What matters substantively is that France and Germany (and Belgium) elected on Monday to reaffirm their month-long opposition to pre-emptive, pre-war help to Turkey. What drew attention was the novel invocation by Turkey of Article IV of the NATO treaty. It is not surprising that no one knew what it says, even as no one remembers what Article IV of the U.S. Constitution says. The mind skips over to NATO Article V, which is the pledge of NATO nations to help one another when attacked.
Turkey, which has promised bases to the United States when and if needed in the proceedings against Iraq, had been turned down by NATO in its request for anti-missile missiles, and now invoked Article IV, which calls for "consultations" among NATO allies against a potential threat.
What happened at NATO was a refusal, engineered by France and Germany, immediately to grant the implicit fraternal succor of consultation against potential aggression. The French argued that this would presuppose an act of aggression by Iraq, and to do so would be to compromise ongoing U.N. inspection procedures. And indeed, Iraq has decreed that any arming of Turkey designed to augment the U.S. effort in the area would be deemed an act of war.
Two days before, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Sen. John McCain were among the speakers at the Munich Conference on European Security Policy. Mr. Rumsfeld reiterated the reasons given by Mssrs. Bush and Powell for proceeding against Iraq. There were no surprises in the Rumsfeld speech, though it was vigorous and persuasive, exhibiting his skills as a confident and resourceful leader. He called shrewd attention to the progressive isolation of the NATO dissenters, up against the growing coalition of world leaders joined in the adamant stand we have taken on Iraq.
What was very special was the speech by Sen. McCain. He has a large constituency, and many took it for granted that his appeal would be to liberal ambiguists. The toughness of his language to describe European dissenters was especially arresting for those liberals who have thought that McCain would be ambivalent on the Iraq question. Hardly. He sounded like Gen. Curtis LeMay (forgotten, like Article IV) sounding the tocsin for relentless military action.
It is right, McCain said, to abide by the mandate of international institutions when these act, as the United Nations did in Resolution 1441, to defend the cause of security. Otherwise, there is chaos, as nations struggle without the assurance of collective action. "The United States might succeed (to survive) in such an environment, though I hate to contemplate it, but many nations, including many in Europe, will not."
His targets were named -- first name, middle initial, surname. "The French and German objection, for reasons of calculated self-interest -- a very flawed calculation, I fear -- to a routine American request to the North Atlantic Council to upgrade Turkey's defenses against the military threat from Iraq was a terrible injury to an alliance that has served their broader interests well."
There was still hope, when McCain spoke those words, that France and Germany would back away on the Turkish question before the Monday deadline. They didn't. "If this minority of French-German obstruction is not overcome ... France and Germany will have to answer to those who argue that Iraq could be to NATO what Abyssinia was to the League of Nations."
There is, of course, time to make things right, though no substantial contribution by France to the Iraqi military enterprise is expected, and Germany has forsworn any contribution. What McCain thinks of as permanently damaged is the effectiveness of the NATO alliance, devotedly pursued in Brussels, athwart the political opportunism not only of France and Germany, but also Belgium -- the country that shelters not only NATO, but the headquarters of the European Union, which shares suburban acreage outside the city: Two headquarters, symbols for so long of security and hope in a Europe scarred by failures to heed sound counsel over the first 50 years of the bloody century gone by, and bedeviled by internecine faction, now grown to a major NATO crisis.