NATO's Role in the 21st Century
Q. Mr. President, this week in Prague, NATO will invite seven countries to join the Alliance. But there are other topics on the agenda, and the future of NATO is one of them. What do you see NATO will be doing in the 21st century? What is its role?
The President. Well, I think—first of all, I'm excited about going to Prague, and I want to thank the citizens of that important city and the great country for their hard work in recovering from the floods and preparing Prague for our arrival.
This is going to be a historic meeting because, as you said, we're expanding NATO. The most important alliance America has is NATO, and the expansion of NATO is something that I think is very important.
The role of NATO is different as we go into the 21st century. NATO used to be a way to defend Europe from the Warsaw Pact. But the Warsaw Pact no longer exists. Russia is not an enemy. And we face new threats, and the new threats are global terror. And so one way to make sure NATO is relevant is to focus on the true threats to freedom, address those threats, and figure out ways that we can work together to accomplish what we want, which is a peaceful world, which means better intelligence-sharing, the capacity to cut off money, and a military operation that reflects the nature of the wars we'll be fighting. And that's going to be one of the most important discussions we face there in Prague.
Cooperation in the War on Terror
Q. Well, there are really big gaps between the war-fighting capabilities of NATO—of the United States, on one hand, and the European countries, on the other hand. And Lord Robertson is saying that the Americans are not always willing to share the technology necessary for NATO. Are you ready to participate on organization of European forces?
The President. Well, I think what has to happen is there first be a strategy that recognizes that the Czech Republic can provide a certain contribution or the French or the British—not the French but the Germans or the British can provide certain kind of capabilities—and that we dovetail each capability to an overall strategy. In which case, of course, America is willing to work with our friends and allies to make sure the NATO Alliance works properly.
In other words, everybody can contribute something. But it all has got to be done within the strategy of the true threats we face in the 21st century, which is global terrorism. That's the biggest threat to freedom right now.
NATO and Iraq
Q. You will certainly talk about Iraq. Will the United States, if it decides to go to war with Iraq, seek the support of NATO as an alliance?
The President. Well, first, I hope we don't have to go to war with Iraq. I mean, my first choice is not to commit our troops to regime change. I hope that Saddam Hussein does what he said he would do, and that is disarm. For the sake of peace, he must disarm. Most nations understand that—most nations in NATO understand that. They want Saddam to disarm. The U.N. Security Council has spoken and says he must disarm. So it's his choice to make.
If he refuses to disarm, then we will lead a coalition of the willing and disarm him. And of course, I hope our NATO friends come with us. I think they will realize it's in the interest of peace and stability that that happen. But we're not close to that decision point yet because we're just beginning the process of allowing Saddam the chance to show the world whether or not he will disarm.
And that's an important distinction the people of the Czech Republic must know. It's not up to me. It's up to him. He said he would disarm, and the inspectors are not the issue. The inspectors are simply a means to determine his willingness. And we'll see. He's had a bad history. He's had 11 years of lying and deceiving, and now it's time to bring him to account, one way or the other.
NATO-U.S. Shared Values
Q. Some critics now see NATO as a toolbox, and the United States just goes and picks whatever it needs when it needs it. Do you agree?
The President. No, of course not. I mean, I think we view this as an alliance of nations with whom we share common values, the common values of freedom and individual rights and democracy. This is an opportunity for us to combine our values with our deep desire to have a peaceful world. And we will work in concert with each other, not in opposition to each other. And by working in concert we can really address those threats.
See, that's the interesting thing that people have got to know. There's threats to your freedom. If you embrace freedom and love freedom and willing to stand strong against global terrorism, you will be threatened. And we can't let that happen. It's just a different type of threat that we face, but it's a true threat.
We face it here in America today. There's still an enemy that wants to hit us. There's still an enemy that wants to hit our friends. And the NATO Charter says, "If you attack one, you attack us all." And that's a very important alliance, a very important statement of commonality to keep the peace.
I think NATO is a good thing, and I look forward to working with our friends in NATO.
Q. Mr. President, thank you very much for the interview.
The President. Thank you. I'm so looking forward to going to Prague. It's going to be an exciting time for Laura and me to go. Thank you. Good job.