Enemy Europe?

Foreign Policy in Focus

March 17, 2003

Is the division between the U.S. and many of its allies in Europe over Iraq really just a case of the French causing trouble? Or does Paris smell a rat?

The American media portrays the present crisis as a standoff between France, Germany and Russia on one side, and the rest of Europe on the other. Following the massive demonstrations in Spain, Italy and Britain–the Bush Administration’s staunchest allies–that simplistic formulation has begun to erode, but there is still a feeling that the falling out is somehow over French pique or McDonald’s hamburgers.

But a number of European nations see Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s quip about “old” and “new” Europe as less a rhetorical device to pressure the “let the weapons inspectors do their job” crowd, than as a deliberate attempt to derail the growing political and economic power of the European Union (EU).

“U.S. envoys in Europe” opines the Financial Times, ” are putting pressure on the European Union countries to weaken the deepening Franco-German alliance, fearing it will lead to a more independent defense and foreign policy.”

As one EU military officer told the Financial Times, “It is not really the ‘old Europe’ that worried Rumsfeld. It is the ‘new Europe’ that France and Germany are creating.”

The Bush Administration made it clear early on that it does not intend to allow, according to the President in his 2002 West Point speech, the development of any “peer competitors.” While most people assumed that comment referred to a resurgent Russia or an up and coming China, recent White House actions in Europe suggest the policy is much broader.

This past December, former French President Valiry Giscard d’Estaing unveiled a new EU constitution establishing common policy on foreign affairs and defense and making clear that the bloc intends to compete with the U.S. economically and politically.

Rumsfeld may dismiss France and Germany as passe, but France’s economy is larger than the combined economies of Spain, Poland, Portugal, Hungry, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic, and Germany’s is the third largest in the world. When Rumsfeld said, “The center of Europe has indeed shifted eastward.” it was wishful thinking.

While a number of EU candidate countries signed a letter endorsing the Bush Administration’s approach on Iraq, on most other issues those same countries hardly see eye-to-eye with Washington. The “new ” Europe–Bulgaria, The Czech Republic, Latvia. Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Hungry, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania–overwhelmingly vote against the U.S. in the United Nations. They also back the EU’s criticism of Israel, support the International Criminal Court, and oppose the death penalty.

Growing US hostility to the UN does not go down well in either Europe. In their Feb. 17 statement demanding that Iraq adhere to UN disarmament resolutions, the 15 members of the EU confirmed that “We are committed to the United Nations remaining at the center of international order,” and that the “primary responsibility” for dealing with Iraq “lies with the Security Council.”

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has suggested that the Bush Administration may have bigger fish to fry than lining up support on Iraq. “The glee in Washington over European division,” he wrote in the Washington Post, has led some Europeans to conclude “that the U.S…. is actually planning a grand strategic realignment” that would replace the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with temporary coalitions against specific enemies.

The approach of bilateral ties, rather than working though alliances, is the modus operandi of the present Administration, and one that doesn’t go down easily in Europe. “Allies participate not only in the execution but also the formation of policy,” says Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief and former Secretary General of NATO. “Ad-hoc coalitions of docile followers to be chosen or discarded at will are neither attractive nor sustainable.”

There have been a number of U.S. actions that look suspiciously like Washington is not only happy over the divisions, but actively promotes them. The recent brouhaha over sending NATO arms to Turkey is a case in point. Instead of trying to resolve the situation diplomatically, the U.S. pressured NATO General Secretary George Robertson into trying to force the matter through the North Atlantic Council (NAC) without consulting with individual governments.

The NAC’s membership is composed of ambassadors who can’t make policy independent of the governments they represent.

One ambassador told the Financial Times that the tactic seemed designed simply to heighten the divisions. “Robertson sought either to seek revenge or to embarrass these countries. You can’t do that with NATO.” He went on to say that the Secretary General would have to spend time “picking up the pieces,” adding that, “I am not sure the Americans will help him.”

Splitting the EU is likely to be very costly. Gulf War I was almost completely paid for by our allies, and most the troops in Afghanistan today are German. NATO and the EU have been central to what little rebuilding is being done in that war-torn country.

This time around American taxpayers will have to pick up the whole tab. The Administration may talk about its “coalition of the willing,” but it would be more accurate to describe it as a coalition of the obedient and the penniless. Going alone means paying all the bills.

It might also push Europe further away, even the “new” members. “It will be in the enlightened self-interest” of new EU and NATO members “to adopt an more pro-European position given recent developments” says former Poland Secretary of State Jack Saryusz-Wolski, especially because of the “unilateralist approach to security by the U.S.”

As Javier Solana commented recently, “Some of us profoundly disagree with Bush. But it may push the European Union to become much more of an actor in the world. We have an obligation to do so.”

Which is exactly what the Bush Administration may fear the most.

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