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NATO still has a role in Europe

The opinion-page article ``Should NATO Close Shop?'' March 10, seems to ignore two crucial factors: the growth of democracy and the unprecedented cooperation among leading democracies, which have developed over the past half-century. These make the international scene vastly different from any previous period. They give us solid foundations on which to build an even better international order and to contain conflict in the post-cold-war era.

For the first time in history, all the countries of Western Europe, including Germany, are democracies and understand their strong common interests. As democracies, their governments must be responsive to voters. To defend their common interest, Europeans and North Americans have created an unprecedented array of cooperative machinery.

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NATO is the security keystone of this community, but it cannot be seen in isolation from the intercontinental Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the European Union, the Council of Europe, and other vital stones in the edifice.

NAFTA, APEC, and the growing network of cooperative ties among Pacific democracies - some mature, some aspiring - are other elements in an international structure that should be developed rather than dismantled. The United Nations, World Bank, IMF, and GATT are indispensable but will not work without the strong support of the major democracies.

The authors may be right that without active and long-term US engagement in Europe, that tortured continent is likely to fall back into dog-eat-dog patterns that characterized relations among its nations for centuries. These patterns changed dramatically after World War II, and the European Union is the current stage in this metamorphosis; but the Europeans still need American involvement and - sometimes - leadership.

``Atlanticists'' are not mistaken in assuming that the ``Long Peace ... can be made to be Europe's normal state of affairs.'' But the EU should be seen only as the forerunner of a wider, deeper intercontinental effort among the strong democracies to build a ``Long Peace'' not just in Europe but eventually everywhere.

Do Americans want to return to 1917 or 1941, when we were pushed into world wars because we had not exercised our great power and influence in building strong coalitions to deter the forces that threatened democracy?

Today is there any sensible choice but to turn our backs even more firmly on the old game of power politics and instead redouble our efforts to build a strong system of international governance ... itself based on democratic principles? James Huntley, Bainbridge Island, Wash.

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