Feature

How they see us: Bush loses influence in NATO

Europeans have finally showed some backbone, said Andreas Schwarzkopf in Germany

Europeans have finally showed some backbone, said Andreas Schwarzkopf in Germany’s Frankfurter Rundschau. At last week’s NATO summit in Romania, the countries of “Old Europe” refused to bow to President George Bush’s demand that Ukraine and Georgia be moved a step ahead in their bids for NATO membership. “The Atlantic Alliance demonstrated that it is no longer just a rubber stamp for American proposals.” Instead, alliance members had a frank and productive discussion about what, exactly, the criteria for membership should be and when a country can be considered NATO material. “From now on, no U.S. president can heedlessly promise membership, as Bush did in the case of Ukraine.”

The “diminishing authority” of the U.S. means that “reason has returned” to NATO, said Luciano Ferrari in Switzerland’s Tages-Anzeiger. NATO’s European members weren’t simply being contrary. They had excellent reasons to delay Ukraine’s and Georgia’s membership applications. Georgia, for example, is embroiled in separatist conflicts in two of its provinces—Abkhazia and South Ossetia—and in both cases the separatists are supported by Russia. As for Ukraine, the eastern third of the country is populated by ethnic Russians who vehemently oppose joining NATO. Admitting either country before those “internal splits” are resolved could drag NATO into a pointless conflict with Russia. This was not merely some mindless anti-U.S. stance. NATO also demonstrated its “newfound reasonableness” by agreeing to adopt the U.S. plan for missile defense in Europe as a NATO project. After all, any defense facility on NATO members’ soil—in this case, in the Czech Republic and Poland—should be controlled by all alliance members, not just the U.S. The long imbalance in power that gave the U.S. “disproportionate weight” in the alliance has finally been “equalized.”

At first glance, it looked as if France weighed in on the U.S. side, said Le Monde in an editorial. President Nicolas Sarkozy declared at the summit that France would rejoin NATO’s military structures, something the U.S. has wanted ever since 1966, when then–President Charles de Gaulle yanked us out of the alliance’s defense wing. In reality, though, even France’s apparent conciliation to American wishes furthers the European cause. In exchange for getting France back on the military committees, President Bush agreed to recognize a “common E.U. defense” group as a partner on the international scene. “Europe will never play its rightful role in the world until it has a common defense policy.” Now, the way is open to create one.

How very smug of the Europeans, said Canada’s Toronto Star. They may gloat that they have regained power within this Atlantic Alliance, but what are they doing with it? NATO’s most important task right now is combating al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yet on that battlefield, “the top priority for many of its 26 members is to keep their troops out of harm’s way.” The French made a small concession at the summit in agreeing to send 700 troops to Afghanistan. But that is far short of what is needed. The Americans, British, Canadians, and Dutch are still shouldering a “disproportionate burden” in Afghanistan. And Bush was forced to pledge “significant numbers of extra U.S. troops to fill the Eurogap.” NATO is supposed to be an alliance. So where are our allies?

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