under these circumstances, it was not surprising that some Nato nations hung back, limiting the size or role of their forces in Afghanistan. But no matter how other nations feel about American behavior in recent years, the fact is that Afghanistan is a common problem; failure there would have terrible consequences for every Nato member.

Such issues should have been resolved at the Nato summit in Riga last December, but they were not. Some progress was made, however, in reducing the number and nature of the socalled ''national caveats,'' an unfortunate arrangement that allows each nation sending troops to a Nato mission to lay out specific circumstances and rules for the use of its own troops. In truth, such caveats erode the basic concepts of a unified command, and should be eliminated entirely. (There are other ways for each nation to protect its own troops from an unwise deployment if that becomes necessary.)

Far more than a ''war on terrorism''

Beyond the issue of national caveats, the larger concern must be addressed: Whether the Nato nations are ready to redefine their mission and use the unparalleled resources of the member states to deal with, and ultimately defeat, the forces that threaten all those - Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike - who wish to live in a free and tolerant and progressive world? On the answer to this question much will depend.

This is, of course, far more than a ''war on terrorism''; it is an ideological struggle between two visions of the world, similar in that respect to the cold war. Of course, the Munich Conference cannot give a definitive answer; that will require consensus among the highest leaders of the alliance and the support of other major powers. But those assembled in Munich can, and must, recognize that we cannot afford many more years like the last one. Regaining the initiative will take leadership on both sides of the Atlantic, a successful disengagement from Iraq, and a turnaround in Afghanistan. And it will take time.

Richard Holbrooke, former US ambassador to the United Nations and chief architect of the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war in Bosnia, is the founding chairman of the American Academy in Berlin.

(Süddeutsche Zeitung, 8.2.2007, in cooperation with American Academy Berlin)