TCS Daily

The New Neutrality

By Michael Totten - April 15, 2004 12:00 AM

The Western alliance is fracturing.

France last year sent its diplomats abroad to cajole non-NATO governments to vote against the US resolution in the UN Security Council to depose Saddam Hussein's regime by force. Germany and Belgium poodled along for the ride. Turkey, at the last minute, denied the US the use of bases on its soil to open a northern front against the Iraqi Republican Guard. Meanwhile, Spain swept to power a Socialist government that announced a withdrawal of its troops from Iraq before it even took power.

The US is making alliances with European leaders rather than with European countries. Such provisional alliances are inherently unstable and ephemeral. Some, like Britain's Tony Blair and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, may very well wish to continue supporting the US to the hilt in the Middle East. But they have every reason to fear their cooperation imperils them, that they may go the way of the Spanish ruling party and be voted out of office if attacks occur on their watch.

It looks like the position of Spain -- backpedaling, unreliable, and effectively anti-American -- could become the new norm. Europe and America are like a couple in deep denial who are lashing out at each other while approaching a breakup. We'll still remain friends once it's over. We might be friendly neutrals or less friendly rivals. Short of a drastic shift in European psychology, the relationship as we have known it is finished.

End of an Era

Spain's realignment may have had an identifiable trigger -- the terror attacks in Madrid. But a slow-moving tectonic shift is pulling Europe in general away from America. That shift can be chalked up to politics and culture as well as to history.

We Americans so easily forget. Europe, for most of our history, was not a place for post-graduation backpacking trips or romantic honeymoon getaways. Europe was the place of religious intolerance, political autocracy, entrenched class rivalries, trench warfare, and the Holocaust. Europe was the place most Americans and their families had fled.

The end of World War II changed our relationship seemingly forever. Soviet tanks in the East pushed the Free World into an anti-Communist bloc. Old suspicions were forgotten -- except when they weren't. A true feeling of camaraderie developed for the first time. We were all democratic and anti-Communist -- at least most of us were. Our shared values made our alliance seem only natural.

When the Soviet Union collapsed NATO's raison d'ĂȘtre imploded right along with it. The Western alliance expanded eastward even as it withered into a hollowed-out anachronism. The relationship between Europe and America remained on cruise control, partly out of habit, partly out of convenience, mostly because of nostalgia.

September 11 changed that. The old NATO slogan America in, Russia out, and Germany down was replaced with a new unspoken sentiment: America out, Russia in, and Germany up. Europe's rising pacifism collided with America's new militancy. Two years of vitriolic anti-Americanism from European capitals was salt in an open wound. American anti-Europeanism, though expressed more politely than its continental counterpart, is more pervasive, heartfelt, and personal.

The Western alliance lost its formal reason for being more than a decade ago. It lost its emotional glue since the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Conflicting Visions of War

Europeans don't think they're at war. Americans do.

Europeans are no longer threatened with a ground invasion from the east, nor is any of their territory occupied by a foreign power. In fact, they have never felt safer than they feel right now with the first-ever total abolition of threats from within.

Terrorism -- to Europeans -- is a problem, but it's mostly a law-enforcement problem. It isn't war. Europeans know war. War is trenches and blitzkriegs and tanks in the streets. Al Qaeda doesn't have anything to do with those things. They're just a high octane cocktail of the Irish Republican Army and Arabian fanaticism.

Then again, Europeans didn't get the tallest swath of one of their principal cities incinerated. They don't get apocalyptic death threats like this one that promise to turn the US into a "sea of deadly radiation."

Even if they did, there isn't much they could do about it. Europe's militaries are third rate. They can knock off a fourth rate African tinpot or they can tag along behind the US. But regime-change in Iraq is beyond them.

Besides, Europe can only work as a unified Union with the institutionalization of pacifism. Europeans have to tell themselves that talk solves all conflicts and that war is never the answer. It keeps Germany out of France and France out of Algeria.

Europeans knows their relationship with the Arab Middle East is dicey. They're on Al Qaeda's hit list. The attacks in Madrid only underscored what they already knew. Terrorists will sometimes get through the nets.

So on the one hand, they have to fight terror. On the other hand, they don't want to do it abroad. They only feel comfortable arresting those terrorists who have already made their way into Europe. Tagging along behind the US in the Middle East sucks them into outright war.

So they split the difference. They triangulate. A little anti-terrorism here, a little anti-Americanism there. A little help in Afghanistan over here, a little appeasement in Gaza and Iraq over there.

It's a dead-end strategy. Europeans will remain targets no matter what they do. No European country has spent more time and energy obstructing the US in the Middle East than France. Yet France recently received a credible terrorist threat that promised "to plunge France into terror and remorse and spill blood outside its frontiers."

Europeans may feel anxiety about America's oversized role in the world. But Americans are not going to go into their countries and murder their citizens. Middle Easterners have and will.

Victor Davis Hanson aptly describes the futility of Europe's posturing:

It is one thing to triangulate between the United States and the Arab world for short-term advantage; quite another to find oneself alienated from the heretofore supportive Americans without finding commensurate gratitude from the Middle East.

Europeans need a new strategy. If the Terror War continues to heat up on the continent, they'll get one.

At the Crossroads

There are three basic types of relationships states can have with each other. They can be allies, neutrals, or enemies. There are close alliances and cynical alliances. There is warm neutrality and cold neutrality. There are mortal enemies and merely standoffish enemies. The transatlantic relationship is at a crossroads and will eventually settle into one of those three basic types.

John Kerry hopes to shore up the old alliance if he is elected president. That's what most Americans would like to see whether they plan to vote for him or not. But it isn't going to happen. The alliance we're all nostalgic for was specifically an answer to the threat of enslavement by the Soviet Empire. It didn't exist before the end of World War II, and it isn't outlasting its original mission statement.

It isn't at all likely that Europe and America will wake up one morning to find themselves enemies. We have too many warm feelings for each other, despite the ankle-biting and insults. We share too many of the same values, one of which is an aversion to war. Neither Americans nor Europeans care for it -- especially not the Europeans. More important, we do not and will not have anything worth fighting about. Europe is not capable of waging a war against America. The worst Europeans can do is sanction and obstruct America's actions elsewhere, in which case we can, if need be, simply ignore them.

The only option left is some sort of neutrality.

Neutral relations are fine. We can be friends with countries that aren't strictly our allies. That's the sort of relationship we have with most of Latin America and with others such as Thailand, South Africa, and New Zealand. This sort of relationship with Europe may not be the most desirable, but it's the best we can expect with the direction we're heading.

Finding the Right Balance

Neutrality, though, can be tricky. Neutrality is sometimes temporary. Neutrality is sometimes false.

Look at America's relationships to New Zealand and Indonesia. New Zealand is not a part of the coalition of the willing in Iraq. We never expected New Zealand's help. We never asked for New Zealand's permission to depose Saddam Hussein. The same can be said of Indonesia. But the sort of neutrality we share with those countries is radically different.

If push comes to shove, we know New Zealand is on America's side. The odds that New Zealand would take the side of a Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, or Osama bin Laden are zero. Not so with Indonesia. Indonesia could go either way at any time. Few would be surprised to see a future Indonesia taking the side of, say, Iran in a hypothetical showdown between the US and ayatollahs in Tehran.

The odds that European countries would openly take the side of Islamofascists are similarly zero. To be sure, Europe jockeys for advantage by triangulating between the US and the Middle East. Europe does, rhetorically at least, take the side of the Palestinians against the Israelis. But Europe did (finally) come to the belated conclusion that the jihadis of Hamas, and not just those in its "military wing," are terrorists. Europe will never invade Israel or take up the position of the hard-line Arab regimes that Israel has no right to exist.

Europe's liberal post-Christian culture makes the very idea of an alliance with Islamofascists unthinkable. And Europe, after all, is on Al Qaeda's list of targets.

Europe's best option is to be become, in effect, a continental federation of New Zealands. If Europeans don't feel comfortable taking the war against the terrorists into the heart of the Middle East, Americans can and will do the dirty work for them. Americans will do it with or without their blessing or help. We'll do it not to spite them but because we have no choice.

Britain's contributions in Iraq are substantial. But Spain's were already token at best. I mean no offense to the Spanish, but we won't hurt much in Iraq without their help. Their assistance was mostly just political cover anyway. Continental Europe is militarily weaker than it has been for centuries. They need our help a lot more than we need theirs.

If they feel their support in the Terror War puts them at risk of attack, as the Spanish clearly do, their best option is to cut a deal with the United States: deputize America to fight the war for them. They can do this quietly. We will fight for Germany, for Spain, and for France. In return, they will wage no anti-American campaigns and make no complaints about how we fight or about American "unilateralism."

We will be fighting for them against our common enemies. Europeans had nothing to gain but oil contracts and the illusion of gratitude for playing the role of Saddam Hussein's and Yasser Arafat's lawyer. They'll get attacked by fanatics all the same.

A lot of people wouldn't like this arrangement. Some Europeans would grouse that they don't pull enough weight in the world. Some Americans would complain that Europeans are defense freeloaders. But that's basically the way it is already. All I'm suggesting is that both Europe and the US accept and "institutionalize" reality.

If Europeans don't want to do any heavy lifting, if they wish to act like Costa Rica and Belize, they are going to have the same clout as Costa Rica and Belize. If they want to have the same clout as America, they need to act like America. They may have some influence with the US since we Americans respect them for sharing our basic values. But in the places where it counts, such as the West Bank, Iran, North Korea, and Zimbabwe, Europeans are perceived as mere posturers with checkbooks.

The alternative to the acceptance and approval of American "unilateralism" is more intra-Western squabbling and bitterness. The end result will be the same either way -- the US will do what the US will do. Germany, France, and Spain might do their worst to get in the way, but they will not help. The more they obstruct, the less likely we'll be to consult them in the future. The more they oppose us just to oppose us, the more "unilateral" we'll have no choice but to become.

The price they need to pay for being neutral is that they actually have to be neutral. We will do the fighting. They can watch the Terror War from a distance. We will call the shots. They won't ask for consultation or the right to a veto. We will bear the costs in both treasure and lives. They can lay low and work their way lower down Al Qaeda's priority list. They won't get in our way. We won't put them in harm's way any more than they already are. We fight for them and take the burden of their security upon us. They won't campaign against us, not in the chamber of the UN nor in their domestic election campaigns.

That's the deal. Unless Europeans change their mind and think of the Middle East as the new Soviet bloc, that's as good as it is going to get.

Michael J. Totten is a TCS columnist. Visit his Web log at


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