Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz appealed to NATO today for military support in the event of war with Iraq, saying the more solidarity alliance members expressed now, the greater the likelihood that war might not be necessary.
"There are a number of ways in which NATO could contribute both during and after a conflict, if there has to be one," Wolfowitz said at a news conference.
Wolfowitz first broached the prospect of NATO assistance during a visit to Brussels last month and plans to discuss a more extensive list of six potential alliance actions when he meets with NATO Secretary General George Robertson in Belgium on Friday. The Pentagon official was in Germany today for the swearing-in of a new commander of U.S. forces in Europe, Marine Gen. James Jones, who is also due to take over as NATO's top commander on Friday.
The U.S. list for NATO includes proposals to send AWACs surveillance planes and Patriot antimissile batteries to help defend Turkey, a NATO member whose bases U.S. officials are hoping to use as launching pads for possible air and land attacks on northern Iraq.
Other measures would include employing NATO naval forces to guard approaches to the Mediterranean Sea, through which U.S. warships and cargo vessels pass on their way to the Persian Gulf, and enlisting NATO troops to help guard bases in Europe and possibly elsewhere.
The United States has asked alliance authorities to look at substituting NATO forces for U.S. troops that might be redeployed from peacekeeping missions in the Balkans and elsewhere.
The Bush administration has been slow to approach NATO about lending its military weight to an operation against Iraq, recognizing the reluctance of some alliance members to support such an action. Most of the measures on the U.S. wish list could actually be accomplished without NATO backing, by drawing contributions from individual allies.
But the prospect of NATO again being sidelined in an important military operation, as it was in Afghanistan, has renewed concerns on both sides of the Atlantic about the alliance's relevance in the age of terrorism. The U.S. initiative appears intended not only to dispel such concerns but also to send a political signal to Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein, of greater international unity against him.
Even so, a senior administration official who briefed reporters here said many of the discussions with allies have been conducted between the United States and individual NATO members, rather than within the alliance as a whole.
One potential stumbling block may be Germany, whose chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, remains opposed to sending his country's forces into Iraq. German officials have offered to help provide protection for U.S. bases in Germany and also have indicated willingness to allow the use of German bases and airspace for U.S. military aircraft engaged in a war, according to U.S. officials here.
But the Germans have been reluctant to let their personnel be used on NATO's AWACs aircraft or ships in a war with Iraq. They also have so far rejected a U.S. request that an invasion force be allowed to take into Iraq some German equipment already in Kuwait City, according to a senior diplomat. The equipment would be used to detect chemical and biological warfare agents.
Turkey also continues to balk at hosting large numbers of U.S. ground forces, although it has indicated that it would allow the United States to use Turkish air bases to strike Iraq if the United Nations backs the use of force.