Berlin — America's allies have promised to help find and punish those who perpetrated this week's terrorist attacks in the United States. But as pressure mounts for some form of military retribution, there were cracks already forming Thursday in the avowed united front against terrorism.
All 19 NATO countries have committed themselves to a campaign against fanatics and have taken Tuesday's attacks in New York and Washington as assaults on their own values. But some closest U.S. friends are nervously urging patience and clearly uneasy with a wounded America's desire for revenge.
Throughout Europe, voices are warning of the dangers of escalating the crisis with indiscriminate airstrikes that could kill innocent civilians or provoke a global holy war between the West and Islam. There are also fears that the powerful anger gripping Americans and even their allies could lead to demonizing of all Muslims as U.S. investigators focus their attention on Saudi militant Osama bin Laden and the nation that shelters him, Afghanistan.
Political will, military muscle and popular support are in place for crushing those who committed this week's carnage, but the questions of how, when and where to fight an elusive enemy are complicating the quest for a coordinated response even this early on.
"I hope we all remain calm and do not now speak of a state of alarm," said German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping. "We do not face a war. We face the question of what is an appropriate response."
In Paris, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin warned that a precipitous attack could unleash wider instability: "We should not start thinking in terms of a confrontation between the Western world and the Islamic world as such. ... We have friends and partners there. We must keep our heads."
France, Germany and other European countries have had closer, more trade-oriented ties with nations often labeled "rogue" in the United States and therefore have more to lose if allies become identified with U.S. actions that inflict "collateral damage" a euphemism for dead civilians.
NATO member Turkey, flanked by Islamic powers still seething over its help to U.S. forces against Iraq during and since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, faces security risks for even limited cooperation in any strike on Afghan targets.
"I hope that the United States will not act rashly and take international public opinion into account when weighing its response," former President Suleyman Demirel said. "I hope they will not try and pin this act on an entire region or an entire ethnic group but that they will have the prescience to punish only those who were responsible for this act of terrorism."
A British government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision on retaliatory strikes is not immediate. U.S. investigators must first establish the names and location of those responsible, then try to persuade the host country to extradite them.
"The danger is that we jump ahead," he said, meaning a precipitous assault.