Brussels, 17 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- NATO late last night finally authorized contingency defense planning for Turkey against a possible threat from Iraq, after a month of damaging internal wrangling.
The decision was made by NATO's Defense Planning Committee, which is the highest military decision-making body in the alliance. The committee is made up of representatives of all NATO member states with the exception of France, which quit NATO's military structures in 1966.
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said: "Alliance solidarity has prevailed. NATO nations have assumed their collective responsibility towards Turkey, a nation at the moment under threat."
France, backed by Germany and Belgium, had consistently blocked moves to authorize defense planning in NATO's highest political authority, the North Atlantic Council. All three argued that an early NATO decision would amount to admitting that war with Iraq is inevitable before the UN Security Council has concluded its deliberations.
Widely regarded as a face-saving measure, the move to switch venues for the decision to the Defense Planning Committee and to sideline France did not pay off immediately. Belgium held out for 13 hours of intense talks yesterday, finally forcing the alliance to explicitly recognize the primacy of the United Nations in deciding on action against Iraq.
However, Robertson last night hailed the decision as a vindication of NATO's resolve to protect its members against potential threats. "There is in the current circumstances a threat to Turkey from one of its neighbors. Therefore, there is an obligation in the alliance to take that into account and to respond with appropriate measures. That's what we've done. These are defensive -- prudent, defensive, and deterrent measures," Robertson said.
NATO's final "decision sheet" authorizing military defense planning for Turkey contains three paragraphs that, at the insistence of Belgium, spell out at length the allies' support to the "efforts in the United Nations to find a peaceful solution to the crisis [over Iraq]."
It says the decision to start planning for Turkey's defense, which cannot be implemented without another executive decision by NATO, is "without prejudice" to future military actions of the alliance or future decisions by NATO or the United Nations.
News agencies quoted one senior NATO diplomat as saying that the Belgian demands, which appear in the final decision in a modified shape, came dangerously close to "subordinating NATO to the United Nations."
NATO's defense-planning measures for Turkey include preparations for the deployment of AWACS reconnaissance planes, Patriot antimissile defense systems, and chemical and biological defense capabilities.
The measures are a scaled-back version of a wider package of U.S. requests submitted to NATO in mid-January but pared down twice. Initially, the United States was forced to remove requests asking NATO to prepare for a post-conflict, peacekeeping role in Iraq and to make available some of its assets for allies participating in a possible military campaign against Iraq.
The remaining package of measures was further pared down early last week, when resistance from France, Germany, and Belgium led the United States to give up "defensive" demands to have some of its troops in NATO formations in the Balkans redeployed closer to Iraq and to enhance the security of its military bases in Europe.
The United States has repeatedly said the monthlong wrangling has damaged NATO's credibility and has hinted that ties with France and Germany may have suffered.
Diplomats and observers also suggest Robertson is to blame for the publicity the rift has received by insisting on a decision in the North Atlantic Council.