WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The looming war in Iraq has opened a rift between the United States and its fellow NATO alliance members France and Germany that is now near a fever pitch. The Paris-Berlin alliance recently announced it would block an American-led NATO military operation to defend Turkey. It is the first time, at least in recent memory, that one NATO country had publicly refused to come to the defense of another member.
The move undermined the alliance's credibility. The charter states that an armed attack on one member nation will be recognized as an armed attack on all. The Franco-German resistance to the move needs a strong response even though NATO finally did the right thing and the issue has largely be settled in Turkey's favor.
An economic boycott of French and German products would certainly send a clear message that the American people, who twice in the last century marshaled their wealth and even their lives to rescue Europe from tyranny, are outraged at this apparent disloyalty to long-standing alliances.
Paris' reluctance to support possible U.S. military action in Iraq and the defense of a NATO ally should come as no surprise. In 1966, France withdrew from NATO's integrated military structure and has consistently demurred on U.S.-led NATO initiatives since.
Recently the French blocked a plan to extend the alliance's presence in Macedonia another six-months. And it is no secret the French want to see the creation of a European Union 'rapid reaction force' as an eventual replacement for the American-dominated NATO.
The French oppose America's Iraqi policy not for any philosophical or moral reasons but because of their close military and economic ties to Iraq and its president, Saddam Hussein. Iraq's atomic reactor Osirak, destroyed by an Israeli air strike in 1981, had been built and maintained by French technicians as part of a nuclear contract signed with Saddam in 1975. In exchange, the French were guaranteed a dependable supply of cheap oil.
Amazingly, even after Saddam admitted the reactor was a means to obtaining nuclear weapons, France continued work on the program.
The French outfitted Saddam's military with advanced Mirage aircraft and armaments. In March 1987 a Mirage F-1 fighter fired French Exocet missiles into the hull of the USS Stark killing 37 Navy seaman -- and it is an open question as to whether U.S. troops will encounter similar French-made weaponry if military action is necessary to to oust Saddam Hussein.
Today, the French maintain an increasingly lucrative trade relationship with Iraq. The so-called "Oil for Food Program" has enabled France to secure over $3 billion in import contracts with Iraq. A French company has contracted with Baghdad to develop Iraq's northern oil fields when international sanctions are lifted. Iraq's known oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia's in size and future profitability.
While Germany has managed to increase its exports to Iraq to well over 600 million euros annually, Germany's opposition to the war is driven by internal politics. Last September's parliamentary elections were a last-minute anti-war referendum. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats retained power on the strength of Schroeder's anti-American rhetoric and the Green Party's ability to draw enough votes to form a coalition government. Schroeder's red-green coalition won 47 percent of the vote, hardly a sweeping popular mandate but as was the case with preisdnet George W. Bush in November 2000 enough to empower a government.
To keep his coalition together, Schroeder adopted the Green Party's hard-line anti-American stance, but that may not be enough to keep him in power. The severe defeat of his Social Democrats in the recent regional elections indicate that Schroeder's coalition government may already be in serious trouble.
Schroeder and Chirac now risk the collapse of the NATO alliance. The announcement concerning Turkey's defense preparations prompted President Bush to deplore French and German actions as "shortsighted" and certain to "affect the alliance in a negative way." Secretary of State Colin Powell set an even more ominous tone, stating NATO is on the verge of "breaking itself up."
As Americans, we ought to consider repaying French and German disloyalty with a boycott of their goods. Annual French exports to the United States such as civilian aircraft engines, art, antiques, perfumes and cosmetics and wine total $28 billion. German exports to America including passenger cars, beer, and bakery goods totaling $61 billion.
A U.S. boycott of these goods would have a substantial impact.
The French and German governments must understand that actions have consequences. If they can't bring themselves to do the right thing, let's make them choose between losing a few Iraqi dinar or billions of American dollars.
-- David N. Bossie is the President of Citizens United, a grassroots advocacy organization that is launching a campaign calling for the boycott of French and German products by U.S. consumers.
-- "Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.