Pointless rebellion has taken NATO to the brink
NAMELESS graves of US soldiers at Colleville-sur-Mer filled the front page photograph of the New York Post yesterday.
"They died for France, but France has forgotten," ran the headline. The US, it concluded, has been betrayed.
The hawkish newspaper did not mince its words. France had been liberated by American blood, it said, yet was not only refusing to fight Iraq, but vetoing a NATO plan to defend Turkey.
Here, it said, is French cowardice - demonstrated in the face of German dictatorship in 1940 and in the face of Iraqi dictatorship in 2003. The NATO alliance has become obsolete; the US must now admit it no longer has anything in common with Europe.
Lord Robertson of Port Ellen was trying not to draw a similar conclusion yesterday. The NATO chief was unable to deny that his rare move to prepare for hard action had been vetoed by Euro-squabbling.
He had little answer to the sense of betrayal facing the US. NATO, it was being argued, is dead, torn apart by a transatlantic split. In its place, a new truth: when it comes to defence, Europeans and Americans neither share the same view, nor occupy the same world.
This, however, makes two crucial mistakes. NATO was always a psychological tool, never a military one. It cannot have "died" as a means of fighting aggression; it was never alive in this way in the first place. Its history has been one of armed inactivity.
Secondly, France’s rebellion is not succeeding. It has been raising the pacifist standard while dragging an economically enfeebled Germany on its coat-tails. To its shock, only Belgium has answered its rallying cry.
The other 16 NATO members have steadfastly rejected the Franco-German attempt to exert de facto control over Europe’s foreign policy. The two countries, with their Belgian sidekick, are alone.
The plan they have vetoed was not even one for attack. Lord Robertson asked to send equipment to let the poorly defended Turkey stand up to an attack from Iraq’s northern front. The package involved Patriot air defence missiles, NATO early-warning planes and several units intended to cope with the chemical and biological warfare which Saddam Hussein is expected to have.
In a relatively basic and defensive NATO task, Lord Robertson had failed. This has raised an ugly question. If it cannot agree to defend an ally in time of forthcoming war, what is it for?
If Washington reacted with shock, it did not react with surprise. It has given up on NATO’s military capability long ago - and did not expect it to have the resolve to act now.
The inception of NATO effectively allowed Europe to become a US protectorate. Washington’s leadership of the project has absolved the Europeans of having to think much about international security or spend much on defence.
Experience of war in the first half of the 20th century versus peace and integration in the second half (under the US’s wing) led to the luxury of demilitarisation our continent now enjoys.
Lord Robertson has spent his time as NATO boss exercising "soft power" - luring faraway projects to the defence pact if they meet criteria.
When it comes to hard power, NATO has never fired a bullet. Its only move was to follow UK-US action in the Kosovo campaign.
It is wrong to declare a "crisis" in NATO’s failure to deploy troops in that the organisation has never really been expected to do so. The task is to stretch out to the most vulnerable states and sign them up to the West’s projects to ensure they take a hard line on extremism.
After 11 September, Lord Robertson invoked Article 5 of NATO’s treaty - but was given a "don’t call us" message by Washington for good reason. It had never credited NATO with the ability to act. The current fracas confirms its low opinion.
In many ways, Lord Robertson’s mistake was to push NATO too far. It was a brilliant success in the 1970s and 1980s primarily because it was never required to do anything. The task was to sit there and look ominous - and it succeeded in melting the Soviet threat.
But the alliance has far more in common than the loud voices of Paris and Berlin suggest.
Donald Rumsfeld made clear yesterday that the 16 nations which agree on the need to arm Turkey will form their own alliance. In this way, France and Germany - not the US and Britain - will be left isolated.
For Belgium to be the sole taker for the Franco-German refusenik project indicates how badly it has flopped. It is sandwiched between the two countries, certainly, but it is an unpleasant irony that it was in the name of saving "plucky little Belgium" from German invasion that the First World War was originally joined by Britain.
In forcing the issue, Jacques Chirac has found that browbeating Germany does not amount to control of Europe - and that his attempt to impose a "common foreign policy" on Europe has flopped.
The 16 NATO members on side with the US has grown from the eight which signed a letter last week vowing to disarm Saddam.
Decoded, this letter meant "we will not allow Mr Chirac to bully Gerhard Schrder into pretending to speak for Europe" - and sending a message that France may be from Mars, but much of Europe would still be with the US.
Germany does not equal Mr Schrder - as made clear by Angela Maerkel, the leader of German’s opposition.
"If we had been in government," she said at the Munich Security Conference last week, "Germany too would have signed that letter."
For all the talk of a transatlantic rift, the two continents remain more similar than the protesting Mr Chirac would like to believe.
A multinational poll by the German Marshall Fund showed similar views on using force to uphold international law (80 per cent to 76 per cent) to liberate hostages (78 per cent to 77 per cent) and to alleviate famine (88 per cent to 81 per cent).
Nor should the US be confused for its leader. President George Bush secured 540,000 fewer votes than his Democrat opponent. Bill Clinton, it should be remembered, had to be coaxed into action over Kosovo by Tony Blair.
Mr Bush has forged a new policy of pre-emption because his country was hit on 11 September, 2001 and forced to update its world defence view.
Europe has, so far, not been hit. In its old world order there is no conventional threat and, therefore, no reason to act.
It is the absence of a conventional threat which has allowed France, Belgium and Germany to try to flex their muscle in this way. No German chancellor would have dared provoke the US while Soviet shock troops were ensconced 25 miles outside Hamburg.
Nor would France have threatened to use its United Nations veto while it was still depending on the free security provided by six US divisions in Germany.
Paris and Berlin are uncomfortable that there is no power on earth able to stand up to the US - and Mr Chirac’s Gaullism seems in many ways to be an attempt to fill that void.
France is acting as if American might is a greater threat than Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. This is curious, since if Iraq were given time to develop a North Korea-like programme, its missiles would reach Berlin and Paris a lot sooner than the urban centres of the US.
It is worth asking why the prime minister of Australia was pledging his full support to the US while sharing a podium with Mr Rumsfeld yesterday afternoon.
Unlike France and Germany, John Howard has been forced to think about the issue - it was mainly Australian tourists who were slain by the al-Qaeda bomb in Bali.
This is a grim trend emerging from the 11 September, and it is one which covers few countries in glory. Only countries directly affected by al-Qaeda are recognising the hard decisions needed to tackle Islamo-fascism.
Mr Chirac’s conscientious objection would be easier to accept if France agreed to sign several oil deals with Baghdad, so it directly profits if Saddam stays in power.
And, on the quiet, Mr Chirac has deployed the Charles de Gaulle aircraft to the Middle East - poised to join in when US cruise missiles hit the bunkers of the Republican Guard. If his NATO ploy fails, France still wants in on the oil action.
There is a final lesson, and it is a grim one for Mr Blair. Mr Chirac has been on the rampage with his veto - he has refused to obey European budget laws and not paid a penny of the fines his country was charged for banning British beef.
Coalitions are formed by missions. NATO worked because its members faced a common threat - it is hopeless now because its members cannot agree on the new threat.
Taking Britain further into Europe, and replacing the Chancellor Gordon Brown’s stewardship of the economy with a pressure group swayed by Mr Chirac or his successors, is now an implausibility.
Every tension in the war shows the importance of Britain being able to take its own diplomatic stand - mostly halfway between Europe and the US.
If the Prime Minister had any doubts on this score, dinner with the soon-to-return Lord Robertson will fill him in on the folly of pretending that Europe can ever speak with one voice.
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