It's a Cocktail Party Crisis; but NATO Isn't Drunk with Problems

Article excerpt

Byline: Tod Lindberg, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

BRUSSELS - The Senate voted earlier this month to approve admission of seven Central and Eastern European countries from the former Soviet bloc into NATO, the transatlantic alliance. The vote was 96-0, which was testimony not only to the strength of the political case that has been laid out over the years in behalf of a whole, free and secure Europe, but also, no one doubts, to the diplomatic support the United States received from the aspirant countries in the debate that preceded the Iraq war.

Though some responded with derision to, say, Latvian support for a war to which it could contribute nothing on the battlefield, the diplomatic support from the seven was timely and helpful for the United States. Nor was it costless for the seven, who also aspire to membership in the European Union. French President Jacques Chirac, in a fit of neo-Gaullist overkill, openly questioned the membership prospects of those with the temerity to support the United States on Iraq.

Their support has, however, been fully appreciated in Washington. While there was never danger of the vote failing, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told me that the stance of the seven on Iraq paved the way to the unanimous outcome.

Unfortunately, however, there has been something of a funereal quality to Washington discussions of NATO in the aftermath of the crisis there over Iraq. The problem was that the opposition of France, Belgium and Germany to the war led them to block efforts in the North Atlantic Council, the political body overseeing the alliance's operations, to make provisions for the defense of Iraq's neighbor, Turkey. Their argument was that undertaking preparations would amount to a NATO endorsement of war. NATO makes its decisions by consensus, so any member can block action. The crisis threatened to leave Turkey in the lurch and to reveal the security guarantee of the alliance to a member in some peril to be meaningless, the consequences of which would be disastrous.

There is another body that can take NATO decisions, however the Defense Policy Committee (DPC), on which France does not sit, having withdrawn from NATO's military command structure. Germany indicated that after a suitable interval measured in days, it would support Turkey in the DPC, leaving it only for Belgium to cave in, which it did, unwilling to stand alone in opposition. The crisis was as severe as they come and led many to conclude by the end of March that the days of the alliance are numbered.

Not so fast, please. At NATO headquarters in Brussels, a very different picture emerges. NATO may be in a cocktail party crisis, in that the alliance's woes have been variously lamented or relished in policy circles in Washington and European capitals. …