Tirade over missiles cools enthusiasm for NATO birthday party
An ugly tirade here this week over the deploying of American nuclear missiles in Western Europe cast a pall over plans for a lofty 35th anniversary celebration of the Western alliance in Washington next week.
Instead of ''turning a page'' on this controversy as American and other officials had hoped, the semiannual meeting of NATO defense ministers became mired in recrimination over the continuing hesitancy of the Dutch and other European governments on the issue. The question has strained the alliance for the past five years.
One European minister described the criticism and pressure leveled by most members at the Dutch and Danish delegates as ''an ugly round'' worse than anything he had ever witnessed in a NATO meeting. At least eight other ministers , including United States Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, castigated their colleagues for a ''lack of leadership and solidarity.''
While the controversial deployment of US cruise and Pershing II missiles ''is proceeding according to schedule'' in Britain, West Germany, and Italy, Western officials said, the Dutch government has been seeking to postpone deployment of the 40 missiles it is scheduled to receive by 1986. Domestic political opposition is such that the Dutch are even talking of refusing to accept any missiles at all.
The Danish parliament, in opposition to the government's policy, has voted to withhold the country's modest contribution to the joint NATO budget for the deployment. None of the missiles will be stationed on Danish soil.
The Belgian government has still not officially announced its decision to accept the cruise missiles scheduled to be stationed in that country, but a majority of the government is said to favor the move.
In addition, Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi recently expressed an interest in a deployment moratorium to induce the Soviet Union to return to the East-West arms negotiations it walked out of in Geneva following the beginning of the deployment last year. But Mr. Craxi was disavowed by most of his Cabinet and has since sought to play down his recent statements.
The NATO dispute in Brussels was further agitated by the announcement earlier in the week that the Soviet Union had begun to deploy additional nuclear warheads in East Germany, supposedly in response to the NATO moves. Several NATO leaders, including British Defense Minister Michael Heseltine and US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Richard Burt, also characterized the Soviet move as an attempt to ''intimidate'' Western Europe and force NATO to change its nuclear deployment plans.
West German Defense Minister Manfred Worner said a Dutch rejection of the missiles would have an adverse impact on the political situation and the peace movement in Germany, and it would send the wrong signal to the Soviet Union.
But Dutch officials said the government would probably have to postpone a decision again in June because of the strong public and parliamentary opposition.
Monitor contributor Sam Cohen reports from Istanbul:
Relations between NATO members Greece and Turkey are at a low ebb because of what the Turks call ''Greece's systematic hostile acts'' against their country.
The Turks cite Greece's objection to a NATO plan to equip Turkey with surface-to-sea Harpoon missiles.
The Greeks have expressed ''reservations'' to this plan on the grounds that it will upset the military balance in the Aegean Sea in favor of Turkey. The matter, under discussion by NATO's defense planning experts in Brussels, has aroused resentment in Turkish political and military quarters.
''This is the first time that a member of NATO is trying to prevent the strengthening of the defense capability of the region in which it is located,'' a senior Foreign Ministry official said. ''This attitude is weakening NATO's southeastern flank.''
Western diplomats have expressed concern over this new friction between the two neighboring NATO members. They fear Greek insistence on preventing Turkey from receiving such weapons will eventually lead Turkey to react the same way toward Greece.
''The real loser in this confrontation will be NATO,'' a Western analyst said.