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Transatlantic ties

By Vaiju Naravane

The only purpose NATO now serves is that of furthering the U.S.' hegemonic interests.

ONE OF the cardinal rules of diplomacy is: Never admit failure or defeat and if you do fail, make sure you present your defeat as victory. It is a lesson American President George W. Bush and even his most recalcitrant European allies have learnt well.

This past week, first at the European Union-United States summit in Ireland and then at the NATO meeting in Istanbul, President Bush made desperate efforts to present what was in fact a failure as an unqualified success. In that he has been aided and abetted by both NATO and the E.U., which camouflaged reticence over Iraq in terms so vague and ambiguous that the U.S. could claim to have received support.

Until a few weeks ago, the White House was hoping that NATO members would agree to send troops to Iraq or, failing that, at least extend technical support under the joint Atlantic banner.

This would have served two purposes: First, it would have allowed Candidate Bush to show American electors that he has not isolated the U.S.; that contrary to the allegations of the Kerry camp, most mainstream newspapers and an increasing number of former diplomats and senior military brass, the Iraq caper has not cut off America from its allies or undermined its international popularity and prestige. This is seen as being of paramount importance in what is going to be an extremely closely fought election. Support from NATO and a rebuilding of ties with Europe would allow the President to stop the haemorrhage of centre-right voters to the Kerry camp.

But Mr. Bush had a second ambition. He wanted NATO to be involved in Iraq, howsoever symbolically, so that when the time came, when Iraq was totally out of control, the organisation could be asked to step in and help under U.S. command. He did not really care about the nationalities involved or the fact that there might not be any troops on offer. All he cared about was that NATO agree to participate as part of a multinational force under U.S. command.

These hopes were dashed, however, when it became clear that even such slim support would not be forthcoming. Countries such as France and Germany said they would consider demands for help from an Iraqi government that was elected, not merely nominated. Others argued that participation under the NATO banner would give the multinational force a clearly Western dimension, making it suspect in the eyes of Muslim nations already chary of a Judeo-Christian crusade. Having denied him what he wanted, President Bush's NATO allies helped him save face.

Allied leaders opened the door a crack, by agreeing to help the new interim government in Baghdad train its security forces. But they disagreed over whether to send troops to Iraq to do so. Differences over whether NATO will train Iraqis inside or outside Iraq were left unresolved, underscoring the fragility of the consensus.

They put together a document that "encourages" each NATO member to contribute on an individual basis to the training of Iraqi police and army personnel but deferred the details of the modalities to further negotiations by NATO Ambassadors.

The deliberately vague wording of the declaration allowed the members of the Atlantic Alliance to show a common front and post a minimum consensus on the Iraq dossier over which there are deep divisions. NATO Ambassadors burnt the midnight oil to come up with a text that would be acceptable to the U.S. and their allies in Iraq as well as to France, Germany and Spain who have flatly refused to send troops there. The communiqué thus fails to answer the questions who, when, where and what.

These attempts to put up a united front aimed at covering up the fracture in the transatlantic relationship fooled no one. "The return of sovereignty to Iraq is in our view a necessary condition for the restoration of peace, democracy and development in this country. However, I do not think that it is NATO's role to intervene in Iraq," President Jacques Chirac of France said.

Spain's Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, refused to pay lip service to the idea of training for Iraqis saying: "The Spanish Government does not foresee any participation in the process under way in Iraq, and in no circumstances any participation on Iraqi territory."

There was a pretty much public spat too over President Bush's clumsy attempts to push Turkey's E.U. candidacy. President Chirac, the most outspoken leader at the summit, bluntly told Mr. Bush to keep his nose out of E.U.-Turkey relations. "Not only did he go too far, he ventured into territory which is not his concern. It would be like me telling the United States how to run its affairs with Mexico," the French President told reporters.

Earlier at the G-8 summit in Georgia, Mr. Bush failed to convince the Russians and the French to write off Iraq's $120 billion debt. Both France and Russia are owed huge sums of money in debts contracted by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The resentment and friction is real. Sources in France say that since the Americans have systematically given juicy contracts to companies like Haliburton (formerly led by Vice-President Dick Cheney) while pressuring other countries to give up claims to old debts.

The West clearly faces a dilemma. No one in Europe wishes to be seen to be obstructing progress in Iraq. With terrorism and Islamic extremism recognised as major threats, the collective Western interest lies in a swift end to the occupation of Iraq and the establishment of stability and security so that the country does not become another breeding ground for anti-Western terrorism. At the same time, there is so much antipathy towards President Bush and his unilateralist approach that leaders in Paris do not wish to be in any way instrumental for his re-election.

Mr. Bush's post 9/11 unilateralist approach and his administration's arrogant style have only exacerbated an old problem. The transatlantic relationship has been creaky and uneasy for a while and Mr. Bush's power politics has only hastened a fracture that was long in the making.

NATO was conceived essentially as an alliance to counter the Soviet threat in Europe. Following the Soviet Union's collapse, Presidents George Bush senior and Bill Clinton were determined to preserve the alliance in order to ensure that America remained a European power. For this, they had to invent a new role for NATO giving rise to the concept of a double enlargement — geographical expansion eastwards to include former Soviet satellite states and a multiplication of the organisation's missions, especially "out of area" missions, that is to say outside Europe, like in Afghanistan.

But many European leaders are suspicious and resentful of Washington's manipulative proclivities and have expressed deep concern over America's unilateralist approach and the implications of U.S. hegemony. President Bush's January 2002 State of the Union "axis of evil" speech convinced Europeans of his intention to unilaterally exercise American might. And leaders in Europe realise that now with the Soviet threat gone, the U.S. intends to use NATO as a means to maintain American hegemony in Europe and around the world and will not balk at taking steps to prevent the emergence of any other countervailing power.

The U.S. is determined to remain the world's sole and unique superpower and there is therefore a real and widening transatlantic rift since Europe is one region where an opposing (albeit friendly) power pole could emerge. Washington's carping about how it bears the burden of military spending within NATO is just another way to psychologically pressure the Europeans. Each time countries within the E.U. such as Belgium, France, Germany or Luxemburg have attempted to develop any sort of independent military capability such as a Rapid Reaction Force or even an independent European Security and Defence Policy, it has met with deep U.S. hostility.

Iraq has further highlighted Washington's divide and rule game by playing off Britain and the East European nations against Europe's Franco-German core. Its insistence that Turkey be allowed into the E.U. is aimed at creating further trouble. The membership of a predominantly Muslim Turkey with its population of 90 million, largest in Europe, is bound to create a certain degree of instability retarding the consolidation of European institutions.

As an alliance, NATO no longer serves European interests since the security threats within Europe appear to be well and truly dead. The only purpose NATO now serves is that of furthering the U.S.' hegemonic interests. Unfortunately for Europe, leaders such as Britain's Tony Blair, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi as well as others from Eastern Europe, continue to believe that their continent's future well-being lies not in the emergence of a strong unified E.U. with an independent defence and security policy, but in continuing to be a U.S. protectorate.

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