Belgium announced today that it is pulling out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization maneuvers presently taking place in Turkey following the coup there last Friday.
A joint communique of the Belgian foreign and defense ministries said the decision was taken "in view of recent developments in Turkey," NATO officials privately described the decision as "disastrous."
It was the first sign of divisions among West European countries over how they should respond to the Turkish coup. In addition, NATO experts noted that this was the fourth incident in the last two years where Belgium, host of the Atlantic organization since France left its unified command in 1966, had broken with alliance solidarity.
About 600 Belgian paratroopers were scheduled to join contingents from the United States, Italy and West Germany as well as Turkish troops for three weeks of maneuvers in Turkish Thrace. But following the refusal of the United States and West Germany to call off the entire operation, the Belgian government announced that its troops would not be going.
The Belgian statement also gave the need to make "economies" as another reason for backing out of the NATO maneuvers. But at a meeting last weekend of NATO ambassadors here, the Belgian government was joined by Denmark and Norway in an abortive bid have the exercise canceled.
Confirmation of the Belgian decision came shortly before foreign ministers from the nine European Economic Community countries began discussing the Army coup in Turkey and what response, if any, they should make. The signs here tonight were that the EEC would, officially, restrict itself to supporting the observance of human rights and the hope that there will be a return to democratic government in the near future.
[EEC foreign ministers said tonight after their meeting that they would continue cooperation with Turkey but hoped for a speedy return to democratic life. "We welcomed the assurance the Turkish military had given about a return to democratic government and the well-being of those in public life who were arrested, and we expressed the hope that these declarations before long will be put into full effect," British Deputy Foreign Secretary Sir Ian Gilmour told reporters, Reuter news agency reported.]
Among the nine, Britian and West Germany appear to be taking the softest line, arguing that the coup may have the result of stabilizing the political and security situation in Turkey and countering the growing strength of "anti-Western" forces. The impression is gaining ground here that this position is the one being taken by the United States, which is widely suspected to having been consulted in advance by Army leaders.
The disagreement among EEC countries over the wisdom of the NATO maneuvers in Turkey comes at a time of increasing friction within the alliance over policies to step up defense spending as well as producing and deploying in Western Europe the cruise nuclear missile. NATO sources believe that the Belgian opposition to higher arms spending and to the cruise missile is the result of a political campaign inside the six-party coalition led by socialists.