Did Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council persuade a deeply divided NATO to unify behind forcibly disarming Iraq? The showdown with Saddam is exposing a rift in the alliance that prompts some experts in Washington and here in Brussels-headquarters for NATO and the European Union-to ask: Is NATO finished?
NATO was conceived after World War II as a collective security force. A threat or attack against one member state is supposed to automatically trigger a unified response. Yet, the response has been far from automatic. The White House urgently wants to know who its real allies are before it launches the biggest overseas military operation since D-Day.
Turkey would like to know, too. Ankara is cautiously siding with the U.S.-led coalition and is quietly giving Washington permission to stage air and ground operations from its soil. As a result, Turkey-NATO's only predominantly Muslim member nation-fears preemptive or retaliatory strikes by Iraqi Scud missiles or planes armed with weapons of mass destruction. Turkish officials have requested Patriot missile defense batteries, AWACS radar aircraft, and other defensive weapons systems from NATO.
Despite their treaty obligations, France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg are balking. Says Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis: "If the [defensive assistance] is not given, then the credibility of the military alliance will collapse ... the credibility and deterrence of the military alliance will come to zero."