The Future of the U.N. Security Council and the Northern Alliance

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, Feb. 7, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: The president, just a short time ago talking in the Oval Office during a meeting with the Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who was here. And he was talking, of course, about the decision of France, Germany and Belgium to block early preparations by NATO for the defense of member Turkey in the event of a conflict with Iraq.

This whole dispute raises the question of whether the outcome in Iraq might leave not only the U.N. Security Council diminished but the Atlantic Alliance as well.

And for more on this, we're joined from New York by Leslie Gelb, president of the most prestigious body of its kind in the world, the Council on Foreign Relations.

Les, welcome.


HUME: What is your sense about this step in NATO? I mean, you and I have both witnessed these situations down through the years where there's been tension in the Atlantic Alliance.

I mean, when has there not been tension in the Atlantic Alliance? We've seen France and Germany be in disagreement, but it's never seemed this public, and this deep and intense before. What is your sense of this?

GELB: I agree with what you've just said, we've always had disagreements, sometimes awful disagreements. We didn't go to the defense of the French and British when they wanted help over the Suez Canal in 1956. There have been fights between us over all sorts of issues on how to deal with the Soviet Union.

But frankly, except for The Cuban Missile Crisis, I don't think more has been at stake than today. Our country really is at risk in a way we've never been at risk before. And I think we expect and have every right to expect our allies to stand up for us in this context.

HUME: Now, what do you think is the reason -- I can understand the French trying to shape the outcome with Iraq in some way. I'm -- but I'm astonished by this business over the weekend with France, Belgium, and Germany blocking early preparations for a possible defense of Turkey, a member nation. Obviously NATO is built on a kind of, one for all, all for one mutual agreement. What is all that about?

GELB: I think it is about France making a record for the French public, which is substantially opposed to the U.S. attacking Iraq militarily. And France is making a point to its closest ally, Germany, about the solidarity between those two countries. I believe in the end that the betting is that France will side with us when push comes to shove. And I think that is not a bad bet. But in the meantime, they will make life as difficult as possible.

HUME: But I remember they did the same thing, of course, 11 years ago. It was much more muted because every time Francois Miterrand said something that sound like he was off the reservation, then President Bush, the first President Bush would come out and announce he had just gotten off the phone with him and said all is well. And we would immediately -- those of us who covered him would say what do you mean by that? And he'd say I'm going to leave it right there. We never really knew and Miterrand never contradicted him and it never seemed this severe.

Now, it strikes me that for France to get back aboard, so to speak, and to participate militarily in any consequential way would require some pretty fancy dancing. Do you think it can be done?

GELB: I don't know that France will participate militarily other than let us fly over France, if need be, and not block any NATO action. I think even in the end, they've got to relent on the Turkey point. If Turkey invokes article five and says, hey, we need you guys to help defend us if we're attacked...

HUME: That being the article that says that if a member country asks for defense from the alliance, it gets it, right?

GELB: That is right. And there is no binding absolute commitment on it. But if France and Germany and others don't say yes to that in the end, then it is a body blow to NATO. That is why I think in the end, France at least will go along.

HUME: Well, let me ask you this. There's going to be hard feelings about this in this country. There is a new Gallup Poll out today that show that feelings about France while generally positive, have plummeted. It used to be 79-16, favorable-unfavorable February a year ago. Here we are, it is down to 59-33. That is a big shift and not in France's direction. And I'm just wondering whether you think relations with France and the U.S. can again be the same and whether NATO, apart from whatever happens at the U.N. Security Council, whether NATO will be realigned as a result of this?

GELB: It is not just relations between France and the United States. I think it is Germany and France and some other European countries on the one side and the United States on the other.

HUME: Well, the United states isn't all by itself, though, is it? There's a fairly significant number of, albeit smaller countries, well to include Britain which is not smaller, aligned with the U.S., right?

GELB: That's right. But there's still -- there is a real divide that's opened up over the last 10 years or so since the end of the Cold War. Our society and a lot of the European societies have just made very different decisions about a lot of basic things.

For example, the European societies, Germany and France in particular, have made a very heavy commitment to the welfare state. Something like two thirds of the German wages are taken out for public services. We've made less of a commitment on that front. We've made more of a commitment to defense. They haven't spent bucks on defense. Their military capability is such now that they're hardly worth cooperating with because they can't put much military punch on the table.

HUME: Got you.

GELB: They have different values that have evolved in Europe as opposed to here. Just take the fight as you've reported many times over the death penalty.

HUME: Right.

GELB: Values like that.

HUME: Got you.

GELB: And also...

HUME: I have to obviously -- Les, I have to stop you because we're out of time. But I get the sense of this, this is cultural as much as political, isn't it?

GELB: Cultural, political and post Cold War historical.

HUME: Thank you, sir.

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