US, France in fierce debate on role of NATO

1st November 2006, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, Nov 1, 2006 (AFP) - A fierce debate is raging in the heart of NATO, with the United States and France in opposing corners, ahead of a summit in Riga, Latvia this month.

BRUSSELS, Nov 1, 2006 (AFP) - A fierce debate is raging in the heart of NATO, with the United States and France in opposing corners, ahead of a summit in Riga, Latvia this month.

The disagreement centres on the future role of the North Atlantic military alliance, especially over transforming it into a global force.

That row became very public on Monday with the publication of a plea from French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie against diluting NATO's role into that of a global partnership engaged in ill-defined missions.

On the same day US ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland voiced much wider aspirations for the military alliance.

"We want NATO to be able to demonstrate that we have an alliance that is taking on global responsibilities, that it increasingly has the global capabilities to meet those challenges and is doing it in concert with global partners," Nuland said.

The French view was encapsulated in a bylined opinion piece by Alliot-Marie published in the French daily Le Figaro.

"Nowadays some people talk of the possibilities to extend NATO missions in two directions," she wrote, "one is geographic, developing new partnerships with countries, the other functional, operating in the civilian domain, notably in the reconstruction of countries emerging from crisis".

For Alliot-Marie, whose article was entitled "NATO should remain a Euro-Atlantic organisation," the contribution of countries such as Australia and Japan in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) under NATO command in Afghanistan should be recognised.

But that "should not change the fundamental nature of NATO which should be... a Euro-Atlantic military alliance".

The development of global partners for NATO will "dilute the natural solidarity between Europeans and North Americans," and give the impression of "a campaign ... of the West against those who don't share its views".

Her views contrast sharply with those held in Washington which wishes to hand NATO reconstruction missions in Afghanistan. This tactic, the French minister said, meant replacing "organisations which are competent to carry them out, in particular the UN and the European Union".

"To transform NATO into an organisation whose mission is to reconstruct economies and democracies all at once does not correspond to its legitimacy or its means," she added.

This year ISAF forces have been involved in fierce fighting with Taliban militiamen in Afghanistan, particularly in the south of the country. NATO has called on its allies to provide reinforcements, to relieve British, Canadian and Dutch troops, but without much success due to operations elsewhere.

US NATO ambassador Nuland, in her comments just hours after the publication of the Figaro article, opined that between now and the November 28-29 summit in Riga "allies are going to spend a lot of time on wrestling and mud wrestling about the words that we use in our NATO documents and communiques".

"This is going to be a tense conversation," Nuland warned, recognising the differing opinions between the United States and some of its European allies, which she did not name.

"I would argue that the reality of what's going on in NATO is outstripping our ability to encapsulate in the NATO doctrine and theory here in NATO headquarters," she continued, during a conference at the Centre for European

Policy Studies.

The situation on the ground is "outstripping theory most importantly where it counts, in Afghanistan", said Nuland, describing the situation there as NATO's most challenging and most important undertaking.

"So as we struggle at NATO headquarters to reflect in communique language our global partnership ideas, remember that global partnership is a reality and out-of-area is a reality today in Afghanistan."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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