If the last few days can be considered as the endgame in the diplomatic contest around Iraq, then it has brought heavy losses for the advocates of war - the United States and Great Britain.
They believe that time has run out for Iraq to disarm. However, three influential global powers reject this position. In a joint statement released on Monday, Russia, Germany and France preferred another idea to the military option, i.e. to intensify the inspections.
Washington has watched with great irritation how President Vladimir Putin's visit to Bonn and Paris has led to the formation of an anti-war coalition between "New Russia" and "Old Europe," as US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acidly dubbed the Franco-German alliance. The centre-pieces of the "troika's" Iraq plan are proposals to expand the contingent of inspectors from 100 to 300, set up a network of UNMOVIC offices over Iraq and provide the inspectors with additional technical means.
Baghdad responded to these ideas with enthusiasm and has made one major concession - it has agreed to reconnaissance flights over its territory, including with the use of American U2 spy planes. This is, of course, if preliminary agreement is reached on an end to the bombing raids carried out by US and British planes in the northern and southern "no-fly zones" in Iraq. Saddam Hussein believes that bombing and reconnaissance flights at the same time would be too much to stomach.
It is difficult to believe that Iraq could take the covers off even a single gun, let alone produce weapons of mass destruction, with its territory covered by inspectors and its skies being patrolled by U2 planes equipped with the wonders of optical and electronic espionage.
The joint proposal put forward by Putin, Chirac and Schroeder, in conjunction with Baghdad's concession, strips the United States and its like-minded partners of their main argument for war. Few people believe that Saddam Hussein, under the careful eye of international observers, could present a threat that would warrant a preventative strike.
However, it would be worth taking a close look at the statements made by the leaders of the anti-war coalition. French President Jacques Chirac has said that nothing today could justify war. President Putin has said, "we are against war. At the present time that is our opinion." German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said, "there are currently no grounds for the use of force." The words "today," "at the present time," and "currently" can hardly be brushed aside. Russia, Germany and France know the responsibility they bear for the international community's security to a no lesser degree than the USA or Great Britain. The advocates of a peaceful solution to the crisis are open for a change in their views, if the situation in Iraq takes a major change for the worse.
Washington's blind obsession with war against Iraq has been met by a fierce rebuttal within Nato. France, Belgium and Germany vetoed a US request to transfer additional forces to Turkey in the event of military operations in Iraq. The issue concerned Patriot missile systems, AWACS electronic surveillance planes and chemical and biological warfare kits. The three capitals thought that any boost to the defensive capabilities of Turkey, which borders on Iraq, would undermine efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. Arming Turkey would be a provocation for war.
The demonstration of anger on the other side of the Atlantic bordered on one of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's eloquent tirades. Donald Rumsfeld had this to say about the behaviour of the Nato dissidents, "I think this is a disgrace." In his turn, President George Bush said, "I don't understand that decision. It affects the alliance in a negative way." The spectre of punishment was not long in coming. The New York Times quoted General James Jones, the US commander of forces in Europe, as threatening sharp cuts in the number of American servicemen in Europe. Their current level stands at 100,000 men. The mutinous parties, therefore, will be left without their US umbrella.
The differences over Iraq have split Nato in two, as if it were an apple. The alliance is not simply in "a difficult situation" as its Secretary General Lord Robertson commented. It is going through an unprecedented crisis of mutual trust between its founding fathers. The future of Nato as a collective organisation has been put under a question mark.
However, perhaps the most important point lies elsewhere. Washington and London should remember that the current confrontation across the Atlantic and within Nato is only the precursor to a far more serious crisis looming for the North Atlantic, and in the broad sense, international community. This is inevitable if these two capitals embroil themselves and the whole world in a war against Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council.
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