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Professor sees widening differences within NATO

By Mauricio Roman

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is facing considerable pressure to break apart, asserted Douglas T. Stuart, professor of political science and director of international studies at Dickinson College. Stuart gave a talk on "NATO's Out-of-Area Challenges" yesterday at the MIT Center for International Studies.

A substantial source of tension within NATO comes from its members' attitudes towards out-of-area disputes, which are conflicts between NATO member countries and non-member countries -- particularly Third World countries.

According to Stuart, when NATO was formed 40 years ago, all of its members viewed the Soviet Union as the primary threat to their security. Since the 1970's this view has split: European members have regarded Russia in the context of detente while the United States has been adamant about Russia's threat to the Free World, Stuart said. The difference in European and American reactions to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is a good example of this situation, Stuart claimed.

This difference in the definition of what constitutes a threat to NATO creates tensions within the organization, Stuart said. During the 1970's and up until 1982-83 European members were noticeably uneasy with American involvement in the Third World, and failed to cooperate with American solicitation of support -- much in the same way as the US failed to cooperate with European struggles to preserve colonialism during the twenty years that followed World War II, Stuart said.

For instance, during the Yom Kippur war the US solicited the European members of NATO for cooperation in the midst of crisis, and authorization to use bases in case of conflict between the US and another country. The European members, including Turkey and Portugal, loudly protested. Turkey and Portugal had until then made a career of supporting the US, Stuart said.

During the last five years, Stuart noted, the intense disagreement between European members of NATO and the US has calmed down. Europeans have stopped criticizing most American policy initiatives and have even participated in joint ventures abroad. For example, seven European nations participated in the Persian Gulf fleet to protect oil-carrying ships. Stuart observed that the willingness of European nations to mollify tensions within NATO is inconsistent given the opposing views between Europe and the US concerning out-of-area disputes. Stuart noted this inconsistency may be explained in three related ways.

First, Europeans might be intending to "short-circuit" anti-European politics within the US.

Second, Europeans fear that an American feeling that Europe does not support American intervention abroad might make American foreign policy decisions more unilateral. This fear stems from: a distrust of American unilateral decisions; and an unwillingness to jeopardize American commitment to NATO.

Third, as long as the world is bipolar (i.e. there exist two main superpowers with their respective spheres of influence), disputes between NATO's members over out-of-area conflicts cannot be allowed to threaten the stability of NATO. But to the extent that the world is less bipolar and more multipolar, the alliance between NATO countries, which argue over out-of-area conflicts, will be more vulnerable to collapse. Stuart believed that although the world is not yet multipolar, it is less bipolar than it was forty years ago. This interpretation has met with the most controversy of the three.

Stuart concluded that NATO is in a transition period; a different structure of NATO is desired because the organization currently fails in fulfilling the expectations of its members.

A member of the audience observed that it has been said NATO never solves any problems, it simply outlives them. Stuart added that NATO's problems are apparently unresolvable and that there is considerable pressure for NATO to break apart in the future.

MIT Professor of Political Science William Griffith objected to the statement that the US might be acting unilaterally with regard to some out-of-area conflicts. Specifically he cited American policy towards South Africa (an ethical and moral obligation) and the American position in Afghanistan. He claimed that, in the case of Afghanistan, the US did not need European NATO members' support, since it had the support of Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the area. He added that, in any case, the US did not need European assistance in this particular issue.

Stuart pointed out that, from the perspective of other NATO members, America's attitude toward the Afghan conflict has shown marked unilateralism, and that while the US might not need European consent or support, the Europeans had complained about US actions in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1983.