Europe's New Line On Nato: `Yankee Don't Go Home'

Before the gulf crisis, both the military role of the U. S. in Europe and its influence there seemed destined to fade. American protection seemed less needed as the cold war ebbed, and allies were proposing a European Community defense organization that would exclude the U. S. But the American show of military prowess, contrasting with Europe's uneven and indecisive response to the crisis, is causing European leaders to rally again to the U. S.-led NATO alliance. The result will be to bolster U. S. influence despite a shrinking U. S. military presence. Transfers to the gulf have left around 200,000 U. S. troops in Europe, down from 325,000 last August, and budget cuts are likely to lower the total to 100,000 eventually.

Allies are eager to keep Americans in Europe, however, as hardliners regain influence in the Soviet Union. "The importance of a deterrent and of prepositioning military forces" have been reemphasized by the gulf war, says Dominique Moisi, deputy director of the French Institute of International Relations. Europeans also want an American as NATO commander, despite proposals not long ago to put a European in the post. "America must be in charge," says Joachim Thies, editor of the German Journal of Foreign Affairs. "It is the only real superpower, and it is badly needed to balance the force of the Soviet Union." A scheme to create a separate European defense system by merging the Western European Union, a dormant military group, into the EC seems stalled for now. One reason is the reluctance of Britain, which tightened its ties to the U. S. during the gulf conflict.

For the U. S., a casualty of the crisis is the hope that NATO might be given new, post-cold-war missions outside Europe. The Europeans' mixed responses showed that NATO can't act beyond its original mandate to defend the Continent.

Reactions to Iraq's aggression ranged from Britain's dispatch of 30,000 troops to Germany's dithering over whether to send forces to help protect Turkey, a NATO ally. But the shift toward support for the U. S. and NATO was most dramatic in France, the most independent ally. At first, President Francois Mitterrand seemed to reflect the French public's 2-to-1 opposition to the war. But ultimately, he recognized that France had to be a reliable ally and send troops, as Defense Minister Pierre Joxe explained, "if we want to sit down at conference tables" and have a say in world affairs. An unspoken French motive for keeping U. S. troops in Europe is to offset Germany's pacifist tendencies--and its growing economic clout. "To argue for an American presence in Europe, there had to be a French presence in the gulf," says Moisi. French public opinion agrees: It has switched to 85% approval of the war.

GALLIC HOSPITALITY. Underscoring that change are French steps to support the U. S. military commitment in Europe. France recently agreed to join in a NATO strategy review--a collective exercise of the kind that Paris shunned in the past. France is also expected to allow more use of its facilities by U. S. forces--such as the American aerial refueling planes that flew from a French base during the war.

For the Bush Administration, such dividends from the gulf ease a major dilemma. U. S. support for European integration has always raised the prospect that a more unified EC would downgrade NATO's role as a key decision-making forum. Now, European leaders seem to be agreeing that for NATO and the U. S., progress toward an integrated Europe doesn't have to be a zero-sum game.

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