NATO treaty means the defense of Turkey is a clear obligation

By Doug Bereuter

If France, Germany and Belgium fail to approve the prudent planning steps requested for the defense of Turkey under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty, it would have profound, deleterious effects on the alliance. At best, it would inexcusably delay planning for the defense of an ally, possibly leading to an avoidable loss of life should Turkey come under attack. At worst, it means the very end of the alliance, as its core mutual-defense guarantee would be exposed as nothing more than empty words from the French, German and Belgian governments.

No longer is this a question of whether authorizing NATO planning somehow signals a decision to use military force against Iraq. This was the argument used by the three allies on Monday when they blocked that step. Now, with Turkey having subsequently invoked Article 4, the very credibility of the alliance is at stake.

Should France, Germany and Belgium continue to object to prudent contingency planning to deter or defend against a possible threat to Turkey, the core collective-defense commitment of the alliance will be called into doubt.

At the same time, France, Germany and Belgium need to remember that the objective of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 is not to perfect the U.N. inspection process and thereby complete a truly impossible task of finding all of the stocks and production programs for weapons of mass destruction and prohibited ballistic missiles. The objective is to deprive Saddam Hussein of those weapons; it is not to play the impossible high-stakes game of hide-and-seek in a country that is larger than Germany plus the Benelux countries.

There is an overwhelming international consensus that Iraq must be disarmed. Among European and North American legislators, this consensus was demonstrated in November 2002, when the 214-member NATO Parliamentary Assembly called upon alliance governments “to declare that failure by Iraq at any time to comply with and cooperate fully in the implementation of all U.N. Security Council resolutions on Iraq shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq’s obligations, and that Iraq will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations.”

I therefore strongly disagree with the idea that the proper response to Iraqi intransigence is simply to strengthen inspections. However, now that Article 4 has been invoked, France, Germany and Belgium can approve the prudent steps that have been requested to defend Turkey without prejudging the question of whether military force against Iraq should be authorized.

I hope that French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt recognize that this is no longer an Iraq question. This is no longer a U.N. question. This is now a question about whether the 19 NATO allies will fulfill their solemn treaty commitments and take steps to reassure an ally that believes its security to be threatened.

The formal invocation of the treaty means that this question is now about whether NATO will do the one main thing that NATO was founded to do: defend an ally against an outside attack.

Clearly, Turkey is concerned that events in Iraq may lead to an armed attack against it. After a presentation Monday by the head of NATO’s Military Committee, NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson said that “these concerns are legitimate, and the threat is real.” Were such an attack to occur, it would trigger Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, the collective-defense clause that lies at the heart of NATO.

The United States and, I believe, most of the 15 other allies who support our position will certainly go ahead with planning for the defense of Turkey outside of NATO structures, if that unfortunately proves necessary. Our 16 nations recognize that our solemn treaty commitment must be honored. We recognize that we must plan to defend Turkey so that we are not caught off guard should our ally be attacked.

I hope that France, Germany and Belgium will allow this planning to go forward within the structures that NATO has established for this very contingency. If NATO cannot take prudent steps to plan for the defense of one of its members (the fundamental basis for the existence of NATO), we will have to give serious thought to whether NATO remains relevant if it cannot discharge its primary responsibility.

At the same time, the overheated rhetoric on both sides of the Atlantic must cool down, as it is deeply divisive and will have tragic consequences for the transatlantic relationship. The transatlantic link is far too important to destroy with emotional words and imprudent insults.

All 19 democracies in NATO face serious threats to their homelands and their populations, most notably from terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and the possibility that the two might be combined. As we have for 54 years, we must confront these threats together. As allies, we must begin planning for the defense of Turkey.

The writer, a Republican who represents Nebraska’s 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives, is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Europe and is president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

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