NATO Agrees to Train Iraqis, But Split About its Future

The NATO alliance says that all of its 26 members are committed to help a NATO training program for senior Iraqi officers, a move that is designed to put an end to the divisions that wracked the alliance over the Iraq War.  Some NATO leaders are questioning whether the alliance is the right place to discuss trans-Atlantic differences.

The question confronting the NATO summit was whether the United States and its European allies are getting what they want from NATO.

Washington has been frustrated by some of its allies' refusal to sign on to a NATO presence in Iraq.  The alliance has struggled to get minor commitments from some members to take part in a training mission for Iraqi staff officers

France, Germany and other opponents of the war still refuse to send military personnel to Iraq to take part in the mission.  So NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer recently came up with a face-saving formula whereby individual allies can train Iraqis in Iraq, outside Iraq or contribute funding to the mission.  That formula has now been accepted by all of the allies.

But, as analyst Mark Joyce at London's Royal United Services Institute points out, it is more symbolic than substantial, because NATO is still trying to come up with the troops and the money it needs to carry out the mission.

"The position that NATO took was that they would perform the minimum possible role in Iraq for which they could get some form of political consensus within the alliance,” he explained.  “Now, what this has amounted to in practice has been very little."

If the United States has been disappointed that its allies have not done more in Iraq, some Europeans are frustrated that NATO's agenda is always set by its biggest member and contributor, the United States.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, backed by comments from French President Jacques Chirac, suggest security talks between the United States and the European Union should replace NATO as the main forum for trans-Atlantic strategic dialogue.

Mr. Schroeder said recently that NATO is outdated and needs to be revamped.  He argued that it is no longer the primary venue where the United States and Europe discuss and coordinate strategies over such pressing trans-Atlantic issues as Iran's nuclear program and the EU decision to end its arms embargo on China, a move opposed by the United States.

The idea has received a cool reception from the United States and from Mr. De Hoop Scheffer, who has called for broadening NATO's role.

But European analysts like Keith Didcock, at the Foreign Policy Center, a London think-tank, says Mr. Schroeder's suggestion should not be dismissed out of hand because NATO is primarily a military alliance whereas the European Union has economic and diplomatic influence.

"In seeking to realign and reinvigorate the trans-Atlantic relationship, one should not simply look at NATO,” he said.  “I do not think that NATO should be scrapped, and I do not think that that is what Europe is really trying to argue for.  But I think that there is a case now for saying that the EU-U.S. alliance, when it comes to military and defense issues, has to move beyond simply looking at NATO and simply using NATO as the vehicle."

Mr. Didcock and other analysts say that the United States will resist any move away from NATO as the centerpiece of the trans-Atlantic alliance.  But they also say that Mr. Bush's visit to the EU headquarters reflects an acknowledgment on Washington's part that the European Union is forging a continent-wide identity and is increasingly a power to be reckoned with.

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