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U.S.: Germany Says NATO Defense Agreement More Than Symbolic

Germany says NATO's decision to invoke the principle of mutual defense in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States is not just a symbolic gesture. Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping says Germany will do what it can to assist the U.S. should it request support.

Munich, 13 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- For the first time since it was created in 1949, NATO has invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which states that an attack on one member country is an attack on all members of the military alliance.

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson announced yesterday in Brussels that the terrorist attacks against the United States can be seen as an "armed attack" against the other 18 NATO member states, as well.

NATO's decision followed President George W. Bush's declaration that the attacks on New York and Washington amount to acts of war.

German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said today that the NATO decision means the U.S. can count on the support of its allies if it is determined the attack originated from abroad. However, Scharping emphasized that actual help will be offered by NATO states on an individual basis. He did not immediately commit Germany to join in any U.S. military strikes against suspected terrorist bases:

"It must [first] be clear that America has been attacked from outside. Then it depends on the measures the Americans want to take. That is their sovereign decision. It is our sovereign decision to decide what sort of assistance we can offer."

Scharping said the principle of mutual defense was initially meant to be applied in case of a normal armed attack by one state against another. But NATO decided in 1999 that acts of terrorism also endanger the security of the alliance and its member states.

Scharping said: "We all agreed at our meeting this week that the attack on America was an attack not only on the United States but on the free and democratic world." He described those responsible as "wicked fanatics."

The German defense minister went on to describe the struggle against international terrorism as different from traditional warfare between national states. He acknowledged, however, that some states support terrorism, while others are actually in the hands of terrorists. Scharping did not identify any state by name.

He said it now falls to NATO and individual states to decide on a suitable response to the terrorist attacks:

"We face the question, 'What is an appropriate answer?' Not with a desire for revenge or retaliation, but with a determination to fight against international terrorism and finally destroy it. That involves more than military action. Of course, in individual cases, we must also take military action."

Scharping said Germany and NATO are standing at the United States's side "to make clear that the entire civilized, democratic world perceives the attack on America as an attack on common values and on the rules for peaceful coexistence between different communities."