The New Club NATO By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN If you want to get a feel for how far ahead the U.S. military is from any of its allies, let alone its enemies, read the fascinating article in the November issue of The Atlantic Monthly by Mark Bowden about the U.S. air war over Afghanistan. There is one scene that really sums it up. It involves a U.S. F-15 jet fighter that is ordered to take out a Taliban truck caravan. The F-15's co-pilot bombardier is a woman. Mr. Bowden, who had access to the communications between pilots, describes how the bombardier locates the truck caravan, and with her laser guidance system directs a 500-pound bomb into the lead truck. As the caravan is vaporized, the F-15 pilot shouts down at the Taliban - as if they could hear him from 20,000 feet - "You have just been killed by a girl." I was thinking about that scene as I watched the preparations for next week's NATO summit in Prague, which will expand the alliance from 19 to 26 countries, adding Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania. I wonder how many lady F-15 pilots the Latvians have. Actually, I wonder how many Denmark or Spain have. I suspect the number is zero. And that is the main reason why I don't object anymore to NATO being expanded. Because, as we already saw in the Afghan war, most NATO countries have fallen so far behind the U.S. in their defense spending and modernizations, they really can't fight alongside of us anymore anyway. So what the heck, let's invite everybody in. "It's now Club NATO," said Michael Mandelbaum, author of the new book "The Ideas That Conquered the World." "And Club NATO's main purpose seems to be to act as a kind of support group and kaffeeklatsch for the newly admitted democracies of Eastern and Central Europe, which suffered under authoritarian rule throughout the cold war." Indeed, I think of NATO now as "Autocrats Anonymous," a club where all these formerly autocratic nations of Eastern and Central Europe can share their problems as fledgling democracies and buck one another up. Sure it's more Dale Carnegie than Clausewitz, and it means that Club NATO will no longer be a serious fighting force, but don't worry, our Pentagon has known that for a while, which is why it never thought of going through NATO to fight in Afghanistan, and won't in Iraq either. But there is another reason not to fret: The old NATO has been replaced as a military alliance - not by the expanded NATO but by a totally different NATO. The "new NATO" is made up of three like-minded English-speaking allies - America, Britain and Australia - with France as a partner for peace, depending on the war. What these four core countries all have in common is that they are sea powers, with a tradition of fighting abroad, with the ability to transport troops around the world and with mobile special forces that have an "attitude." That is what you need to deal with today's threats. Also, as one European official noted, all four of these countries play either rugby or American-style football - violent games where success depends on hurting the other team. This should be a prerequisite for joining the new NATO, which should henceforth be called "Nations Allied to Stop Tyrants," or NASTY. If you talk to U.S. Fifth Fleet sailors in the Persian Gulf, they will tell you that the oil smugglers and pirates down there all know when the Australian Navy takes its monthly turn on patrol, because the Aussie Navy has a real attitude, and the bandits know it. Same with the French. The French can drive you crazy, especially over things that are not important. But when things are important, they usually show up. Said one U.S. official: "The French are bad-weather friends and their troops certainly have an attitude." While Club NATO countries will never really be able to fight alongside NASTY, they can help, depending on the war. Each of them has certain boutique skills, whether it is an anti-chemical warfare unit from Germany or a peacekeeping unit from Poland or a minesweeper from Spain. They are now Dial-an-Ally, undertaking specific tasks that NASTY does not have the time or energy to do. In fact, I imagine after this round of expansion that when you call NATO headquarters in Brussels, a recording will answer that will go something like this: "Hello. You have reached NATO. Dial 1 if you want help consolidating your democracy. Dial 2 if you need minesweeping. Dial 3 if you need anti-chemical warfare trucks. If you need to fight a real war, please stay on the line and an English-speaking operator will assist you."