Tuesday, March 25, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Some 'willing' nations lend just name

Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — What do Micronesia, Rwanda, Japan, Honduras and Azerbaijan have in common? All belong to America's "coalition of the willing" against Iraq. And none plans to contribute anything to the war effort.

When former President George Bush fought the Persian Gulf War in 1991, 32 other nations sent troops. By contrast, about four dozen nations have signed on to the Iraq war, allowing the administration of the second President Bush to claim even greater international support.

But critics say the claim is so transparent that it's doubtful even the Bush administration takes it seriously.

"The administration has been fishing for this larger list to cut the image that this war is a unilateral action," said Miriam Rajkumar, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "Really, what is Colombia offering? What is Rwanda offering? It's just a deliberate attempt to say that this is not an American imperialist venture."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has claimed, "the coalition in this activity is larger than the coalition that existed during the Gulf War of 1991." Bush said its members "are giving crucial support, from the use of naval and air bases to help with intelligence and logistics, to the deployment of combat units."

In fact, only two nations are sending a substantial number of troops — Britain with 45,000 and Australia with 2,000. Poland and Spain, two vocal supporters, are sending only 200 soldiers each. Denmark plans to send a submarine and a destroyer.

Other nations have offered potentially useful services. Turkey and Romania are allowing use of their airspace for U.S. planes. Macedonia says the U.S. can use its airports in the unlikely event they are needed. Bulgaria and the Czech Republic plan to send chemical-warfare decontamination units. Many countries — in the coalition and outside it — have said they will help with humanitarian aid when the fighting stops.

But most of those in the coalition are like Japan, which issued a statement saying it fully backs the U.S. and, to prove it, will increase security at home and "take appropriate measures" to prevent oil shortages.

The comparison with the 1991 coalition is stark. Then, many countries — Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, even Bangladesh — sent thousands of troops. Third World nations such as Niger, Senegal and Honduras also sent soldiers.

And when the war ended, the rest of the world paid for it — all $70 billion.

The difference is that the 1991 war was in response to a clear violation of international law: Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. As the recent U.N. debate showed, many governments and their people doubt the clear need for this war.

Some members of the coalition, such as Britain and Spain, have been enthusiastic from the start. Others, such as Turkey, joined under heavy pressure. Some, such as Macedonia and Georgia, are grateful for past U.S. military help and want to join NATO. Others, such as Poland, think they may need protection in the future. Most of them receive U.S. economic or military aid and learned a lesson in 1991, when Yemen lost its U.S. aid after refusing to join the Gulf War coalition.

For many of them, joining the coalition is a cost-free way to guarantee future aid.

"Uganda?" said Theresa Hitchens of the Center for Defense Information in Washington. "What's it got to lose? I suspect they expect their reward later on."

"It's a coalition of the willing to be bought," scoffed Carnegie's Rajkumar.

Impoverished Eritrea is a member, even though a spokesman for its government said, "We are not having any kind of involvement."

The White House claims the coalition has about 1.2 billion people and a combined gross domestic product of $21.8 trillion. But the U.S. by itself has 270 million of the people and nearly half the total GDP. Of the world's 12 most-populous nations, only two — the U.S. and Japan — are members. The biggest, such as China, India and Russia, are nowhere in sight.

The total population of the 11 smallest is less than Illinois'. The three smallest — Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands — are specks in the Pacific.

Interestingly, many of America's most important allies in the war on Iraq asked to be left off the list. Most are Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and Egypt, that are quietly providing valuable basing help.

For most countries, backing for the U.S.-led war has more to do with local politics and strategic interests than any moral outrage over Saddam Hussein.

The now-independent Baltic states crave U.S. security backing. Iceland, midway in the Atlantic, considers itself a partner of the United States.

The trouble with "coalitions of the willing," a European diplomat said, is that countries that sign on for one war, for their own reasons, might not be there for the next war.

"Any country like the United States that tries to run coalitions without taking these local considerations into mind is going to be in trouble," he said.

Polish troops are helping in war's

ground campaign, prime minister says

WARSAW, Poland — Polish special forces have carried out several successful missions in the ground campaign in Iraq "without any losses," Prime Minister Leszek Miller said yesterday.

"Our troops are getting high praise," Miller said in a radio interview.

Poland agreed to contribute up to 200 troops, including a logistics vessel and a few dozen members of the elite GROM commando unit, who have been in the Persian Gulf region since last year to support the U.S.-led war against terrorism. Last week, Warsaw sent a unit specializing in the aftermath of chemical warfare.

Defense Ministry officials refused to provide details about Polish troops' activities, citing security reasons.

Polish newspapers printed pictures yesterday of what they said were GROM members handing over Iraqi guerrillas to U.S. troops, and of Poles and Americans posing in the southern port town of Umm Qasr, where allied troops engaged in street-to-street fighting with Iraqis.

Founded in 1991, GROM participated in the 1994 U.S.-led mission in Haiti. In 1997, its members captured Serb general and indicted war criminal Slavko Dokmanovic, wanted for the murder of 260 Croats.


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