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U.S.: NATO Gives Backing To Anti-Terrorism Efforts

U.S. President George W. Bush seems focused on building international support to fight terrorism after the devastating attacks on New York and Washington earlier this week. What role, if any, could America's allies in the fight against terrorism play, either through the sharing of intelligence or by assisting in any military retaliation?

Prague, 13 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The NATO military alliance has offered the strongest backing yet to the United States in the wake of this week's devastating terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Citing Article 5 in the 1949 Washington Treaty, NATO's founding document, NATO ambassadors yesterday declared that if it is proven that the terrorist strikes originated from outside NATO's borders, they will be considered to be attacks not just on the United States but against the entire 19-nation NATO alliance.

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson explained:

"The [North Atlantic] Council agreed that if it is determined that this attack was directed from abroad against the United States, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which states that an armed attack against one or more of the allies in Europe or in North America shall be considered an attack against them all."

Article 5 states in full: "The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

"Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security."

The first few months of his presidency have not been easy for George W. Bush, especially in the realm of foreign relations. His administration's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and its insistence on disregarding the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and going ahead with plans to build a missile defense shield have put Bush at odds not only with traditionally non-allied states, such as China and Russia, but even with some of the U.S.'s own Western allies.

But in the wake of this week's terrorist attacks, the U.S. has received an unprecedented outpouring of worldwide support. Any bad blood between Washington and its allies seems to have disappeared. Furthermore, Bush is reaching out not only to Washington's traditional allies but to many other nations in an effort to build a coalition to help track down those responsible for this week's attacks and to tackle international terrorism in general.

Bush is painting international terrorism as a worldwide struggle that transcends national boundaries:

"The freedom-loving nations of the world stand by our side. This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil, but good will prevail."

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. plans to build a coalition to hunt down terrorists.

"We are building a strong coalition to go after these perpetrators, but more broadly, to go after terrorism wherever we find it in the world. It is a scourge, not only against the United States, but against civilization."

Kevin O'Brien is a defense expert at London's Kings College. He says Powell's "modus operandi" is coalition-building, dating from his efforts to put together international support during the 1991 Gulf War. But O'Brien also says that with the current feeling that terrorism can now touch any nation, anywhere, at any time, most world leaders are convinced they must work together to fight it.

For that reason, O'Brien says, they are eager to work together with the U.S.:

"But I think in terms of dealing with global security issues in this type of instance -- because there is the obvious chance that these type of attacks could also take place against any number of U.S. allies, either within NATO or outside of NATO, such as Israel -- trying to develop as much of a coalition towards dealing with this problem is going to be the best way forward."

The terrorist attacks in New York and near Washington may also help to draw America's non-traditional allies closer to Washington. Both China and Russia -- not regarded as strong backers of U.S. policy -- have not only pledged support to the United States but are also offering concrete help.

Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Wang Guangya told the French news agency AFP today that Beijing would not rule out cooperating in any potential U.S. retaliatory strikes.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has offered to share any intelligence gathered by Moscow that may surface regarding the culprits of the U.S. attacks.

U.S. investigators are focusing much of their attention on Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban have permitted accused terrorist Osama bin Laden to live. O'Brien, the London defense expert, says China and Russia, in particular, are behaving sympathetically toward America because of their own battles against perceived terrorist threats from Islamic fundamentalists.

O'Brien: "So both Russia and China have been faced most directly themselves with the same sort of threat posed by bin Laden to the West, that of militant Islam. That Islamist forces, fundamentalist Islamist forces -- particularly in Russia, obviously, with the conflicts in Chechnya -- but also with their ongoing situation of Russian involvement in supporting Tajikistan, their ongoing border war with various forces in Afghanistan, concerns about incursions from Taliban forces from Afghanistan into the former Soviet Muslim republics, and therefore into Russia. So they have their own very strong concerns about fundamentalist Islam."

Beyond rhetoric, what concrete help could NATO or other nations provide should the United States opt for a retaliatory strike? O'Brien says that, militarily, the United States is quite capable of going it alone. But, he says, Washington will need logistical help, such as transportation and communications support, as well as permission to use foreign military bases and air space.

O'Brien says of paramount importance in tracking down the culprits of the U.S. terrorist attacks will be intelligence-sharing. Some commentators suggest the U.S. attacks were partially the result of a failure of U.S. intelligence. Such international intelligence-sharing and support is already coming from Germany. Yesterday, police in Hamburg searched apartments believed to belong to suspects in the U.S. attacks.

Quoted today by the German news agency dpa, German Federal Prosecutor Kay Nehm confirmed that an investigation is now under way into the activities of a suspected ring of Islamic fundamentalist extremists believed to be linked to terrorist acts abroad.

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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.