A Divided Europe
John de Boer (GLOCOM Platform)
With eight European leaders declaring their support for the US stance against Iraq in a joint statement made on 30 January, Europe looks increasingly divided. While last week's EU Report spoke of a possible transatlantic clash over Iraq (Europe Report #39), developments taking place this week suggest a Europe splitting in two. The rupture is particularly deep among European Union members who are supposed to be striving for a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). However, disunity is not limited to members of the "old Europe". Differences also exist among Eastern European candidates ("new Europe") set to join the EU in 2004, if all goes well.
The eight leaders who pledged their support for the US were the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Portugal, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. According to reports, the first five (which are EU members), do not consider a second UN resolution necessary to justify a military attack on Iraq. As far as they are concerned UNSC resolution 1441 was Saddam's last chance to disarm. The remaining three (EU candidates) seem to be motivated by the desire to gain US support in their bids for NATO membership. To that end, Hungary and the Czech Republic have already gone a long way in courting the US. Hungary has offered the use of its Taszar airbase to host the training of up to 3,000 Iraqi opposition activists and the Czech Republic has committed 360 anti-chemical warfare troops previously deployed to Kuwait during the Gulf War of 1991.
Meanwhile, France and Germany lead the anti-war coalition, which includes Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, Greece and Sweden. The Russian Federation has also come out strong against US war tactics by requiring "undeniable proof" before it agrees to any use of force against Iraq. This leaves the Netherlands, Ireland, Finland, Bulgaria, and Slovakia undecided.
The transatlantic rift began last week when US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld criticized the Franco-German anti-war alliance by calling them the "old Europe". At that point US officials feared that Germany and France would manage to rally the majority of Europe against war and squander US plans in Iraq. Sensitivity particularly peaked due to the fact that Germany and France were both on the UN Security Council (France a permanent member with veto power, Germany a rotating member). As of 27 January, newspapers such as the Financial Times were stating that France and Germany could in time overcome weaknesses in the CFSP leading to a stronger, more independent Europe. Judy Dempsey of the Financial Times quoted an EU diplomat stating that, "it's not really the 'old Europe' that worries Rumsfeld. It is the 'new Europe' that France and Germany are creating. Washington is worried about the potential of the Franco-German axis" ("Franco-German alliance raises US defence fears", 27 January).
Part of this worry stemmed from the fact that Germany and France had recently proposed an amendment to the right to veto in the Council of Europe. It was widely believed that the right to veto crippled European foreign policy preventing a unified stance. The proposal was to implement a qualified majority voting system, something that the US remained staunchly opposed to. In relation to this Dempsey quoted a US official who indicated that, "if qualified majority voting was introduced we would have to do more of our lobbying in Brussels, which will be more difficult for us". In essence instead of only having to convince one veto yielding member against a particular policy, the US would have to work to convince the majority.
Despite recent rallies, the battle over European support for a military attack in Europe is not as tight as it may seem. Although eight European leaders have pledged their allegiance to the US, public sentiment in Europe is dominantly against the use of force in Iraq without specific UN approval (meaning another resolution). In Britain for example, recent polls indicate that between 70-77 percent are against a war in Iraq without UN approval (Moll Poll, YouGov Poll in the Sunday Times). In addition, newspapers such as the Guardian and the Financial Times have come out against Blair's bellicose policy. The Guardian specifically published a column on 27 January outlining that the paper "supports a multilateral resolution … We have not ruled out our support for the use of force as a means of last resort … We support containment, deterrence, diplomatic isolation, targeted sanctions pending a change of government. We do not support the US policy of forcible 'regime change'; we have condemned targeted assassination". Ian Mayes, the author of the column, also criticized Blair as "too unquestioning" in his relation with the US (Ian Mayes, Guardian, 27 January). David Gardner of the Financial Times warned that an attack on Iraq would provoke more terrorism arguing that, "an assault on Iraq is the best recruiting sergeant imaginable for his (Bin Laden's) absolutist brand of Islamism" (Gardner, Financial Times, 27 January).
With more EU leaders coming out of the wood-work in support of the US over the past week, the debate over Iraq is heating up. However, one thing that remains clear is that, despite the attitudes of their leadership, public opinion in Europe is overwhelmingly against a war in Iraq. As for the reason why, perhaps we can gain some insight from William Pfaff's article published in the International Herald Tribune on 27 January entitled "Some know more about war". Pfaff explains that West Europeans do not share America's ambitions of vast global reform or visions of history coming to an end because, "they had enough of that kind of thinking, and its consequences, with Marxism and Nazism". Instead, he argues that Western Europeans are interested in the "slow development of civilized and tolerant international relations". The reason being that Europeans have only recently recovered from the devastating experience of WWI and WWII, when twenty million people lost their lives. He explained that Europeans simply "don't want more". The difference between this sentiment and US insistence on war, according to Pfaff, "comes largely from (the US) never having had anything very bad happen to it". "The difference between European and American views", concluded Pfaff, "is more sensibly explained in terms of an irresponsible and ideologically-fed enthusiasm of Bush administration advisers and leaders for global adventure and power, fostered by people with virtually no experience, and little seeming imaginative grasp, of what war means for its victims".
The Franco-German alliance and wide-spread public opposition to war in Iraq is certainly linked to the desire never to repeat what happened in WWII again. In this sense, many Japanese would concur that there are no victors in war but only victims. As debate over the fate of Iraq heats up over the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see what transpires in Europe. Will European leaders manage to unit as have their constituents? Will transatlantic allegiances split the continent in half? The truth is, as Radek Sikorski (director of the New Atlantic Initiative in Washington) has pointed out, it would be of no use for the US to have a victory in Iraq and lose Europe. (Stephen Fidler, Financial Times, 27 January) All of a sudden the stakes seem much bigger than control over oil in Iraq.
- "European leaders rally behind the U.S.", BBC, 30 January 2003
- William Pfaff, "Some know more about war", International Herald Tribune, 27 January 2003
- Judy Dempsey, Franco-German alliance raises US defence fears", The Financial Times, 27 January 2003
- Robert Anderson, John Reed and Robert Wright, "War build-up tests EU candidates' US ties", The Financial Times, 27 January 2003
- Philip Stephens, "Blair plays high stakes in the game for pivotal power", The Financial Times, 27 January 2003
- David Gardner, "War in Iraq will only hinder the war on terror", The Financial Times, 27 January 2003
- Stephen Fidler, "Countdown to war: the evidence is inconclusive, Europeans are sceptical - but Bush's patience is wearing thin", The Financial Times, 27 January 2003
- Patrick Wintour, "Saddam must co-operate to avoid war, says Blair", The Guardian, 27 January 2003
- Ian Mayes, "A crisis in its complexity", The Guardian, 27 January 2003