Foreign policy experts say the deep disagreements over how to deal with Iraq could foreshadow far-reaching changes in the traditionally close relationship between the United States and Western Europe.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger calls the split between Germany and France on the one side and Britain and the United States on the other an historical turning point. There has been, he says, a rupture in international institutions and strategic alliances.
Dan Hamilton, the head of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington agrees a deep crack has developed within the western alliance.
"The damage of course is as much within Europe as across the Atlantic, one has to say that. The divisions within Europe on this issue [war in Iraq] and how to deal with America are at least as significant as the issues we're having across the Atlantic," he said.
Professor Hamilton says for Europeans, American unilateralism and unrestrained U.S. power are major issues.
Ted Carpenter of the libertarian research organization, the Cato Institute, minimizes the differences between the old Europe led by France and Germany and the new Europe of the former communist countries that are to join the European Union next year.
"Increasingly, the central and east European countries, although they sided with the United States on Iraq, will drift away," he said. "They know that if they want to be constructive members of the European Union, France and Germany hold the keys financial and otherwise to the EU. They're going to have to eventually tilt towards Paris and Berlin in terms of policy and not towards Washington."
Mr. Carpenter believes Washington's failure to enlist full support for its Iraq policy from NATO countries will prompt the Americans to pay less attention to western defense alliance.
"NATO a decade or so from now is likely to be as important in world affairs as the Holy Roman Empire was at the time of the French revolution. That is to say, not very. It will be a hollow shell of its former self," he said.
Michael Ladeen of the pro-administration American Enterprise Institute says, in distancing themselves from Washington, Germany and France went too far in trying to win other countries to their point of view.
"I mean the business of their intervening in the internal affairs of the Turkish parliament and blackmailing them and compelling them to vote against letting the Americans use their bases at a time where that decision was known to have made for a longer war, a more difficult war for our soldiers, is just intolerable from my stand point," he said.
Mr. Ladeen says the Germans and French told the Turks they would not be admitted to the European Union if they allowed the United States to stage attacks on Iraq from Turkish bases. He believes there will be far-reaching and as yet unknown further consequences from the French and German break with Washington.
Ted Carpenter of the Cato Institute agrees that the transatlantic tension will persist and could worsen. "I think we're seeing the world differently on more issues than we see it the same. Whether it is policy towards Iraq, the doctrine of preemptive war, the Kyoto protocol on the environment, the international criminal court, the Israeli Palestinian dispute. That's another one that could produce a major split in policy," he said.
Europe, he says, sees America as reflexively pro-Israel while America views Europe as pro-Palestinian.
Changes to institutions, say the experts, may not happen quickly even though significant damage has already been done. Timothy Garton Ash of Oxford University writes in The New York Times that in just the last few weeks, the geopolitical west of the cold war has collapsed before our eyes.