When NATO leaders met in Istanbul, Turkey, at the end of June they papered over the deep split in the alliance that affects not only Iraq but also Afghanistan.
President Bush had hoped that NATO would give its blessing for a multinational force to help stabilize the security situation in Iraq and enable international organizations to assist in the reconstruction of its economy. France and Germany said no, but reluctantly agreed to train a new Iraqi police force.
French President Jacques Chirac qualified even this small concession, insisting that France would perform its training outside Iraq. France does not, however, have veto power in NATO, as it does in the U.N. Security Council, and other NATO states are free to send whatever personnel they wish to Iraq.
Regarding Afghanistan, for which NATO took on responsibility in 2002 European leaders offered only a token increase to the 8,000 troops now deployed to provide security for Kabul and to train the Afghan army. An additional force of 14,000 Americans is fighting remnants of the Taliban regime in the south and east. Afghan President Hamid Karzai pleaded in vain with NATO leaders to send more aid and to help his government to expand its control outside the Kabul area.
Iraq is by far the most divisive immediate issue facing NATO, however, France and Germany strongly opposed the U.S.-British invasion in 2003 and France even threatened to veto a U.N. resolution supporting it. As a result, George Bush, Tony Blair, and Spain's then prime minister, Jose Asnar, proceeded with the invasion on their own..
`French-German opposition to ousting Saddam Hussein has carried over to their opposition to authorizing NATO to take on a share of the burden in Iraq. Recently they were joined by Spain's new Socialist government which pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq in April, a serious blow to the U.S.-led Coalition.
The larger question for NATO, however, is whether it has any real usefulness in the absence of the Soviet threat which vanished with the dissolution of the USSR.
Bill Clinton and his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, tried in the late 1990s to persuade NATO to think about expanding its horizons to include the Middle East. Clinton recognized that Al Qaeda terrorists were working to undermine the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, and Jordan, all friendly to the United States.
Germany and France had economic ties with Saddam Hussein's government and lobbied to lift U.N. sanctions imposed on the regime after the Gulf War. Russia too had large economic and military ties with Iraq. As a result, Clinton and Albright could not persuade NATO to get serious about the threat that Saddam posed to his neighbors and his potential links to international terrorists.
This raises a question whether John Kerry's recent talk about getting major NATO contributions for Iraq is realistic, even if large economic inducements are offered.
When Europe could not handle the ethnic cleansing crises in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, Europeans pleaded with Clinton for help, as the Balkans were their backyard. But they dithered when Clinton wanted their help in 1998 in punishing Saddam Hussein after he forced U.N. arms inspectors to leave Iraq. In 2003 France led the way to a more serious break in trans-Atlantic relations.
Americans should now face the reality that NATO may be outdated as an instrument for coordinating security policy between Europeans and Americans. In fact, our neighbor Canada is closer to France and Germany in its view of NATO's responsibilities than it is to American and British thinking. That may change with the new government of Prime Minister Paul Martin, but Canadian public opinion is clearly opposed to the idea of using force to resolve international dangers, including in Iraq.
We are seeing the gradual emergence of a new, independent Europe that desires to cut loose from the United States and to exercise a large voice in international relations. France has aspired to this dream for forty years, but it did not happen while the Cold War persisted and Germany remained loyal to the United States. Now both Germany and Spain have joined France in the potential realignment of Europe's foreign relations.
Bill Clinton's and George Bush's hope for an Atlantic Alliance that would take responsibility for international security in the larger world probably is dead. It is time for the American public to think about alternative ways for the United States to fashion a new, realistic foreign policy for the 21st century.
File last modified on Thursday, 12-AUG-2004 09:00 PM EST