Healing the wound of the alliance

If the decision of France, Germany and Belgium not to deploy NATO military aid to Turkey in a possible US showdown with Iraq was branded as unprecedented, the United Nations Security Council session on Friday did not lack a historical dimension of its own. This is not only because their differences, for once, were not settled by the kinds of corridor negotiations that usually help to take the edge off official remarks. It is also because the foreign ministers’ comments, underscoring the deep rift between the United States and the Franco-German line in the European Union, combined clear positions with declarations that they stood historically in the vanguard. Thus their remarks assumed a cultural dimension, and in this way brought up a deep conceptual chasm between the Western allies. The positions expressed by the divided allies not only highlighted their differences but also their main points of convergence. Britain, whose pro-American stance had been expressed through divisive initiatives inside the EU, took a more cautious approach on Friday. Even Washington seemed to be taking a more moderate stance. Political issues, and thereby also countries’ positions on Iraq are, of course, determined by the balance of power and an evaluation of priorities, and not by cultural elements and value judgments. These ideas, however, remain influential and often determine whether states or people shift against their allies or proteges. France’s promotion of a specific world view was not a cosmetic rhetorical twist to a political speech but the expression of the profound sentiments of a clear majority of Europeans. At some crucial moments, the measurable value of stocks and oil are not not enough to determine countries’ overall levels of development. It is hoped that the US, which has long been the vanguard of cultivating liberal values, will heed the Franco-German position and honor its past – and listen to those who still feel the weight of their historical heritage.