EU Opposition to War in Iraq may be Weakening
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
Most European leaders have for long been opposed to the idea of a US attack on Iraq. However, as of late that opposition in several key EU countries seems to be weakening. Apart from the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who some argue is using a hard line against military intervention in Iraq to gain leftist voters in the upcoming election, many European leaders have softened their rhetoric against possible US military action in Iraq. Their only condition is that the US goes through the United Nations first.
When Bush included Iraq in the "axis of evil" and pledged to take whatever action necessary against it in his State of the Union Address in January, criticism from Europe sounded much like what German Chancellor Schroeder declared during an election rally on 30 July. "Germany did not hesitate to offer solidarity in the fight against international terrorism," Schroeder said, adding that anyone contemplating an attack on Iraq "needs a political concept for where they go from there." "I say: yes to pressure on Saddam Hussein. ... But I can only warn against playing games with war and military intervention".
In France, the criticism has toned down from what it used to be during L. Jospin's tenure as vice-president. Instead of talking about the need to restrain America's military adventures, French President Jacques Chirac now indicates that he could back military action if it were endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.
In Spain and Italy, Bush seems to enjoy more support. In fact, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have tried to avoid discussing the issue as much as possible. When Aznar did comment on the matter during a news conference on 26 July he stated that, "Iraq has the obligation to prove that it does not have any type of weapon of mass destruction, no chemical or biological weapons, and should follow the Security Council resolutions of the United Nations." He said nothing more and left the conclusion open-ended.
Italy's defense minister was more forthright in his statement when he declared last week that Rome might join in the action if there was clear evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Admittedly, the US government officially claims that no decision has been made on Iraq especially in light of the fact that the UN Weapons Inspection team has just received an invitation from the Iraqi government to conduct inspections.
However, the waiting game may not be such a bad idea for President Bush, who claims to be a "patient man". If Bush waits long enough, he may be able to gain passive endorsement from the key EU countries.
Considering that Japan has offered little resistance to the idea of an attack on Iraq, it may simply be a matter of time before Bush gets his wish. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that although Europeans would rather have Bush not attack Iraq, they can only afford to oppose the world's only super power for so long in the absence of weapons inspections. That is why the majority of the public in Europe, who remain adamantly opposed to the use of force, sincerely hope that the latest Iraqi invitation extended to UN weapons inspectors is genuine. If not the price to pay will be far too high.