TCS Daily


Collateral Damage

By Hans H.J. Labohm - March 28, 2003 12:00 AM

Even before its start, the war against Iraq has inflicted massive collateral damage on transatlantic and intra-European relationships.

The political atmosphere of the EU's heads of government summit in Brussels on March 20 and 21 - the days that the military campaign against Iraq was launched - was described by one of the participants as 'surreal, almost ghostly'. The President of the Council, the Greek Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, made no effort to conceal that the divisions and differences among the EU governments were deep and profound. Although there was no formal discussion of how the crisis will impact on the already comatose EU common foreign, security and defence policy (CFSP/ESDP), summit leaders tried to put the best face they could on matters.

But this may now be overtaken by the initiative announced by the Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, with the support of France and Germany, to discuss a more radical integration of their forces. In doing so, Belgium acted as the roaring mouse in this mini concert of Europe. All three governments made it clear the grouping within the EU would be open to all Member States.

The first reaction from Britain was dismissive. Only France and Britain, have substantial military capabilities. So non-participation of the British would be a non-starter.

But all European nations accept that over and above the Iraq crisis, what is really at the heart of the internal EU crisis is how to manage transatlantic relations. The summit conclusions state: 'We remain convinced that we need to strengthen the transatlantic partnership, which remains a fundamental strategic priority for the European Union; to this effect, a sustained dialogue on the new regional and global challenges is necessary.' But if there is no movement in European thinking about worldwide strategic issues, this is likely to remain a dialogue of the deaf.

Power, Weakness

In a recent bombshell article, 'Power and Weakness', which sent shock waves through the European foreign policy establishments, the American foreign policy analyst, Robert Kagan noted:

'It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power - the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power - American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant's 'Perpetual Peace.' The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defence and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might.'

But Kagan rightly pointed out that:

'Europe's new Kantian order could flourish only under the umbrella of American power exercised according to the rules of the old Hobbesian order. American power made it possible for Europeans to believe that power was no longer important. And now, in the final irony, the fact that United States military power has solved the European problem, especially the 'German problem,' allows Europeans today to believe that American military power, and the 'strategic culture' that has created and sustained it, are outmoded and dangerous.'

The Real Solution

So East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet? That is still a premature conclusion. It is true that the dominant view is that Iraq has led to a division between the US on the one hand and Europe on the other. But, when we look more closely, this appears to be an oversimplification of the real situation. As far as Europe is concerned its impact has been more complex, in the sense that Iraq has exposed deep fissures, not only between EU member countries, but also inside individual European states.

As regards the legality of the military intervention, there are different views. Lord Goldsmith, the British prime minister's most senior legal adviser, has released a statement outlining his belief that military action in the Middle East would not be in breach of international law. Goldsmith argues that previous UN resolutions 678, 687 and 1441 provide the legal basis for a war in the face of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with the demands of the international weapons community. All of these resolutions were adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which allows the use of force for the express purpose of restoring international peace and security. However, there is disagreement about the interpretation of the terms 'final opportunity' and 'serious consequences'. Critics argue that 1441 alone is not enough to justify an invasion of Iraq as it supersedes the previous resolutions and does not specify what the 'serious consequences' confer. But Goldsmith's views are shared by many European governments and commentators.

What about the role of power politics as opposed to multilateral approaches? Also here, there are European analysts who disagree with the putative common European view. In this context Robert Kagan referred to a senior British diplomat, Robert Cooper, who wrote:

'Europe today lives in a 'postmodern system' that does not rest on a balance of power but on 'the rejection of force' and on 'self-enforced rules of behaviour. [...] In the 'postmodern world,' 'raison d'état' and the amorality of Machiavelli's theories of statecraft [...] have been replaced by a moral consciousness in international affairs.' [..]

'The challenge to the postmodern world,' Cooper argues, 'is to get used to the idea of double standards.' Among themselves, Europeans may 'operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security.' But when dealing with the world outside Europe, 'we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era - force, preemptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary.' This is Cooper's principle for safeguarding society: 'Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle.' Again, Cooper is not alone. His views are shared by a growing number of foreign policy analysts in continental Europe, who have not unlearned to think in terms of power politics.

What about the morality of military intervention? It is surprising that even left-leaning European newspapers allow experts of the Arab world to air their support for military intervention on moral grounds in order to liberate the oppressed Iraqi people and to turn Iraq into a democracy. It is also remarkable that well-known former East European dissidents, such as the Hungarian sociologist and novelist György Konrad, the Polish Adam Michnik, the Czech Vaclav Havel and the Kosovar Vetton Surroï have expressed their support for the military intervention. As Konrad explained, former dissidents regard the toppling of a bloody tyrant as a sympathetic cause.

What then about popular support in Europe? Some European analysts argue that the EU disarray over Iraq is all the more regrettable, because it was the governments that were divided, not the people. Indeed the largest demonstrations against war were in the UK and Spain. But this argument seems flawed. Anti-war demonstrations might convey the false impression that a majority of people is against this war. But apart from a few exceptions, who is willing to publicly demonstrate in favour of war? Nobody likes war. It is a last resort when all other options are exhausted. If one believes that it is unavoidable after all, one rather prefers to lick one's wounds at home than to parade in the streets under a pro-war banner.

What do we make of all this? The most likely scenario for the foreseeable future might be that Europe will remain divided, both on Iraq and the role of power politics in global relationships at large. It will neither be willing nor able to muster sufficient resources to match America's military capabilities. The CFSP/ESDP will remain a relatively small-scale undertaking. Europe's common defence will only be capable to operate in Europe's immediate neighbourhood and will be mainly focusing on humanitarian tasks. Operation farther afield will be the responsibility of the US, together with ad hoc coalitions of the willing, including some, but not all, European members states. As Richard Perle of the US Defence Policy Board stated: 'We are left with coalitions of the willing. Far from disparaging them as a threat to a new world order, we should recognise that they are, by default, the best hope for that order, and the true alternative to the anarchy of the abject failure of the UN.' Europe as a whole will not subscribe to that view. But some European members may gradually come to adopt that belief in practice.

Many centuries ago, Nicolo Machiavelli wrote: 'The gulf between how one should live and how one does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done learns the way to self-destruction rather than self-preservation.' European foreign policy analysts might rediscover the value of that insight.

Finally, is God on the side of the allies? Whatever the answer to this question will prove to be, in secular states it lies outside the realm of public statecraft.
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