-- The stalemate at NATO this week has been unnecessary and in basic respects irrelevant. By posing the argument in terms of defending Turkey in the event of a military intervention in Iraq that formally has yet to be decided, the United States was attempting to force the NATO allies to commit themselves to such an intervention.
The threat made by U.S. officials in the corridors of the annual Munich strategic seminar last weekend, to transfer U.S. NATO bases in Germany to "new Europe," meaning former Communist Europe, was also empty. Germany has no need of U.S. bases on its territory. The United States needs those bases. They are the logistical and operational foundation for the American strategic deployment in Europe, the Near and Middle East, the horn of Africa and Central Asia.
The United States could lease new bases in Poland, Bulgaria or Romania. But if forces stationed there were committed to operations that did not enjoy popular support in these countries, America would face the same problem it has now in "old Europe."
NATO has been moribund since the Cold War ended, for lack of a strategic purpose. Its life support system remained the popular support it has continued to enjoy in its member countries, based on agreement over common security interests.
The support system now has been disconnected because the agreement has broken. America's German bases are now part of a U.S. deployment that encompasses more than 40 nations and supports a foreign policy meant to establish an integrated international order with "the United States as the ultimate guarantor of order and enforcer of norms," to quote Andrew Bacevich of Boston University. Iraq intervention is part of this.
By adopting this policy, the second Bush administration has opened a deep strategic divide between itself and Western Europe. This is why there is a trans-Atlantic crisis. Public opinion in NATO Europe has turned against the United States. Washington prefers to call this "anti-Americanism." This is not true. It is hostility to American foreign policy.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld maintains that the three European governments making difficulties for the United States over Iraq are "isolated." Actually, NATO popular opinion is universally opposed to a war against Iraq not mandated by the United Nations. The dissident governments speak for about 80 percent of West European opinion - and more than 70 percent of opinion in Eastern Europe as well. Who, then, is isolated?
Rumsfeld arrived for his weekend in Munich confident that he would rapidly humiliate the German government and isolate France diplomatically. On Monday, France and Belgium blocked the U.S. proposals concerning war on Turkey's border, saying they were premature and compromising. Later in the day, Russia joined the Germans and French in recommending an extended UN arms inspections program in Iraq, and China did so on Tuesday.
As far as the Security Council is concerned, the relevant question until this week had been whether France would veto a resolution authorizing military intervention. The question now became whether the United States would be forced to veto a French or French-German resolution expanding the UN inspectors' mandate. German sources on Tuesday said that 11 of the 15 members of the Security Council supported the Franco-German position.
The key to it all is public opinion. The public in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the United States, seems convinced - rightly or wrongly - that Iraq currently threatens no one outside its frontiers, and that such threat as it may pose in the future is containable at less human cost, risk and injustice than war would impose.
The Bush administration believes otherwise, and will almost certainly attack Iraq before the end of March, with or without UN endorsement, whatever public opinion may be in the NATO countries. This being so, not only is the argument in Brussels this week irrelevant, but so, now, is NATO itself.
Copyright © 2003 the International Herald Tribune