NATO, long the linchpin of Western military operations in Europe, should be prepared to intervene “out-of-area” — in the Third World, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. This was the message delivered in February by Michael Legge, NATO’s assistant secretary-general for defense planning policy and author of the alliance’s newly approved strategic doctrine. [1] A few days later Gen. John Galvin, then commander of the US European Command of NATO, told a Congressional hearing that 150,000 US troops will remain in Europe indefinitely for two purposes: to counter ethnic and nationalist eruptions in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics, and to be available for rapid deployment outside of Europe, as they were in the Gulf war. In both cases, Galvin acknowledged, the enemy is “the uncertain.” [2] With the end of the Cold War, NATO is searching for a new raison d’etre. The words of Legge and Galvin reflect the tendency within NATO to find that rationale and mission in potential military intervention in the Third World, and in the threat of nuclear instability in the former Soviet Union. The 1991 Gulf war provides a paradigm of future Western actions both in terms of an adversary — an oil-rich Middle Eastern country in a strategic location, with military forces capable of dominating the region — and in terms of the response — coordination between the US, European and regional allies, with financial contributions from Japan, Germany and wealthy Arab monarchies.

This debate over intervention policies occurs in a setting where the US intends to be the only power with global reach, in a period when Japan and Europe have emerged as economic powers. It reflects the economic weakness of the US and the consequent necessity for Washington to include the ascendant economic powers in its scheme. The US is working to maintain NATO as the body around which a post-Cold-War Western military system is organized, one embodying continued US leadership. Germany and France, though, consider Europe to have sufficient economic and political clout to organize its own defense and, furthermore, able to take military action in the Third World and Eastern Europe independent of the US.

Revived Debate

The Persian Gulf war highlighted NATO’s long-standing preparations for “out-of-area operations.” This NATO jargon refers to military operations outside the geographic boundaries defined in the 1949 Treaty of Washington — boundaries which run from North America to Germany, and from the North Pole to Europe’s Mediterranean shores, including Turkey in the east and the Canary Islands further south.

Throughout the 1980s, the Persian Gulf was the primary out-of-area testing ground. In 1987 and 1988, during the Iran-Iraq war, US naval forces and those of several European countries under the command of the Western European Union were deployed in Gulf waters, ostensibly to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers from Iranian attacks. Two years later, European navies, ground and air forces returned to the Gulf as part of the US-led military coalition against Iraq. While NATO did not formally participate as an organization in the Gulf war, the massive deployment of US forces (many of them stationed in Europe) depended heavily on the use of European bases, ports and air space, and on the participation of nearly every NATO country.

The question of whether NATO itself should act outside its statutory boundaries goes back to the establishment of the Atlantic alliance in the early 1950s, but took on significance in the late 1970s, as the mind-set of rapid deployment took hold in the Pentagon. The US began pressing its NATO allies to participate in out-of-area planning and exercises. After Vietnam, Washington did not want to repeat a unilateral major military intervention in the Third World without political and military support, even if symbolic. NATO provided one possible cover. “The entire globe is now NATO’s concern,” declared Alexander Haig in 1980, then Supreme Allied Commander-Europe and soon to be Ronald Reagan’s first secretary of state. [3] In 1982, then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger declared that “NATO should begin to plan for this possibility [sending forces] in the Middle East…because access to the oil fields is vital.” [4] These debates focused on the deployment of US and European forces in Lebanon after Israel’s 1982 invasion. [5]

This coincided with the emerging consensus among strategists, economists, politicians and think tanks that a structural crisis was developing in the Third World with potentially dire repercussions. The industrial policies of the 1950s and 1960s had failed in many areas, and agricultural sectors were ruined. Demand and prices for natural resources fell. Revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua in 1979 capped a string of political reversals in the South that the US perceived as detrimental to the West. The 1980s saw the deepening debt crisis, the increasing marginalization of extensive social sectors, rising numbers of migrant workers and widespread social uprisings. The national liberation movements of the 1950s and 1960s were supplanted as threats by long queues of immigrants and street protests against famine, by massive support in Middle Eastern countries for religion-based political movements and worsening ethnic conflicts. And the adversaries of the status quo now include regimes which have acquired nuclear and chemical arsenals and ballistic missiles.

Over the same period, the economic handicap of the US became increasingly evident — particularly in scientific research, industrial capacity and commercial competitiveness — compared with Japan and the European Community. World order no longer rested on US economic aid, investment and military protection. As Japan gained ground in US markets, and commercial strains with the European Community became acute, US policymakers and their media mouthpieces began demanding larger financial contributions from these allies-turned-competitors.

This process became more marked after 1985, with the introduction of Soviet reforms and the demise of the Warsaw Pact. Pressure increased to reduce the number of US troops in Europe and US military expenditures there. In 1989 the US began withdrawing troops and closing bases in various countries, particularly Germany.

This US withdrawal from Europe was more a response to economic constraints than a consequence of rethinking the global role of the US. Washington has not disclaimed its concept of national security requiring global reach. US strategic planning reports and statements since the Gulf war frankly proclaim US aspirations to remain the sole superpower. [6] But if Washington wants its allies’ approval, legitimation and money for interventionist actions, then it must offer a deal that includes them.

Larger Say

As the crisis of US leadership became evident in the 1980s, the political elites of Western Europe and Japan displayed an increased interest in becoming less dependent on the US, even to the point of acquiring more powerful military structures. One expression of this was German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s May 1991 interview with Japanese reporters, in which he declared that by the year 2000 the world, for all intents and purposes, would comprise three leading zones: Japan and East Asia, North America, and Europe. Japan, he said, would have to work with a new united Europe, centered on Germany’s 80 million people. Kohl also expressed a readiness to change the German constitution to allow for a German military role in world affairs, under cover of participation in UN-sanctioned peacekeeping operations. [7] Japan’s military budget has also been growing — it was $32 billion in fiscal year 1991, and the Japanese Defense Agency is requesting an additional 5.4 percent in 1992, citing “tension in the areas surrounding Japan.” [8] Tokyo is also debating whether it should modify its constitution (dictated by the US, like Germany’s, at the end of the World War II) which forbids it from taking military action outside its borders and territorial waters. [9] In April 1992, Japan decided to assume responsibility as of 1993 for protecting ships carrying French plutonium sold for Japan’s nuclear program. [10] Since 1984 these shipments had been escorted by the US Navy. Two months before Iraq invaded Kuwait, Japan had its first official meeting with NATO in Brussels to discuss security issues in the Pacific. The meeting included a discussion of how Japan could have participated in the Western naval deployment in the Gulf in 1987-1988, and what role it might play in the future. [11]

Possible participation in UN peacekeeping forces is linked to Japanese and German aspirations to achieve seats on the UN Security Council. In February 1992, Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa stated that “it is important to consider thoroughly ways to adjust [the Security Council’s] functions, composition, and other aspects so as to make it more reflective of the realities of the new era.” As two Japanese commentators put it in the Guardian, “If Japan is to bear an increasing share of the cost of keeping the world safe and prosperous, it also wants a larger say in how things are decided and run.” [12]

German naval forces have been operating in the Mediterranean Sea since 1987, to fill the gaps left when the US Sixth Fleet transferred to the Persian Gulf. In May 1991, for the first time in nearly 50 years, Japanese navy minesweepers left their territorial waters for the Persian Gulf as part of the post-Gulf-war cleanup operation. Both countries helped the US economically in the Gulf war.

Two Tendencies

Within the European Community, there are two tendencies on the question of how to organize its future military system. Some propose strengthening the “European pillar” within a reformed NATO. Others believe that the time has come to organize a more autonomous EC defense system around the Western European Union.

These conflicting perspectives surfaced most dramatically on May 22, 1992, when French President Francois Mitterand and Chancellor Kohl announced the creation of a 35,000-strong French-German joint force, the European Corps, to be deployed in Germany beginning in 1995. They invited other European countries to contribute to this embryonic “European army.” This French-German initiative was not well received by the Americans and the British, who criticized it strongly at a NATO meeting a week later. On the same day of the Mitterand-Kohl announcement, NATO Secretary-General Manfred Worner declared that NATO forces could act as peacekeeping forces in Eastern Europe on behalf of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. [13] NATO ministers ratified this stance on June 4, 1992.

The “pro-NATO” camp — Great Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Norway and Turkey — support a NATO in which the US maintains leadership, but with increased European military spending and control. They also support increasing NATO collaboration with the former Warsaw Pact countries. Official NATO texts still insist that NATO is the basic security structure; EC military plans should complement it rather than challenge it. This, of course, also suits the “sole superpower” stance of the Pentagon. Britain, for its part, wants to preserve its role as Washington’s “main ally,” a role which the Gulf war reaffirmed.

The second tendency sees the US as a strategic ally of Europe, but advocates a separate EC “defense identity,” with its own armed forces coordinated by the member countries. This would include modifying the responsibilities of the EC and integrating Ireland, Greece and Denmark into the Western European Union. Mitterand and Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission, have advocated putting French nuclear forces at the disposal of the EC. [14] Since the Eurocorps, not to mention the Euroarmy, have yet to be translated into reality, Mitterand and Kohl have no problem saying they are still committed to NATO. What is left unsaid is that they anticipate a time when the US will be unable or unwilling to play so great a leading military and political role. This is certainly the implication, though, of Mitterand’s reference to the Los Angeles rebellion as evidence that the US has its own problems to which it must attend.

The debate on out-of-area operations thus alternates between those who propose reforming the 1949 Treaty of Washington to allow such operations, and those who believe these operations belong in the hands of the Western European Union. Washington and London hold that the Union be allowed to take out-of-area actions, but only under NATO command. This “would give Europe both more influence within NATO and the capacity to respond with the US to world events,” says Britain’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Douglas Hurd. “We could build on the Union’s experience in the Gulf when looking at how a European military role could be further developed.” [15]

An alternative approach would subordinate NATO to a US-dominated UN Security Council. In cases of perceived threats to a NATO country, Article 53 of the UN Charter would be applied. This stipulates that the Security Council can make use of “regional agreements and organizations,” if the need should arise, to apply coercive measures under UN authority. Britain would most likely support the US on this, with France in an ambivalent position and Russia and China abstaining. This path would lend UN legitimacy for military intervention on behalf of interests defined primarily by Washington and London, as was the case in the Gulf war. [16]

In January 1992, France proposed to the UN General Assembly the creation of an intervention force under UN command. This is France’s way of restraining US interventionism and at the same time reinforcing the idea that there could and should be other interventionary (aka peacekeeping) forces. A report to the North Atlantic Assembly by NATO member country parliaments promotes reinforcing the security of the Mediterranean region through economic aid, coordination of asylum and immigration policies, and Middle East arms control. It also includes “the capacity to respond rapidly to the military challenges that may present themselves, particularly in peacekeeping missions.” [17]

“Peacekeeping” is the rubric under which each party attempts to consolidate its position. For the US there is the cover of UN Security Council resolutions. In 1991, France and Germany proposed sending a Western European Union peacekeeping force to Yugoslavia, largely to buttress the concept of a European armed force. The Netherlands also proposed sending a peacekeeping force, but under NATO command. No doubt fearing for its position in Northern Ireland, the UK rejected that proposal outright. British and US forces, together with those of other European countries, intervened in northern Iraq in 1991 to protect Turkey from Kurds fleeing Iraq. This action was a continuation of the war, but it opened the floodgates on the debate over national sovereignty and human rights.

Rapid Reaction Forces

While the issue of out-of-area operations is debated, the potential military structures for future interventions are being organized. During the 1980s, Britain, France and Italy each created their rapid deployment forces, following the US example. Spain acquired its own in 1991. In May 1991, NATO reorganized the structure of its forces and created its multinational Rapid Reaction Forces. According to Gen. Peter Heinrich Carstens, commander of NATO’s Allied Mobile Forces (the embryo of the Rapid Reaction Forces), “The Gulf War demonstrated that extremely risky and dangerous crises may arise which must be countered…. The means of confronting them must be forces which can be deployed rapidly outside the country of origin… It’s quite clear that the more, multinational the make-up of the force, the greater the political impact of employing it.” [18]

Referring to NATO’s Rapid Reaction Forces, Gen. Galvin told Congress that among the important issues NATO would tackle in the future are “instability in the Southern Region,” and “out-of-area contingencies.” [19] A good example of the practical application of the combined reform of NATO in relation to the “Southern threat” is NATO’s planned maritime force structure. This will be based on the principle of a modular multinational naval task force, and among its tasks will be “limiting proliferation of threatening weapons and capabilities…; maintaining defenses against such proliferated threats; suppression of the narcotics trade.” All of this would happen without regard to the claims of many countries to 200 nautical mile territorial waters, or “economic exclusion zones.” [20] NATO’s New Strategic Concept indirectly considers the possibility of NATO out-of-area actions arising from “the global context…including proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, disruption of the flow of vital resources and actions of terrorism and sabotage.” [21]

The Western European Union is, for Washington, London and the Hague, a concession to the other Europeans, in return for military contributions for intervention in Eastern Europe and the Third World that would augment those of NATO. During the Gulf war, the Union member countries conducted joint patrols in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. In the summer of 1991, the president of the Union proposed formation of a Rapid Reaction Force that would share equipment and forces with the proposed NATO Rapid Reaction Forces. [22] NATO Secretary-General Worner, commenting on the proposed Euroarmy, said, “Maybe this new body could assist NATO…. In this case we would undoubtedly support its formation. If it could take out-of-area actions, all well and good. NATO forces could also be assigned to assist them under the umbrella of the Union.” [23]

From these various proposals, the idea taking shape is that in this period of transition the US and Europe could share military resources and apparatuses until roles solidify. In some cases national armies will take action on their own. In other cases action will be coordinated by the Union, or NATO may act on its own. This system of multinational forces and intervention resources with multiple commands for different operations is known as “double hatting.” “We advocate a ‘transatlantic contract,’” states Willem van Eekelen, secretary-general of the Union. “A new kind of double hatting of forces will become possible, allowing forces assigned to the Central Region to act as a rapid deployment force for the entire European theater and in some cases for out-of-area contingencies as well.” He goes on to explain that “Europeans will want to limit joint NATO action to the defense of the treaty area…. In out-of-Europe contingencies, European countries should play a larger role to protect their security interests but this should be presented as a two-pillar approach with appropriate liaison arrangements with the US.” [24]

A US Army War College study proposes that a link be forged between the Western European Union and NATO to implement out-of-area actions. “The purpose of achieving a liaison between these two organizations basically would allow the Union to provide the necessary political framework to the Union nations to engage in out-of-area cooperation, while employing largely existing NATO expertise…. It is increasingly clear that the Union nations alone would find it very difficult to meet the dual challenges of power projection and sustainment…. Whether Europeans appreciate it or not, the involvement of the US military could be crucial in worst case scenarios, and very welcome indeed in less challenging contingencies.” [25]

In May, NATO staged Operation Dragon Hammer, a major air, land and sea exercise in the Mediterranean. The commanders involved cited Algeria, Libya and Turkey, as well as Yugoslavia, as potential trouble spots requiring NATO capabilities. [26]

Centers of Power

The debate over the future of European military forces is not about different approaches to security, development or access to resources, but about whether there will be one or several centers of power, and where those will be. In early June 1992, Washington made a point of calling attention to the war in Yugoslavia and the fact that the Europeans and the UN are incapable of stopping it. The implication is clear: The US is necessary to keep the peace in Europe, via NATO.

With regard to the Third World, the tendency is to establish special relationships with some countries and zones, while leaving the rest to the margins of the global economy. To match and to preserve this emerging pattern of “discriminate” economic ties, the rich countries are debating the most appropriate means of coordinating “discriminate” intervention. The Persian Gulf and the Maghrib are two key areas of traditional control, sometimes contested, by the powers of the North. Along with Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the Middle East is a region where the US, Europe and Japan perceive the need to devise ways of moderating their competition in order to maintain shared interests. In the former Communist territories, the issues are political fragmentation, mass immigration and nuclear leakage. In the Persian Gulf the issue is access to oil and markets. In the Maghrib the issues are mass migration and environmental degradation (e.g., the Mediterranean).

In some places — preeminently the Middle East — the US, Europe and Japan will continue to be both economic rivals and military allies. Washington, supported mainly by London, wants to maintain a preeminent role in the Persian Gulf, while leaving the Maghrib to Europe’s Mediterranean countries. Even in the Gulf, though, the US needs European assistance — financial assistance, bases, diplomatic support and economic aid to specific Third World countries.

Government, military and media elites in Europe and Japan perceive a continuing need for a military alliance with the US, but many also perceive that Europe is accruing the economic weight and political potential to stand on its own by the beginning of the next decade. They do not want to break with Washington during this period of transition. The Middle East — the Persian Gulf in particular — is an area of intersection for US, European and Japanese interests. By extension, the debate over “out-of-area” intervention is also one of intersection between current military structures and projects such as NATO and the WEU. In the military arena, Europe and the US (and to a lesser extent Japan) are negotiating the most appropriate means of maintaining Western (or more appropriately Northern) control of the Persian Gulf into the next century and beyond.

Translated from the Spanish by Penny Fischer.


[1] Financial Times, February 21, 1992.
[2] International Herald Tribune, March 5, 1991.
[3] Quoted in William Arkin, “A Global Role for NATO,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (January 1986).
[4] Caspar Weinberger, Report on the Allied Contribution to the Common Defense 1982. Quoted in P. Wilkinson, Assembly of WEU Report to the Committee on Defense Questions and Armaments, Document 947, May 18, 1983, p. 18.
[5] See Mariano Aguirre, “Looking Southwards,” in Dan Smith, ed., European Security in the 90s (London: Pluto Press, 1990), pp. 123-150.
[6] See Fred C. Iklé and Albert Wohlstetter, eds., Discriminate Deterrence: Report of the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, January 11, 1988); Joe Stork, “New Enemies for a New World Order,” Middle East Report 176 (May-June 1992); and International Herald Tribune, February 18, 1992 and March 9, 1992.
[7] Mainichi Daily News, May 30, 1991.
[8] Jane’s Defense Weekly, August 10, 1991.
[9] Financial Times, April 25, 1991 and December 4, 1991.
[10] Agence France Press, October 30, 1989; El Pais, April 21, 1992.
[11] International Herald Tribune, June 20, 1990. See also International Herald Tribune, February 20 and October 12, 1990.
[12] Guardian March 8, 1992.
[13] Financial Times, May 22, 1992.
[14] El Pais, January 11, 1992, and International Herald Tribune, January 11, 1992.
[15] Financial Times, April 15, 1991.
[16] See Richard Falk, “Questioning the UN Mandate in the Gulf,” IFDA Dossier (Geneva, April-June 1991), pp. 81-88.
[17] Miguel Herrero and Jose Luis Nunes, Rapport Interimaire de la Sous-Commission sur la Region Sud, Assemble de L’Atlantique Nord (Brussels, October 1991), p. 3.
[18] Interview with Gen. Peter H. Carstens, “La Fuerza de Babel,” Revista Espanola de Defensa (July-August 1990), pp. 56-57.
[19] Statement of Gen. Galvin before US Senate, May 9, 1991.
[20] Joris Janseen, “NATO’s Common Defense Mission,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, January 18, 1992.
[21] “The Alliance’s New Strategic Concept,” NATO Review 6 (December 1991), p. 26.
[22] “WEU Urges Naval Links,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, August 3, 1991.
[23] Press conference in Madrid, October 19, 1991.
[24] Willem F. van Eekelen, “The Changing Environment of Transatlantic Relations,” Report from the European Strategy Group (Paris: Institut Francais des Relations Internationales, 1991), pp. 13-16.
[25] Thomas Durell Young, “Preparing the Western Alliance for the Next Out-of-Area Campaign: Linking NATO and the WEU” (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, April 15, 1991), pp. 19-20.
[26] Washington Post, June 9, 1992.

How to cite this article:

Mariano Aguirre "Discriminate Intervention," Middle East Report 177 (July/August 1992).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This