- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed Franco-German opposition to American policy over Iraq as the position of "old Europe," he encapsulated the growing NATO schism. There are many more countries in Europe, according to Mr. Rumsfeld, who support America in its struggle against "rogue regimes." He was alluding to the East European states inside NATO or invited to join, as well as a number of European Union countries. But the European rift may be deeper than he indicated.
Franco-German moves are perceived by several EU and NATO states as attempts to establish continental hegemony and they are likely to be resisted. Moreover, the "new" Europeans in the East are not only concerned about potential Franco-German domination but even more by attempts to exclude America from the continent and by Moscow's new assertiveness.
As Russia lines up with Berlin and Paris against Washington, the anxiety level in Warsaw, Vilnius, Budapest and Bucharest is sure to accelerate. Moscow is enjoying the bonanza that Iraq has brought. It gives President Vladimir Putin an opportunity to exploit the trans-Atlantic divide, pursue a "multi-polar world" by attempting to curtail American power, bypass its awkward former satellites by dealing directly with the "inner EU," and gain increasing export revenues as the price of crude oil climbs. In particular, Moscow must be relishing the NATO divide, the impotence of the Europeans and the frustration of Americans.
The East Europeans are operating on two principles to keep NATO united and to keep the United States involved in Europe. Even if the former fails, the latter must succeed to ensure their own security. They are clearly fearful that if France or Germany can block Alliance planning for assistance to a long-standing ally such as Turkey (and disregard NATO's sacrosanct Article 5) then Brussels' reaction to a potential Russian threat to Estonia, Lithuania or Poland would prove even more timid.
The EU candidates are also concerned by statements from the chairman of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs, Committee, Elmar Brok, who claimed that candidate countries had prematurely rallied to the U.S. position in the Iraqi crisis: by disregarding EU positions, they could endanger their accession into the Union. While Brussels accuses Washington of bullying tactics, the "inner-EU" is evidently threatening its smaller and more vulnerable neighbors.
Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who chairs the EU Convention on the future of Europe, warned that the Maastricht treaty calls for EU member countries to support without reservation the EU joint foreign policy. The problem is that there is no joint EU position on Iraq, and several large West European states, including Britain, Italy, and Spain, oppose the Franco-German stance. A special EU summit is being convened to work out a joint position for members and candidate countries, but this could result in even deeper splits.
Both NATO and the European Union face critical tests in the weeks ahead. The union will be riven by disputes that are sure to block the emergence of a common foreign and security policy. If such a policy is primarily decided by Paris and Berlin, it will become a clear and present danger for EU members eager to work closely with the United States. They know very well that, when it comes to effective action, as in the Balkans during the 1990s, it is not French or German troops that will come to their rescue.
NATO itself may soon become largely superfluous for U.S. policy, not only in terms of military capabilities and performance, but even in terms of collective political and diplomatic support. If the French and Germans continue to block America in the United Nations and in NATO, then a different sort of trans-Atlantic Alliance will emerge in the years ahead, one that largely bypasses the continent's "old democracies."
In such a scenario, the East Europeans will assume a more significant strategic role, not in choosing between Europe and America (as some in Brussels have implied), but in protecting Europe by maintaining American engagement in the "old continent."
Although at present the military role of the new European democracies is small, Washington must seek to develop their capabilities over the coming decade. In combination with Britain and the south Europeans, they could eventually form a respectable counterweight to French and German pacifism. The recent purchase by Poland of a fleet of American F-16 fighter jets is not only good for business, but it is also good politics and a long-term strategic calculation by the White House.
If Washington sees only obstruction, criticism and uncooperativeness in Paris, Berlin and Brussels, then it must redirect its resources and refocus its interests on like-minded allies elsewhere in Europe and Asia. Whether true or not, recent rumors emanating from official sources that Washington may be planning to move its military bases from Germany to Poland indicate that many of the old allies are no longer viewed as dependable. Logically, America would also be well-advised to shed its illusions about any effective "strategic partnership" with an opportunistic Russia.

Janusz Bugajski is the director of East European Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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