NATO, Iraq and the German-American Waltz

NATO, Iraq and the German-American Waltz

Singing to the tune of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's creative slogan: "War Participation, No-Defense of the Alliance, Yes", troubled German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is lying to his people, yet managing to keep a straight face.


 Singing to the tune of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's creative slogan: "War Participation, No-Defense of the Alliance, Yes", troubled German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is lying to his people, yet managing to keep a straight face. After initially refusing the United States' request for help for a possible Iraq mission, the chancellor and his foreign minister are now preparing the German people for the token part they could play. While denying that Germany will participate in the war, the chancellor has said German soldiers could be sent to Turkey in NATO surveillance planes that would be part of any war effort.

As Mr. Schroeder tries to come up with a new meaning for the phrase "war participation", the United States is trying on a multilateral approach. The medium for the United States' approach, and the magnifier of Schroeder's discomfort: NATO. NATO's new cooperation on Iraq will be the testing ground for the survival of the fragile German-American relationship.


The request for the AWACS surveillance planes - including the German soldiers who man them - was part of a four-point package Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz requested of NATO for potential military contributions in Iraq. Allies were asked to either defend Turkey, coordinate peacekeeping in a post-war Iraq, share assets with countries involved in combat, or contribute manpower or assets directly. The package ensures there is no room for German isolationism or American unilateralism. It puts legs to the new vision for NATO as outlined by

President Bush at the NATO summit: to become a military organization able "to meet the threats from global terrorists." The NATO summit's host, Czech President Vaclav Havel, further clarified that mission: "Let us realize that it is not the United States, but the European part of the alliance, that directly borders on that country, and I believe that this kind of a test of its attitude, of its capability to reach agreement, and of its operative capabilities might be, at the same time, a test if its new identity, and of its meaning in the world today."

In five minutes, President Bush and President Havel redefined NATO's territory of influence from a focus on Europe to a focus on the Middle East. The new mission would include protecting the alliance from the threats of terrorists and tyrants, and the degree of cooperation on engagement in Iraq would be a measuring stick of the alliance's identity. Until just days before the summit, General Harald Kujat, the head of the NATO military council, among others, was denying that Iraq was a subject for NATO. Another European NATO official had said in Berlin: "Though the out-of-area debate is behind us, the Middle East is not an area of NATO influence. We have never been engaged in the Middle East. Iraq is not a topic for NATO."

Yet in Prague, not a single ally spoke against this new stated vision statement for NATO, which one commentator at the summit paraphrased as "keep democrats in, tyrants out and terrorists down" as a substitute for NATO's Cold War mission to "keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down." Was this another case of the Americans brow-beating the Europeans into serving it own security interests, or was this new NATO mission, adopted with an eye toward Baghdad, one that would serve Europe as well as the United States? And where was Europe in that decision-making process?

While the United States gave the mission a voice, the Europeans were not only conscious of the direction the alliance was headed in the months leading up to the Prague summit, but were intimately involved in shaping how the mission would be carried out. While the Schroeder government was critiquing America's Iraq policy during his reelection campaign, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac were meeting with President Bush -and redirecting his war plans - from a policy of unilaterally overthrowing a dictator by force to working through the United Nations to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. Within Europe, Germany alone initially ruled out participating in a military mission in Iraq. Whether this is a result of feeling slighted by the United States' lack of interest, or whether it was merely a political ploy of one lonely politician desperate to hold on to power, it has now left Germany at a crossroads in its relationship to the United States. Now, as the United States has moved toward Europe in Prague and is working with the United Nations, German Defense Minister Peter Struck could not help but notice: "The American unilateral way has become more multilateral," he said at the NATO summit in Prague. But will this change Germany's actions?

Dr. Peter Rudolf, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP)) argues that there are three options for the way conflicts can be handled in the German-American relationship: bandwagoning, balancing or cooperative confrontation. That is, it can agree with the Americans because of similar interests, it can balance the American position with its own position, or it can avoid cooperation in order to influence the American position, and in the hopes of better cooperation in the future.

As the Schroeder government is not likely to do any bandwagoning with the Bush Administration in the near future, the best that could be hoped for at this point is that Germany is able to see the virtue of providing a balanced complimentary position as France and Britain did in the Iraq debate. After all, the Prague Summit demonstrated that the United States remained interested in a viable North Atlantic alliance and that it remained committed to transforming NATO from a Cold War relic to a modern military institution capable of fighting today's threats.

Yet, the Europeans are wary of America's schizophrenic involvement with the alliance, and are tired of being assigned the role of post-war international janitor. They are not hesitant to say so. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's proposal for a rapid-reaction strike force was an answer to that complaint. It fused American interest in broadening the scope of the alliance's mission to fight terrorism with Europe's interest to keep the United States engaged as a European power and have readily-deployable forces that could protect their own security interests.

In Rumsfeld's strike force for high-intensity warfare, 21,000 air ground and sea troops could be able to adopt a combat position within seven to 30 days to wherever needed as decided on by the North Atlantic Council. This multinational force would ensure that allies continue working together on a military level, not just a political one. It would also push the Europeans to upgrade their capabilities to make the strike force possible, and pave the way for the Europeans to have their own independent military force.

But where to use this force? Europe is now at peace. It is beyond Europe--and more specifically, the Middle East--where some of the greatest present day threats to the security of NATO countries emanate. There, terrorists are recruited, trained and financed. There, weapons of mass destruction are in the hands of tyrants, as in Iraq and Iran. There, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict destabilizes the entire region. A revitalized NATO could use its assets of interoperability and its emerging capabilities to project power through rapidly deployable troops to help transform the Middle East. This could mean providing munitions and manpower in a military operation in Iraq to uphold the United Nations resolution to disarm Iraq--or it could mean NATO could help keep the peace in a post-conflict Iraq.

Germany's position on Iraq and its willingness to take part in or to stymie NATO operations revolving around Iraq has great significance for Germany's level of influence in the alliance. Germany alone cannot doom the alliance to irrelevance. It can, however, influence the cohesion and slow the reformation of the alliance as NATO gains new capabilities to defend threats to trans-Atlantic security emanating from beyond Europe. Germany' s own military readiness is made a casualty of election politics when it says the Middle East is too far away or too dangerous for the alliance to bother with.

When an ally rules out the Middle East as a place where NATO should defend trans-Atlantic security, it opens the door for an alliance of talking heads, whose political influence wanes with its military incapabilities. An alliance blind to threats emanating from beyond Europe will drift into irrelevance. In essence, such a short-sighted NATO deteriorates into a rotary club for countries who meet annually for gala evenings, talk about their newest members and how the Balkans are faring, and go home with little more of an idea of their mission than when they came.

Sarah Means Lohmann is a journalist and a Fulbright scholar living in Berlin.