PositionGerhard Schroder

The comments were a hand grenade thrown into the transatlantic relationship. While the second Bush administration has been carefully fine-tuning its rhetoric to reach out to the Europeans, and in particular to talk positively about NATO's role, Schroder turned the tables by suggesting it was the Europeans, not the US, who had doubts about the future of the transatlantic alliance.

The German Chancellor's comments have naturally sent shockwaves throughout the international political and security community. It was believed before the US elections in November that many EU governments would have found it easier to deal with the administration of President Kerry. Yet at the time wiser voices started saying that it would be difficult to deliver what Kerry was asking for, i.e., the stationing of EU troops (in addition to those of the UK and Poland) on the ground along the Euphrates. It might, they mused, be easier to deal with a second Bush administration, tested by experience and aware of its own mishandling of its international partners in the run-up to the war. Bush II would need allies to share the global burden of security and fighting terrorism. Insulting its supposed friends would not help this process, hence the change in US rhetoric while the emphasis on decisive military action to tackle global threats to stability remains.

But with his call for a high-level panel to review NATO's role Schroder undermines in one move the Bush team's efforts at conciliation, in particular a renewed commitment to NATO. Some observers feared the alliance might wither away through lack of interest if the re-elected US administration continued the disdain it had shown for the alliance during its first term.

The effect of the Chancellor's intervention is plain to see, having prompted the predictable responses from NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Rumsfeld himself about there being no need to re-examine the alliance's role.

The question now is more what Schroder might want to come out of this review process, assuming it ever takes place. The Chancellor made a number of interesting observations about the role of NATO, stressing that it was no longer the place where top-level international security issues of the day such as Iran's nascent...

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