TCS Daily

Europe's Munich Moment

By J. Peter Pham & Michael I. Krauss - August 29, 2006 12:00 AM

In March 2003, on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the current French Prime minister, Dominique de Villepin -- then his country's foreign minister -- condemned the Coalition of the Willing in these words to the Security Council: "The United Nations [and nowhere else] is the place where international rules and legitimacy are founded, because it speaks in the name of peoples." His German counterpart, Green Party leader Joschka Fischer, bemoaned the Operation as well, asking in Der Spiegel: "What kind of world order do we want?" After the fall of Baghdad, the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Firdos Square and its pummeling by clearly joyous ordinary Iraqis, Fischer was positively despondent, asking in Die Zeit: "The question now is: What will become of the Europeans given the dominant role of the United States? Will they be able to determine their own fate or will they merely be forced to carry out what has been decided elsewhere?"

It is disheartening but not surprising that so many Europeans have reacted with Schadenfreude to America's difficulties in Iraq. Fischer, for example, has pontificated that it vindicated his view that "the quesstion of legitimization goes beyond the capabilities of the United States." Some Europeans have responded with positive glee at the difficulties Israel, a country they view as little more than America's Middle East proxy, experienced in the recent conflict in Lebanon. (Perhaps Fischer, who had enthusiastically attended a 1969 conference of the Palestine Liberation Organization where Yasir Arafat called for an all-out war on Israel "until the end,"
was one such person.)

Underlying this hostility to Washington and Jerusalem -- in addition to a somewhat reflexive anti-Americanism and Europe's dark legacy of anti-Semitism -- is the moral emptiness illustrated by de Villepin in that address to the Security Council: "It is from the United Nations alone that legal and moral authority can come." This positivism, according to proponents such the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana, is based on a yearning for a "rules-based approach" to international affairs, "not a ploy to constrain the U.S."

It is against this backdrop that, after preening that it would lead the effort to reinvigorate the lackluster United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) -- which, as we have previously shown, could have prevented the recent conflict if it had done its job anytime in the last quarter-century -- France last week cut its offer of troops back to a laughable 200 combat engineers before settling on a pledge of 2,000 soldiers. Had it not done this it risked losing the command of the international force, currently held by French major-general Alain Pellegrini. Even as he reluctantly increased the number of troops pledged, president Jacques Chirac continued to characterize the planned force of 15,000 -- which his country had signed off on in the unanimously-passed Security Council Resolution 1701 -- as "excessive," noting that "it does not make sense."

While the French tergiversaient, Italy's newly-elected Prime Minister Romano Prodi, back in Italian politics after an undistinguished stint as the head of the European Commission, promised 3,000 Italian troops in return for Italian leadership of UNIFIL 2. Prodi's move brought to mind those of an earlier Italian prime minister who sought to distract his people from troubles at home with adventures across Mare Nostrum. Last Friday, after marathon discussions with EU foreign ministers in Brussels, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan managed to cobble together promises -- delivery will be another issue -- of half the needed troops for UNIFIL 2. The French will retain command for now, but will yield it in February 2007 to the Italians, assuming the latter are still there (this is, after all, as Marco Vicenzino pointed out in a recent Foreign Policy Association briefing, the nation whose media recoiled from "Italy's 9/11" after eighteen soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing in Nasariya, Iraq).

Unacknowledged by many diplomats is the fact that at the root of these staffing problems is not so much a question of the law of armed force, or of the capacity to exercise it, as it is of the elemental moral will to exercise it for the good. Europe, it turns out, minimizes the former because it has largely lost the latter.

With respect to military capacity, the facts are well known. The opening paragraph of Robert Kagan's monograph, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, invoked a familiar image: "On major strategic and international matters, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus." Even after post-Cold War cut-backs, the United States has made remarkable advances in precision-guided munitions, joint force operations, and communications. Meanwhile, Europe -- its rhetoric about matching the American hyperpuissance notwithstanding -- has been unwilling to make similar commitments to its own security, much less to that of freedom abroad. The U.S. defense budget, still low as a proportion of GDP by historical reckoning despite the war on terrorism, is several times that of European countries as a percentage of per capita GDP. British Admiral Sir Ian Forbes, then Deputy Supreme Commander of NATO, admitted as much in a widely-discussed 2004 essay: "The brutal truth is that, with NATO's current capabilities, the alliance could not fight at a level comparable to the recent U.S. operations in Iraq." In short, part of the problem in assembling UNIFIL 2 is wherewithal. The Mediterranean may be "Our Sea" to Prime Minister Prodi, but it is America's Italy-based Sixth Fleet that assures the freedom and stability of those waters.

Underlying Europe's anemic military laisser-aller is the problem of moral will. Even if one does not embrace the thesis of Bat Ye'or, whose Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis nonetheless makes a compelling read, the gradual transformation of European morale since the 1970s is striking. Leftist European political and intellectual elites subtly, sometimes openly, embrace the same radicals in the Levant who imperil Europeans as in this month's barely-foiled airline bombing plot. Bruce Bawer, no conservative reactionary, eloquently summarized the stakes in his recent book While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within: "Now, once again, Europe is at a Weimar moment. Poised between the aggressive reality of Islamism and the danger of an incipient native neo-fascism, it is governed by an elite, many of whose members, even now, remain determined not to face reality."

Extending Bawer's metaphor, with the constitution of UNIFIL 2 Europe has reached a "Munich moment." The force has the appropriate paperwork: Resolution 1701 (and the earlier documents, including prominently Resolution 1559, upon which 1701 relies). It is suitably multinational. The United States is surely not imposing its will unilaterally. Now the question is whether the Europeans will muster the forces necessary and find the will to carry out what Resolution 1559 prescribed as binding: "the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias," i.e., Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian monitors (some of whom are present still in Lebanon). Kofi Annan announced on Friday that this disarmament will be the problem of the thus far impotent Lebanese Army, not UNIFIL 2, even though the feeble Lebanese government has already said it won't take on the job. So much for the creation and respect of norms of international conduct.

When Gulliver delivered the Lilliputians from the Blefuscudans, the former turned on the giant who had been their shield and charged him with treason. Gulliver fled, and Lilliput was doomed. It turns out that Lilliput had never stood for much of anything that mattered. Europe now has the opportunity to show that it is not Lilliput.

Michael I. Krauss is professor of law at George Mason University School of Law. J. Peter Pham is director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. Both are adjunct fellows of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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