ONE notes with something like relief the new resolve on the part of European nations to commit forces to the Persian Gulf. The action by the Western European Union (WEU) to increase and coordinate naval vessels in the Gulf is a vitally important step. It must be followed by an even greater commitment. French troops being deployed in the United Arab Emirates are welcome. So are Bonn's efforts to change the German constitution - allowing German forces to move beyond the European theater.
While the immediate US response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Operation Desert Shield, has been a bold and necessary demonstration of US leadership, the Gulf crisis must remain only that - a crisis, not a war. One way to ensure that the crisis does not escalate is to beat back any effort to turn the conflict into an Arab-US fight. Saddam Hussein and Arab fundamentalists would like to arouse popular Arab passions against an ``imperialist'' United States. If the US moves too fast, gets too far in front of developing world opinion against Saddam, the Mideast could explode. All oil production might end.
The climate in the Gulf suggests the US not escalate so rapidly that diplomatic and face-saving measures are closed off.
Saddam, his generals, and the various Arab populations, need to see a concerted world alliance against Iraq's occupation of Kuwait. This needs to be absolutely clear. Moreover, in case of aggression, it will be best, as former national security adviser Zbigniew Brezinski says, if any first shots are fired by a power other than the US.
President Bush stated from the outset that the proper response to Saddam was multilateral action. The Europeans now see the virtue in that approach. Self-interest has a role, too. The WEU has long been a minor arm of the European Community (EC), existing in the shadow of NATO. The current Gulf crisis may allow that arm, and hence the EC, to strengthen.
The deployment of multinational forces creates obvious command and control problems. Who coordinates Belgian ships and British air power? How would US generals take to the idea of placing the 101st Airborne under multinational leadership? Such issues need working out.
Japan's $3 billion towards US expenses is a sign of good faith.
Europe's resolve further tightens the circle around Saddam. Yet an effort to give non-Western nations a greater voice in condemning Hussein would contribute greatly toward the dissipating of anti-US sentiment in the Arab world. India and Algeria, for example, ought to be heard from.
Cool heads must prevail.