Common Foreign Policy Still Eludes Unified Europe ; Smaller EU States Took Exception to a Meeting on Friday between Britain, France, and Germany

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If US policymakers had any doubts about how enthusiastically their European allies would line up for the war against terrorism, the past few weeks have put their fears to rest.

Indeed, the divisions among Western countries in the coalition have appeared not between Europe and the United States, but between the big European nations which have military forces to offer and their smaller neighbors who feel left behind.

At their summit in Belgium on Friday, European Union leaders expressed their "total solidarity with the United States" and stated "unequivocally" their "full support for the action being taken against terrorism in all its aspects."

And although some voices have been raised in Europe against the bombing campaign in Afghanistan - mainly by "green" parties and left-wing groups - they remain marginal for the time being.

On the military front, Britain has led the way as the only European nation so far to have directly participated in the missile strikes against Taliban targets and Osama Bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan.

But France too is eager to join in, probably using its highly trained special forces.

"It is possible that French special forces will be associated with certain actions," French Defense Minister Alain Richard said last week. "We are in the planning phase with our American partner, and there will be successive phases. There are no prior limitations to our participation."

The Italian government offered troops when Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met President Bush in Washington last week, but appears to have been rebuffed. Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero told an Italian weekly on Friday that his country would play "a strategically meaningful role in the so-called phase three" of operations in Afghanistan, "after the air raids and ground attacks, when Afghanistan must be pacified."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, meanwhile, has announced that Berlin was ready to provide anti-chemical and anti-biological warfare forces, as well as medical teams, to support US operations in Afghanistan.

That offer to commit combat-ready troops to a troublespot far beyond Europe's borders marks a qualitative leap in German readiness to take on military responsibilities in world affairs.

Ten years ago, during the Gulf War, a more timid German government offered money to pay for the coalition deployment, but no men. Still hobbled by its history, "nobody would have expected from us that Germany would participate in international efforts to secure freedom, justice, and stability other than with secondary efforts," Mr. Schroder told parliament recently. "That era of German post-war policy has irrevocably passed."

If the war against terrorism has given Schroder an opportunity to claim a place for Germany at the top table of international affairs, he has carried his people with him.

Though some leaders of the Greens party - a junior coalition partner in government - have expressed reservations about US raids on Afghanistan, polls show that 65 percent of Germans support their country's participation in military missions. …


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