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'old europe' has gone too far this time

  1. Snooker

    5,748 Posts.

    John Keegan
    National Post, February 11, 2003

    Troubles do not come singly. Over the weekend the government of the United States was confronted by the possibility that its preparations for military action against Iraq might be frustrated by a Franco-German scheme to enlarge and extend the United Nations' powers of inspection within that country.

    France, Germany and Belgium announced Monday that they are invoking an unprecedented NATO procedure to prevent America lending support to Turkey to defend its border with Iraq.

    Washington was disconcerted and dismayed by last week's move. It is incensed by Monday's veto, as it is being described. Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. Defense Secretary, described the Franco-German action as a "breathtaking event" that would "reverberate throughout the alliance."

    The North Atlantic Treaty, signed in 1949, is a mutual defence pact, its two most important articles being four and five. Article Four requires members to consult together when, in the opinion of any of them, their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened. Article Five stipulates that an armed attack upon one shall be recognized as an armed attack on all. Turkey has invoked Article Four, the first time that has been done in the history of the alliance, thus ensuring an urgent and high level debate over the Franco-German action.

    The impact of that action is questionable for a number of reasons. One is that Turkey has bilateral defence agreements with the U.S., which allow America to give Turkey military aid outside the NATO relationship. Another is that the Patriot missiles offered to Turkey are under Dutch sovereign control and so not subject to NATO interference. A third is that America could provide the AWACS early warning aircraft if NATO refuses to send its own.

    Franco-German motives in provoking this quarrel are difficult to estimate. France withdrew from NATO's military structure in 1966 to pursue an independent foreign and defence policy. It remained politically a member of the alliance, and has generally sustained an acceptable level of military co-operation, under a rather artificial "liaison" arrangement.

    Since the effort, undertaken largely under French leadership at the beginning of the nineties, however, to enhance the political and strategic role of the European Union, successive Paris governments have revised the Gaullist policy of divergence from NATO unity of command. France began by attempting to revive the military role of the Western European Union, NATO's long sidelined precursor, and then tried to invest the European Commission with defence responsibilities.

    America, for long a supporter of closer European unity while it was understood to be economic in thrust, at first tolerated the French efforts to create a parallel military structure within the Western European NATO area. The growing perception that French moves were competitive, not complementary, eroded American acquiescence, however, and led to hostility. Disputes over authority in Bosnia and Kosovo eventually caused Washington to see the purpose of French policy as intended to weaken NATO and eventually replace it with a purely European structure on its side of the Atlantic.

    What America might do next is difficult to contemplate. American anger is understandable. It has a fraught military and diplomatic situation on its hands over Iraq, to put the situation at its mildest. Franco-German interference in Turko-American relations and in the management of the North Atlantic alliance look like trouble-making.

    America created NATO and has fostered its development and welfare devotedly for more than 50 years. The alliance is, without question, the United States' most important, successful and creative foreign policy initiative since the Second World War.

    Senior officials of the American administration may well be muttering to each other about biting the hand that feeds. No doubt they are already considering plans of damage limitation and of damage repair. Radical alternatives to the structure of the alliance and to relations with its individual members are the stuff of bad dreams. Nevertheless, there must be a feeling in Washington that what Donald Rumsfeld calls "old Europe" has this time gone too far.

    The American offer to Turkey of missile and early-warning defence can in no way be seen as warmongering. The French and Germans, not to mention the insignificant Belgians, seem simply, like tiresome neighbours, to be demanding attention. In so doing, they are inflicting damage on the organization that secured their safety during the Cold War, and affronting the ally that guaranteed it, to a degree that cannot easily be forgotten or forgiven.

    Might the United States have contingency plans, perhaps so. It has been through one NATO crisis already in 1966, when France withdrew from the military structure. Then, although the NATO headquarters had to be withdrawn from a French location, and numbers of American bases extensively built on French soil had to be abandoned, it bit the bullet and reconstructed the alliance. It might, if provocation continues, do so again.

    Several NATO members are unshakeable in their loyalty. They include Britain, Turkey and probably Italy and Spain. Several of the new NATO states, Poland foremost, would be eager to offer basing facilities to troops withdrawn from German soil. The Belgians do not count. The Dutch seem solid. Denmark and Norway are, with reservations, good NATO citizens. A map of NATO with a hole where Germany had been would look odd; but the map has looked odd for 40 years since the French went their separate way.

    Now that the Soviet threat is no more, NATO does not really need Germany, except for purposes of internal communication. Germany's armed forces are in disarray, as are those of France. An Anglo Saxon NATO, plus Turkey, plus Scandinavia, plus Italy and Spain would still have the bases necessary to command the key strategic positions and the strength to keep the peace in the Northern Hemisphere.

    The events of this week suggest at least a grave lack of responsibility in the foreign policy of "old Europe." France and Germany do not seem serious about denying weapons of mass destruction to rogue states, and seem positively frivolous about preserving what is still the most important military alliance in the world. Perhaps they are serious about the war on terrorism but, to fight and win that they need the unstinted support of the United States. They are frittering it away.

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