Yesterday France, Germany and Belgium announced that they are invoking an unprecedented NATO procedure to prevent the United States lending support to Turkey to defend its border with Iraq. Washington was disconcerted and dismayed by last week’s move. Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, described the Franco-German action as a “breathtaking event” that would “reverberate throughout the alliance”.
Turkey has invoked Article 4, that requires members to consult together when, in the opinion of any of them, their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened. It is the first time this has been done in the history of the alliance, thus ensuring an urgent and high level debate over the Franco-German action. The impact of that action is questionable for a number of reasons.
John Keegan has an insightful analysis of the reasons for the rift and the potential fall-out.
- Turkey has bilateral defence agreements with the United States, which allow military aid outside the NATO relationship.
- The Patriot missiles offered to Turkey are under Dutch sovereign control and so not subject to NATO interference.
- America could provide the Awacs early warning aircraft if NATO refuses to send its own.
There is nothing new about the French being obstinate towards the United States in general and NATO in particular. France withdrew from NATO’s military structure in 1966 to pursue an independent foreign and defence policy. Later it attempted to revive the military role of the Western European Union, NATO’s long sidelined precursor, and then tried to invest the European Commission with defence responsibilities.
As long as the United States perceived the drive for European unity to be economic in thrust, the French efforts to create a parallel military structure within the western European NATO area were tolerated. It was the disputes over authority in Bosnia and Kosovo that eventually caused Washington to see the purpose of French policy as intended to weaken NATO. American acquiescence was eroded and led to hostility.
I whole-heartedly subscribe to Keegan’s view that the United States created NATO and has fostered its development and welfare devotedly over 50 years and that the alliance is, without question, the most important, successful and creative foreign policy initiative of the United States since the Second World War.
The French and Germans, not to mention the insignificant Belgians, seem simply, like tiresome neighbours, to be demanding attention. In so doing, they are inflicting damage on the organisation that secured their safety during the Cold War, and affronting the ally that guaranteed it, to a degree that cannot easily be forgotten or forgiven.
Several NATO members are unshakeable in their loyalty. They include this country, Turkey and probably Italy and Spain. Several of the new NATO states, Poland foremost, would be eager to offer basing facilities to troops withdrawn from Germany soil. The Belgians do not count. The Dutch seem solid. Denmark and Norway are, with reservations, good NATO citizens.
A map of NATO with a hole where Germany had been would look odd; but the map has looked odd for 40 years since the French went their separate way. Now that the Soviet threat is no more, Nato does not really need Germany, except for purposes of internal communication. Germany’s armed forces are in disarray, as are those of France.
An Anglo-Saxon NATO, plus Turkey, plus Scandinavia, plus Italy and Spain would still have the bases necessary to command the key strategic positions and the strength to keep the peace in the northern hemisphere.
I just hope the United States does not budge and ensures that the French and German leaders get exactly what they deserve for their unprincipled and self-interested behaviour. To me that would be France and Germany finally occupying positions on the international scene that are commensurate with their true significance rather than based on some historically misplaced delusions of grandeur.