A United Front

Only a strong NATO can stop Putin, and only America can rally NATO.

NATO's heads of state are beginning their summit in Wales -- what a doozy of a meeting this could and should be.

Ukraine is on the agenda because it is in Europe and is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace. The Islamic State is, too, because it is -- as summit host British Prime Minister David Cameron said recently -- "a terrorist organization … seeking to establish and then violently expand its own terrorist state." It is a threat to the region, generally, and to Turkey (a NATO member whose south borders both Syria and Iraq), specifically. There will also be intense discussions about budget contributions and decision-making processes. And Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen should be thanked for his leadership. His five years of service at the helm have included critical NATO engagement in Afghanistan and Libya, and he continues to be an outspoken leader, especially in facing down Russia's provocations and arguing for a stronger alliance.

NATO was created in 1949 to counter the Soviet Union. In 1991, the USSR disintegrated and NATO began to expand. In the years that followed, NATO's expansion brought new partners to the fight against terrorism and provided security reform and reassurance to countries emerging from decades of conquest, occupation, and socialist misrule. Without NATO expansion, EU expansion would be more difficult, and Central Europe would be less prosperous and secure.

During this time, NATO's approach to Russia evolved as well. When I was U.S. secretary of state, we supported the NATO-Russia Founding Act, and I personally said to President Boris Yeltsin that if they wanted to, and fulfilled the requirements, we could welcome them into the alliance. The NATO-Russia Council was created. We were looking forward to a time of cooperation, with Russia playing a global power role as a guarantor of the international system, as when it helped enforce international norms against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and throughout the 1990s.

Unfortunately, President Vladimir Putin chose a different path. When the NATO summit in Wales was originally announced on Nov. 15, 2013, it was meant to focus on Afghanistan, 21st-century threats (such as cybersecurity), and alliance modernization (to include equitable burden-sharing -- NATO, after all, is not a charitable organization). Who would have predicted that one of the main topics would be the Russian invasion of Ukraine? The question now is how the most powerful alliance in the history of the world will react to such a blatant violation of international norms and principles, the first invasion of a country in Europe since World War II.

With the Soviet Union's demise in 1991, there was a legitimate question about the relevance of an alliance whose purpose no longer existed. In 2009, as NATO celebrated its 60th anniversary, leaders established a group of experts to advise on a new Strategic Concept. I was the U.S. representative, and Rasmussen asked me to chair the group of 11 other national experts. We submitted our recommendations, and a new Strategic Concept was adopted in Lisbon in 2010.

Our analysis and recommendations included reaffirming NATO's core commitment of collective defense, protecting against unconventional threats, establishing guidelines for operations outside alliance borders, establishing a new mission for missile defense, addressing new military capabilities, responding to the rising danger of cyberattacks, reviewing our nuclear weapons policy and preventing nuclear proliferation, engaging Russia, and entering a new era of partnerships.

The group of experts not only recognized the changing conditions of the times, but also looked for lessons learned from NATO's involvement in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. Most interesting was our examination of the Partnership for Peace (PfP), a mechanism to involve aspiring members in military exercises. In addition to the PfP, we saw that NATO had more partners than members in other parts of the world -- a very big club of countries with similar values.

This lesson is crucial as we look at ways for the alliance to respond to the dual challenges on its eastern border and in the Middle East. It would be a betrayal of our common values to let Russia's illegal behavior pass and allow Putin and his government to lie about what they are doing. There should be a decision out of Cardiff for more robust partnership exercises in and around Ukraine. Lethal military equipment should be on offer, as well as enhanced intelligence and border security assistance. And we cannot forget about Kiev -- there are immense domestic challenges Ukraine's new government must tackle for the results of Maidan to hold. On a positive note, the IMF has voted to release more assistance for Ukraine. This trend must continue.

If we allow Putin to get away with what he is doing, he will not only keep chewing away at pieces of a sovereign country, but also feel emboldened to destabilize other countries on Russia's western border.

U.S. President Barack Obama delivered important, forceful remarks in Tallinn on Wednesday, telling the people of Estonia -- and Latvia and Lithuania -- that they are protected by Article 5 of the NATO charter, saying that their defense is just as important as the defense of Berlin or Paris. He reiterated that all of us in this trans-Atlantic alliance stand with the people of Ukraine. And he reminded us that NATO is an alliance of democracies and open markets -- whose strength is derived from our core values -- "not aimed 'against' any other nation" but still committed to collective defense, and that remains open to new members.

It is imperative the leaders in Cardiff decide to strengthen NATO troops in the Baltics and make sure Americans are always among them. The (expected) agreement on a rapid-response force as part of a readiness action plan, to include pre-positioning of equipment and supplies, is also critical.

Only the U.S. president can rally the alliance. And only his unwavering advocacy, especially with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, can set the alliance on a constructive path. Putin has escalated an invasion to demonstrate strength, and only NATO has the ability to show him that his escalation cannot bring a lasting victory. The U.S. president can make clear what Russia has at stake as well. Putin says he wants Russia accepted as a global power. If Russia refuses to accept basic tenets of today's international system, it can only be a regional power, grasping at what it can take, and will never achieve influence where it cannot use force. Russia's behavior is a game-changer in the post-World War II world. We need to step up our game to make sure that Putin's rules do not govern the 21st century.

The Islamic State is also a game-changer. As Cameron said, "The ambition to create an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and Syria is a threat to our own security" in the United Kingdom and, I would add, Europe and the United States. While our group of experts was careful not to involve the alliance in mission creep, in our assessment of threats we included the ambitions of international terrorist groups and the persistence of corrosive regional, national, ethnic, and religious rivalries. We made clear that the alliance has an interest in promoting security and stability beyond its immediate borders. That mission would be carried out with partners, including those around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East. Obama is dispatching U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to the region to rally partners for just such a mission.

Cardiff offers the opportunity to deliver several messages. To Russia: You cannot lie your way out of what you are doing, but when you respect international norms, you will be a respected member of the international community. To the Islamic State: There is no place for your barbarism in the 21st century, and you will never be recognized as a legitimate body. To the world: NATO is relevant and united.

Photo by Leon Neal - Pool/Getty Images

Democracy Lab

Maryam al-Khawaja, the Inconvenient Activist

The arrest of Bahraini human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja marks a new low point for the country’s autocracy.

"They keep saying I'm not a citizen," tweeted human rights defender (and FP Global Thinker) Maryam al-Khawaja early on the morning of Aug. 30. A few hours earlier she had stepped off a plane in her home country of Bahrain, where she hoped to pay a visit to her ailing father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. He's currently serving a life sentence in a Bahraini prison on trumped-up terrorism charges. His real offense: organizing peaceful protests during Bahrain's Arab Spring uprising against the government. On Aug. 25 he started a hunger strike "in protest against the continuation of arbitrary arrest and detention" in Bahrain -- his second since he began serving his prison sentence on June 22, 2011. All of which might help to explain why the authorities were waiting for Maryam as soon as she arrived. They immediately took her into custody. (And yes, Maryam al-Khawaja is indisputably a Bahraini citizen. Like her father, she also has a Danish passport.)

A few days before Maryam made her own attempt to enter Bahrain, her sister, Zainab al-Khawaja, who lives in Bahrain, was arrested and charged with "entering a restricted area" after demanding a chance to visit her father. So the whole situation offers a snapshot of the grim realities the Khawaja family faces on a daily basis in their call for dignity and justice in Bahrain.

For 12 hours after Maryam tweeted the news of her detention, her whereabouts were unknown to her family, lawyer, colleagues, and friends. It was the Danish consulate in Bahrain that finally notified her family that Maryam was being taken to the public prosecutor to face unknown charges. Once the hearing convened, Maryam, who was prevented from calling her lawyer, was informed that she faced three charges: insulting the king; participating in the "Wanted for Justice in Bahrain Campaign" of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights; and assaulting a policewoman. It was the latter charge that prompted the prosecutor to sentence her to seven days in detention in Isa Town Detention Center for Women pending an "investigation." (In reality, four Bahraini police officers tackled Maryam in an attempt to seize her phone.) Maryam has been forbidden any contact with her lawyer for the entire seven days, which the International Service for Human Rights has declared to be "in contravention of international human rights law."

Three years after the start of Bahrain's February 14 Revolution, the country's prisons are still filled with thousands of political prisoners. Maryam al-Khawaja is now among them. In her public appearances, Maryam has often described Bahrain's revolution as the "inconvenient revolution" -- a reference to the many powerful countries, including the United States, that stand behind the Bahraini regime. Her tireless work and activism -- including, among other things, the article she and I co-authored for FP's Democracy Lab some time ago -- can be seen as inconvenient to many regimes in the same sense. As a selfless human rights defender who has expressed her solidarity with other struggles for justice, dignity, and self-determination across the Middle East and North Africa region, ranging from the Western Sahara to Syria, Maryam has made herself an obstacle to many regimes. As a result, she has been banned from traveling to other countries in the Gulf; recently she was also denied entry to Egypt.

The last time Maryam attempted to return to Bahrain from self-imposed exile in Denmark was August 2013. After booking her flight and going through the online check-in process, she arrived at Copenhagen Airport only to be informed at the British Airways counter that she would not be allowed to board the flight due to a request from the Bahraini government. In January of the same year, Maryam had succeeded in making a 10-day visit to Bahrain with little or no hassle from the authorities.

Over the course of the past 21 months, then, Maryam has gone from voluntary exile to detention in the same prison that houses many of the prisoners she has lobbied for abroad. This suggests that the Bahraini government's backlash against the 2011 protests is intensifying. During the same period the regime has introduced a number of measures intended to further marginalize its critics. In addition to its usual tactics for the violent suppression of protests, which have been strongly criticized by a number of international human rights organizations, the Bahraini regime has attempted to lay down a legal framework to justify its ongoing crackdown.

In July, the Bahraini regime introduced new amendments to the already vague and contested 2006 anti-terrorism law. The amendments grant the Ministry of Interior, in addition to the king, greater power in making decisions that allow officials to strip the citizenship of anyone the government deems to be a "terrorist" -- language purposefully left open-ended in order to allow for the broadest possible application against dissent. The measure was supported by a royal decree that once again attests to the monarchy's direct intervention in the kingdom's legal affairs. The king's action thus clearly contradicts Article 32 of the Bahraini constitution, which asserts the separation of powers among the legislative, executive, and judiciary. Both the United Nations human rights office and Human Rights Watch have issued statements condemning these amendments, which have already been used against a number of Bahrainis, leaving them stateless.

Bahrain's deepening intransigence took on surprising form in July, when the regime decided to kick out U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski. Bahraini officials were apparently upset by Malinowski's willingness to meet with opposition leaders during his visit to the country. The United States is one of Bahrain's most important allies, and officials in Washington are habitually loath to criticize the government in Manama, given that the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet has its headquarters there. But none of that appears to matter especially to Bahrain's government these days -- perhaps because the United States has gone on supplying it with billions of dollars worth of weapons regardless.

Meanwhile, Bahrain's government continues its mistreatment of prisoners, as demonstrated by the constant stream of cases published on the Bahrain Center for Human Rights website. Some highlight the rampant human rights abuses committed against Bahrainis, including sentences of lifetime imprisonment imposed on two children and failure to provide proper medical treatment to a blind detainee. The Bahraini regime has also employed covert tactics in order to intimidate and silence dissidents, as in the case of dozens of Bahraini activists and lawyers who were targeted with malicious spyware supplied by companies from the United Kingdom and Germany.

When I traveled with Maryam al-Khawaja to my home country of Morocco in February 2013 -- around the second anniversary of Morocco's pro-democracy February 20 Movement -- we were met with an extended questioning session at the customs booth in the airport, and were then followed by security agents throughout the duration of our stay. What makes Maryam inconvenient is that she is willing to speak up for the struggles of others as well as for her own. And just as she has stood up for so many, so we should for her.