Can Bush's EU Charm Offensive Maintain the China Arms Embargo?
Kevin Cooney (Assistant Professor of Political Science, Union University) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
Kevin Cooney: Bush's trip to Europe was part of a "charm offensive" to put a positive spin on the next four years. Bush wants Europe working with him not against him. The aftermath of the Iraq war and the recent Iraqi elections has taken a lot of the emotion out of public opposition to President Bush in Europe. This is very similar to how Europe reacted to former President Reagan in his first term and the gradual acceptance of his presidency (not necessarily his policies) during his second term. While there were some protests against Bush during his visit, the protests were small and limited in scope as was even acknowledged by their organizers.
Sean Curtin: I would say that while Europeans were generally against the Iraq war, they realize that the nascent Iraqi democracy is extremely fragile and now we all need to work together if there is any chance of success. It is a massive task and will probably take at least a decade to accomplish, if not longer. I don't think it is something the US can achieve alone and since Iraq is on Europe's doorstep we have a duty as well as a vested interest in helping stabilize the country. Having witnessed the horrors of the decades-long Lebanese civil war, Europe certainly wants to stop the same thing from happening in Iraq.
How has Bush's tour been seen in the US and what is your view?
Kevin Cooney: There are two main "schools" of thought as to what Bush's European trip represents for Europe and the world. The first school of thought that some pundits are advocating is that Bush had engaged in an "irrelevancy tour" that focused on Europe's historical role and strengths and its growing irrelevance in global affairs. Most of these pundits are conservatives in the US. The second school of thought takes a pro European spin that Bush was on an "apology tour" to mend fences that he had destroyed in his first four years.
I reject both of these interpretations. Bush traveled to Europe to mend fences that had been broken down by mutual hostility and frustration. The main reason that Bush wants to mend these fences is that Bush sees Europe as still very relevant and powerful. It has the potential to be a "troublemaker" for US hegemony by upsetting the balance of global power. The potential of Europe as a "troublemaker" from the perspective of the Bush Administration is particularly evidenced by its recent gambit to ally itself with China by ending its arms embargo with China and selling them arms that have been banned since Tiananmen Square in 1989. The problem with this is that the resumption of arms sales and the resulting technology transfers would provide China with the tools of militarism that it so desperately wants. The resulting power shift would cause an East Asian arms race in order to balance and contain a potentially militaristic China.
Since Tiananmen Square there has been a concerted effort to bring China into the world community through mutual economic dependency. If China is given the tools of militarism much of the progress and leverage gained in the last fifteen years would be lost. This is why both Japan and the United States are extremely worried about the impending lifting of the EU arms embargo to China. It is inherently destabilizing for all of East Asia with potential global ramifications. If the embargo is lifted it would fall to the US, Japan, and possibly India to contain any potential militarism on the part of China. North Korea is more than enough distraction for Japan and the US at the moment. If Europe does not want to listen to Bush it should listen to Japan. It is a very bad time to end the arms embargo and Bush wanted to get this message across to his hosts. Whether he was successful or not, time will only tell.
Curtin: You provide a very good explanation of US concerns about the Chinese arms embargo issue which has also been raised by Michael Howard, the leader of the British opposition Conservative party. Last year Howard told me, "I am firmly against Europe unilaterally lifting the embargo. It is quite clear and understandable that for strategic reasons America does not want to see US military technology being made available, however indirectly, to the PRC [People's Republic of China]. If Europe lifts the embargo, the US will simply cease to provide any EU country with that technology, which in Britain's case is vital to the effectiveness of our military and defence capabilities."
I am not a defence specialist, so do not consider this as an expert opinion or an attempt to justify arms sales, but from what I have read, the European arms industry's counterargument to yours and Mr. Howard's point is that China has already received quite a fair amount of US technology via its Israeli and other arms purchases.
I know that when in 2000 Israel attempted to sell China an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), the US blocked the deal, because it would have given Beijing a strategic edge in any Taiwan conflict. As a result, Israel ended up paying China $350 million in compensation, and the arms selling relationship between the two cooled, but recently there are signs it is picking up again. European arms manufactures argue that it is a competitive market, they have to keep up with their Israeli rivals and should like them be allowed to sell arms to China.
Kevin Cooney: Just because some technology transfers to China have occurred in the past does not justify continued transfers that will endanger peace and stability in East Asia. Israel's past arms sales and attempted arms sales demonstrate the dangers of putting profits before anything else. Europe and Israel see a chance to make money in a market that the US will never enter. They are ignoring the strategic, political and human consequences of their actions for pure financial gain. The US will do its best, short of war, to stop the transfers from taking place, but if they do take place Mr. Howard is absolutely right in that technology transfers to the EU will dry up and Britain will be the greatest loser if this happens. There needs to be a greater realization that there are some things in life that are more important than profits.
Sean Curtin: What was your take on the Bush-Putin summit in Bratislava?
Kevin Cooney: As far as the Russian aspect of the trip goes, both Bush and John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign agreed that proliferation of nuclear weapons was a grave concern. Bush was able to gain a statement from Putin that Iran should not become a nuclear power and they moved forward on agreements dealing with the clean up of Russia's stockpile of nuclear weapons. This was not great progress but it was some progress. Again time will be the measure of the success of this part of Bush's trip too. Hopefully Putin saw into "Bush's soul" this time and will refrain from aiding Iran's nuclear ambitions, whatever they may be, in any way.
Sean Curtin: The European press focused on different aspects of this meeting, especially Putin's comment that there is no evidence Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. After the meeting, the BBC quoted a senior US official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, as saying the summit had not produced any breakthroughs on the key issues.
As for my overall assessment, I would say that the trip was a successful one for Bush, even though some major transatlantic differences still remain. The President must be satisfied that there were no major public disagreements and that he explained his position in a confident manner without giving very much ground.
His speech in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, was especially well received by cheering crowds and this was probably Bush's finest performance during his tour.
The above discussion took place on 26 February 2005, before Russia announced on 27 February that it had signed a deal to provide nuclear fuel to Iran. Under the agreement Moscow will supply fuel to Iran's new nuclear reactor in Bushehr. One of the terms of the accord says that Iran must return spent nuclear fuel rods from the Russian designed and built reactor. This clause is meant to be a safeguard to allay US and Israeli fears that Iran might misuse the rods to build nuclear weapons. The Bush administration is certain to be angered by the agreement, coming so soon after the Bratislava summit.
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