Several years ago, I wrote a series of articles on a journey in Europe. It was intended both to be personal and to go beyond recent events or the abstract considerations of geopolitics. This week I begin another journey that will take me from Portugal to Singapore, and I thought that I would try my hand again at reflecting on the significance of my travels.
As I prepare for my journey, I am drawn to a central question regarding the U.S.-European relationship, or what remains of it. Having been in Europe at a time when that relationship meant everything to both sides, and to the world, this trip forces me to think about NATO. I have been asked to make several speeches about U.S.-European relations during my upcoming trip. It is hard to know where to start. The past was built around NATO, so thinking about NATO's past might help me put things in perspective.
On a personal level, my relationship with Europe always passes through the prism of NATO. Born in Hungary, I recall my parents sitting in the kitchen in 1956, when the Soviets came in to crush the revolution. On the same night as my sister's wedding in New York, we listened on the radio to a report on Soviet tanks attacking a street just a block from where we lived in Budapest. I was 7 at the time. The talk turned to the Americans and NATO and what they would do. NATO was the redeemer who disappoints not because he cannot act but because he will not. My family's underlying faith in the power of American alliances was forged in World War II and couldn't be shaken. NATO was the sword of Gideon, albeit lacking in focus and clarity at times.
I had a more personal relationship with NATO. In the 1970s, I played an embarrassingly unimportant role in developing early computerized war games. The games were meant to evaluate strategies on NATO's central front: Germany. At that time, the line dividing Germany was the fault line of the planet. If the world were to end in a nuclear holocaust, it would end there. The place that people thought it would all start was called the Fulda Gap, a not-too-hilly area in the south, where a rapid attack could take Frankfurt and also strike at the heart of U.S. forces. The Germans speak of a watch on the Rhine. For my generation, or at least those millions who served in the armies of NATO, it was Fulda.