Iraq War Endangers NATO


The Bush administration's headlong rush to war threatens to undo the intricate system of international alliances that have formed the basis of U.S. foreign policy since World War II.

The latest example of this dramatic erosion is the growing trans-Atlantic rift between the United States and its allies, France, Germany and Belgium, which represent the very core of Western Europe.

France and Belgium recently voted to deny Turkey's request for NATO arms to defend against itself against a possible Iraqi attack. Media mouthpieces for administration hawks, such as the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, are already claiming that the veto has put the Atlantic Alliance's future in jeopardy.

Echoing Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld's description of the veto as "truly shameful," the Journal wrote, "If this is what the U.S. gets from NATO, maybe it's time Americans considered leaving this Cold War institution and re-forming an alliance of nations that understands the new threats to the world order."

A Global Trend

The strains brought on by the Bush administration's unrelenting desire to invade Iraq are not limited to NATO. It also raising serious questions about long-standing alliances in other parts of the world.

This weekend, for example, the New York Times reported that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and his closest advisers are planning to undo their military ties with the United States. It is one of a series of measures designed to shore up the ruling family's political support within the Saudi kingdom. The military disengagement, which was first rumored (but strongly denied) in late 2001, is to be implemented after the current crisis in Iraq is resolved one way or another. According to the Times, Saudi sources say that a U.S. withdrawal from the kingdom would give its rulers more room to institute reforms, but without appearing to be doing so at Washington's behest.

Meanwhile, the standoff with North Korea is eroding the traditionally close U.S. relationship with Seoul. And in yet another unexpected development, Rumsfeld has reportedly informed Seoul that the U.S. military is prepared to gradually withdraw the 37,000 troops based in South Korea. The soldiers will first move back from current positions close to the demilitarised zone (DMZ) where they are intended to act as a "tripwire" in the event of a North Korean invasion, and will then leave the peninsula altogether.

The administration claims that its offer was prompted by perceived South Korean displeasure at Washington for failing to promote detente with Pyongyang. In the words of one official, "We don't go where we're not wanted." But some experts say the move is designed to "raise the stakes" for incoming President Roh Moo-hyun, whose softer line toward Pyongyang has irritated administration hawks.

"It's a no-lose proposition," noted one hawkish Congressional staffer. "If we get our troops out of range of the North's guns, our freedom of action for acting against the North is greater. And if Roh gets worried about being left to the tender mercies of (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Il, that gives us more influence."

A Security Council Divided

The latest flurry of diplomatic moves and counter-moves by the U.S. and its long-time allies is also prompting growing concern about the current crisis' long-term strategic consequences for the U.N. Security Council. Washington is expected to seek a second resolution authorizing or at least condoning a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq after the inspection teams headed by Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei file their next report on Friday.

The Russian delegates, who met with French President Jacques Chirac on Monday, appear to be rallying behind a Franco-German proposal. The initiative will double or even triple the number of U.N. inspectors in Iraq and constitute a 1,000-man U.N. peacekeeping force to back them up on the ground. China, which like Russia and France has a veto on the Security Council, is also expected to back the proposal if it is put forward on Friday.

In appearances on Sunday television talk-shows, top U.S. officials such as Secretary of State Colin Powell, dismissed the initiative as "useless." The U.S. instead wants the Security Council to authorize the use of force if Iraq refuses to surrender the vital information that Washington claims is being hidden by Saddam Hussein. Adding to the diplomatic storm gathering over the weekend, Rumsfeld complained bitterly about the French-Belgian veto and the refusal of his German counterpart to share details of the Franco-German proposal -- which was disclosed by Der Spiegel magazine -- to beef up the inspection teams.

Relations between the West Europeans and Washington appear to have reached their lowest point in a very long time. The downward trend was evident before the conference in Munich. Rumsfeld's description of Germany and France as the "old Europe," as well as the open letter calling for greater unity -- solicited and then published by the Pentagon's friends at The Journal -- which was signed by the leaders of Britain, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Poland and several other East European nations clearly irritated the continent's two most important powers.

"The road to Iraqi disarmament has produced the gravest crisis in the Atlantic alliance since its creation five decades ago," wrote former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the Washington Post on Monday. He compared the Franco-German opposition to Washington's drive to war to the successful ultimatum issued by Eisenhower administration to Britain and France, asking them to withdraw after they and the Israelis seized the Suez Canal in 1956.

"I think what's going on in NATO is a reflection of the deeper rift that is taking place between mainstream Europe and the U.S.," said Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations. "The Bush administration believes that it can simply ram its designs on Iraq down the throats of its smaller European allies, and it's finding out that that's simply not the case." The administration appears to believe that "as long as we assert our primacy without hesitation, others will eventually get in line, but they're finding out that if they in fact do so, others will lock arms to resist a wayward America," added Kupchan.

Kupchan's recent book, "The End of the American Era," predicted a split between the United States and Europe. "What I am amazed about is the speed with which these events are taking place," he said. "The Bush administration has put history into fast forward."

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