PARIS, FEB. 18 -- The European Community's uneven response to the Persian Gulf War is raising doubts about the plausibility of a common security policy in the near future, according to diplomats and analysts.
Widespread dissatisfaction with the 12-nation community's reaction to the first global crisis in the aftermath of the Cold War has led to soul-searching among leaders of member governments who say the process of building European unity must be adapted to lessons drawn from the conflict.
British Prime Minister John Major has said that the European response to the war demonstrates the futility of trying to achieve European political union, while Italian Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis, an ardent integrationist, now acknowledges that developing a joint European defense must be a slow and cautious exercise. Such wariness comes just two months after the EC launched an ambitious drive toward political and economic union at its Dec. 15 meeting in Rome.
Earlier this month, France and Germany put forward a proposal for a common security policy calling for the Western European Union, a defense alliance of nine European states, to be folded into the EC in five or six years. But the plan also asserts the continuing importance of the Atlantic alliance and the need for the union to serve as "a channel of cooperation" with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have emphasized a need to find ways to sustain U.S. military commitments in Europe to preserve the peace even after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Eastern Europe.
The recent crackdown on separatism in the Soviet Baltic republics, the rising profile of hard-liners in the Kremlin and disputes over Soviet compliance with the conventional arms treaty in Europe have stifled talk in allied capitals about plotting new defense arrangements in anticipation of a massive departure of U.S. troops.
Instead, more thought is being given to coping with American disaffection with Europe's role in the gulf, which could provoke new calls in Congress to "bring the boys home," especially if the expected ground war against Iraq produces high casualties and fortifies arguments against spilling "American blood for European oil."
At a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels nearly two weeks ago, Britain and the Netherlands argued against the French-German plan to merge the Western European Union into the EC later this decade, saying it would suggest to Washington a weakening of European support for NATO as the principal military alliance protecting the West.
Even German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, whose dedication to NATO is deemed suspect in Washington, persuaded his French counterpart Roland Dumas that it was vital to include a phrase in their draft proposal describing the Atlantic alliance as "indispensable to European security and stability," according to diplomatic sources.
The view that Europe may not be able to shed its dependence on the United States for basic security has been reinforced by the largely disparate character of European responses to the gulf crisis.
Despite the continent's overwhelming dependence on Middle East oil, Europe and its armed forces were unprepared for any large-scale projection of military power that could have prevented an Iraqi assault on Saudi Arabia's oil fields, let alone to evict a half-million Iraqi troops from Kuwait. And since the crisis began six months ago, analysts say most of the European reaction to the conflict has been governed predominantly by national instincts. Only France and Britain dispatched ground forces to the multinational coalition assembled in Saudi Arabia, and those contingents comprise less than one-tenth the number of U.S. forces there.
Nonetheless, by participating, Britain and France appear to be seeking to reassert their earlier influence as post-World War II powers and permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
When France struck out on its own to pursue an 11th-hour diplomatic breakthrough that never materialized, President Francois Mitterrand's government was hoping to protect its relations in the Arab world and prove its willingness to go further than others in exhausting the possibilities of peace.
Belgium refused to supply British troops with ammunition and explained later that this rebuff to an ally was necessary because it was engaged in delicate negotiations to free some citizens held hostage by Palestinian terrorists sympathetic to Iraq.
Germany registered a dramatic increase in the number of conscientious objectors, even though no German troops were sent to the gulf war because the German constitution forbids military activity beyond the Central European theater. This recalcitrance underscored how pacifism has emerged in Germany as a potent legacy of World War II.