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Western Press Review: The NATO Split Over Iraq -- Is It Now An 'A La Carte' Alliance?

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 12 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL's review of the Western press today focuses on the deepening divisions within NATO stemming from a possible U.S.-led war with Iraq. Planning for NATO member Turkey's military protection in the event of war is being blocked by alliance members France, Germany, and Belgium. This state of affairs has led many observers to question if NATO's "core purpose" -- the automatic, mutual defense of its members -- is now a moot point. Some are asking if member nations will now decide on a case-by-case basis when or whether they will come to each other's aid. The wider debate over the risks, benefits, and necessity of a potential war in Iraq also continues in the press.


The European edition of "The Wall Street Journal" says in an editorial that the stated reluctance of NATO members France, Germany, and Belgium to move ahead with plans for protecting fellow member Turkey in the event of war in neighboring Iraq "bids adieu to NATO's core mission -- ensuring that all members come to the defense of any member under attack."

The paper writes, "Make no mistake, this is a pivotal moment in the history of that once great alliance." Soviet tanks are no longer a threat, but Iraq might retaliate against Turkey in the case of a Western-led war. The paper asks, "If NATO won't help a front-line member against such a new threat, what good is it as a security alliance?"


A separate editorial in the "The Wall Street Journal" on the same subject goes on to discuss the NATO reforms suggested by U.S. General James Jones, the new supreme allied commander for Europe. Jones suggests realigning the U.S. military posture in Europe to better reflect current political and military realities. The paper says of the 118,000 permanently stationed U.S. troops in Europe, 100,000 are in Germany -- a strategic position left over from the Cold War. Today, smaller, mobile units are needed that can deploy quickly and easily. The paper says these and other proposed reforms should ultimately "make everyone safer."


In a contribution to Britain's "The Daily Telegraph," editor of the German weekly "Die Zeit" Josef Joffe says the French-German-Belgian reluctance to proceed with discussions on Turkey's aid sends the message that the NATO alliance "is now a la carte."

It now appears up to each individual member state "to decide whether a threatened member will be protected or not. [The] implied signal from Brussels now reads: the coalition that so effectively deterred a Soviet attack for 50 years has now become a contingency; we may help each other, and then we may not" because we have other goals or ambitions.

Joffe warns that the next time the NATO alliance or an individual member comes under threat "it will not be 'all for one, and one for all,' but 'each for himself.'" This, he says, "will be the end of the alliance as we knew it."

He goes on to remark that both France and Germany share the aim of disarming Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, as 17 UN resolutions have been passed with this express purpose in mind. But Joffe asks, how can the divisiveness within the common Western front symbolized by NATO serve this goal? He says in fact, avoiding war, "which Paris and Berlin so desperately seek, will be served far better by increasing, not by reducing, the pressure on Saddam."


In "The Boston Globe," columnist James Carroll describes the debate within the United States over whether the U.S. should go to war in Iraq as "callow." The question is not whether Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is doing bad things, says Carroll. "The question, rather, is what to do" about it.

But the U.S. administration's insistence that there is no alternative to war -- that the choice is between war with Baghdad and doing nothing -- is faulty, he says. "Ongoing and ever more robust inspections, like those proposed by France and Germany, are an alternative to war. Containment is an alternative to war. And an aggressive application of the principles of international law is an alternative to war."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's "prosecutorial summary of the case against Saddam" at the UN last week (5 February) "should have been prelude not to further warmongering but to a legal indictment of the Iraqi leader for crimes against humanity" at the International Criminal Court.

The court's purpose "is exactly to deal with offenses like those of which Saddam stands accused." The court "intends on the world scene what has already happened within nations -- the replacement of violent force with the force of law. A true alternative to war." However, says Carroll, the U.S. "refusal to participate in the new world court makes it irrelevant to the present crisis."


The "International Herald Tribune" today carries a contribution by former U.S. Army intelligence officer and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst Ray McGovern, now of the Washington, D.C.-based Servant Leadership School. McGovern says U.S. President George W. Bush's threat last month to use nuclear weapons in retaliation if Baghdad uses chemical weapons against U.S. troops in a possible war is "the stuff of nightmares."

McGovern, who served as a CIA analyst during the U.S. war in Vietnam in the 1960s, says the "U.S. slide into Vietnam was initially a creature of ignorance laced with hubris." Today, he says, there is "a flashback quality" to the faulty contentions of top Bush administration leaders that Iraq poses a more immediate danger than does North Korea and could produce a nuclear weapon in a year or less, or that oil "plays no role in U.S. policy decisions."

McGovern says the U.S. Pentagon offers facile "palliatives" to ease doubts about the conflict, including the suggestion "that leaflets will persuade Iraqi soldiers not to fight and that Iraqi generals will remove Saddam [Hussein]" as soon as the conflict begins. But McGovern says this is mere "wishful thinking."

McGovern calls on U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell -- "the only top administration leader with experience in combat" -- to persuade President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, among others, to think twice about going to war.


A commentary in the German financial paper "Handelsblatt" by Jochen Hoenig discusses the disagreements within NATO that were brought to a head this week when France, Germany and Belgium vetoed a plan to discuss bolstering defenses in Turkey, the only NATO member country sharing a border with Iraq. Hoenig says NATO's "foundation of trust has been wounded. [Not] even a compromise on support for Turkey will completely heal the discord among the 19 partners. It will leave scars."

Hoenig goes on to say the dispute indicates that political resoluteness no longer exists. Moreover, the unity of purpose in combating international terrorism following 11 September 2001 has somewhat faded. Hoenig says NATO has been incapable of aligning itself with Washington's new security policy, and thus the alliance's military importance will be diminished unless a common policy is adopted.

It is the duty of the U.S. and Europe to cooperate on the issue of worldwide security, he says. Divided, they will be unable to combat today's threats, and NATO is the only organization that is capable of doing so.

"Coalitions of the willing" are capable of settling regional militarily conflicts, says Hoenig. In the final analysis, however, these limited partnerships are bound to contribute to wider rifts within NATO.


In Britain's "The Independent," Johann Hari looks at some of the historical and philosophical differences between Europe and America that may lie at the foundation of the debate over a possible war with Iraq. "The key dividing line," he says, "is over attitudes towards power."

In Europe, "the shadows of [Adolf] Hitler, [Benito] Mussolini and Vichy France darken their attitudes towards their own governments. Europeans have sublimated their national aspirations into a European Union which repudiates war between its members," and which now believes the "sole legitimate foreign policy tool is dialogue; violence is taboo. The founding principle of the EU is supranational -- it believes that by erecting peaceful bodies that stand above nation states, we can eradicate violent conflict." Preventing war becomes the goal, "at almost any cost."

But Hari says the "fundamental problem" with this European vision "is that it assumes we can adopt the same approach both inside the EU [and] externally, towards countries such as Iraq that repudiate all international norms."

The United States, in contrast to Europe, believes that confronting "'evil,' [even] at the risk of war, pays off in the end. It is only through the threat of violence that peace and freedom can ultimately prevail." American struggles against Britain under King George III, the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, and now terrorism were all part of what Hari calls the "key American value" -- to prevent tyranny, not war.


The German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" comments on Russia's position in the debate over war with Iraq. The paper says the signature of Russian President Vladimir Putin under the joint French-German declaration calling for giving UN weapons inspectors more time in Iraq shows that this hesitation over war must be taken seriously.

In the paper's opinion, "Russia has no interest in a war campaign against Iraq, but even less interest in a rupture with Washington. Moscow is stipulating conditions for supporting the United States: oil concessions, debt relief and [silence over] Chechnya are the catchwords."

Russian support for prolonging UN weapons inspections is actually aimed at "playing for time in which to exploit its negotiating position," says the paper. Hence the trilateral declaration remains below the critical threshold of actually vetoing U.K.-U.S. war plans.

Whereas Germany is quietly resisting, Paris and Moscow are protesting a bit more loudly, the paper says. But Washington should be able to differentiate between the pursuit of national interests and mere obstinacy.


In an editorial entitled "Francophobia," France's daily "Le Monde" says recent characterizations in the American press portray the French as "profoundly cowardly," "strangely venal," somewhat "anti-Semitic" and, of course, "doggedly anti-American."

Moreover, France is accused of ingratitude for the sacrifices made by American soldiers in World War II. And all this in response to what? the paper asks. That Paris "dares not to adhere to the policies of the Bush administration on Iraq." Paris is also accused of having narrow material interests on this issue.

But this portrayal may merely be the retort from an America all too often presented as a group of trigger-happy cowboys, "led by a simple-minded fundamentalist minister." It would be useless to note that books denouncing anti-Americanism are best sellers in France, says the paper.

And perhaps it would also be in vain to note that the key elements of Paris's position on Iraq are that, first, Iraq does not constitute such a threat that it is worth going to war over, and second, that a Western-led war against a Muslim country is exactly what Osama bin Laden wants.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)