Published on Thursday,
July 25, 2002 by The International Herald Tribune |
NATO's Europeans could say
A polite mutiny
International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times Syndicate
PARIS -- Tension and distrust now are the most
important factors in America's relations with its European
allies. The initial European reaction to last September's
terrorist attacks on New York and Washington - a tightening
of alliance links - has been wasted.
The American press is given mild and conciliatory messages
about the underlying firmness of trans-Atlantic cooperation
in the war against terrorism and the unimportance of
European criticisms, but these reassurances are not borne
out by conversations with European leaders or in analyses in
the mainstream European press.
Criticism and apprehension about the consequences of U.S.
policies prevail. In private, there is consistent criticism.
In public, nothing serious is said or done by the European
governments, other than useless complaints that Europe is
It might seem that Americans could therefore reasonably
ignore what the Europeans think or say, in the belief, borne
out by experience, that European objections to U.S. policies
make no difference. The Europeans will eventually fall in
line. They have no real alternative.
This time, that might be a dangerously complacent conclusion
because the Europeans do have alternatives, explosive ones.
They could overturn the post-Cold War alignment tomorrow,
and do so to their own probable political and economic
They do not themselves understand their power. Few in
Europe's leadership seem to grasp that if the European NATO
governments and public indeed object to a U.S. attack on
Iraq, as they say, they can prevent it, or at least block it
for many months, while accomplishing a fundamental
transformation in the Middle Eastern situation to their own
advantage (and possibly that of the Israelis and Arabs as
Few understand that the European Union does not have to wait
until it has built up its feeble military forces in order to
have an independent world policy, with independent
international influence to rival that of the United States.
The world today is not one in which military forces are
automatically the relevant or most effective means of power.
This already is evident in the commercial and economic
relations of Brussels with Washington. Washington cannot
dismiss European corporate strength and economic
competition. It is compelled to deal with the European Union
as a powerful trade rival, to which it has to make
concessions. The same thing could be accomplished in
political relations if the European NATO allies, or even
some of them, were to take a simple but decisive step:
reaffirm that NATO is an alliance of independent and
politically equal countries. They could refuse American use
of NATO's European assets in an attack on Iraq, on the
grounds that such an attack does not fall under the
agreements on countering terrorism that produced NATO's
Article Five resolution of last September.
To do this would not destroy NATO. It might even save it by
re-creating in it a political equilibrium. Sooner or later
the European powers will have to deal with the consequences
of U.S. unilateralism, and if the European public feels
strongly about Iraq (and indeed about the Israel-Palestine
situation), now could be the best occasion to act. The
fundamental reason that NATO will not be destroyed is that
the United States needs it more than Europe does. This is
not widely understood.
NATO no longer serves to protect Europe from any threat. The
threat is gone.
For the Europeans, NATO is an expensive relic of the Cold
War. For the United States, NATO has to exist. Washington
may be indifferent to allied opinion, or in no need of
allied military support, but it has to have the European
alliance because NATO provides the indispensable material
and strategic infrastructure for American military and
strategic deployments throughout Europe, Eurasia, the Middle
East and Africa. NATO gives the United States a military
presence, usually with extraterritorial privileges, in every
one of the alliance's member countries, and in most of the
former Warsaw Pact and former Soviet countries that are
members of the Partnership for Peace. Washington needs NATO
because without NATO the United States has no legitimate
claim to a say in European internal matters. Richard
Holbrooke once said (to some European indignation) that the
United States is a European power. So it is, so long as NATO
A polite mutiny by some or all of the European NATO
countries on the question of war with Iraq would certainly
produce what Saddam Hussein might describe as the mother of
all trans-Atlantic rows, but in the end the United States
would back down. Even this article's suggestion that there
might be a European NATO mutiny on Middle Eastern issues
will probably produce a row, but it will also weigh in
After such a mutiny, NATO would be a different alliance.
After that, the European allies would certainly never again
have reason to complain that Washington was paying no
attention to them. But do the Europeans really want this? Or
is it all talk?
International Herald Tribune Los Angeles
Times Syndicate International
Copyright © 2002 The International Herald Tribune