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Transatlantic crisis

27 February 2003

Iraq, Iraq, Iraq - a code word for the crisis across the Atlantic and discord within Europe. Yet, though the divide across the Atlantic is bound to grow, the differences within Europe will probably dissipate because, in fact, the overwhelming majority of Europeans are against the war such as it is being forced upon them.
Europe today is being humiliated as it has rarely been in its post-World War II history. It is being humiliated because its many nation-states are being forced to choose - not on the merits or demerits of the threat of Saddam Hussein's regime on global security but whether they are with the United States on not - a 21st century vision of colonialism which effectively works, given the fact that an overwhelming number of European states have chosen the United States while France and Germany still resist. The French stand stoic to their credit - hubris being as much a national French character trait as an American one - while the Germans are being publicly ridiculed by being compared to present-day dictatorial Libya and Cuba.
For most other European states that have, against their better judgment and values, openly sided (however reluctantly) with the United States and its "clear and imminent" threat assessment of Iraq, their calculations have been national. In other words, how are their national interests best protected and preserved at this stage given the European Union's perceived inability to stand its ground and side with its public opinion? Take the case of Italy and Spain, with external borders on the Mediterranean and home to key NATO bases, having to confront public opinion and calculate national interests. Take the case of Turkey, which is grudgingly being led into war by virtue (if it can be called that) of its frontline status. The government there is carefully setting in motion two parliamentary votes to assure the presence of US troops at great cost to its credibility. Take the case of Greece, the only EU member state that borders the Middle East, where both anti-war sentiments and anti-Americanism run high. Greece cannot but grant use of its air space and the Souda Bay military base in Crete to the US in its war efforts despite reiterating that no Greek troops will take part. Take the case of Poland, another frontline state unable to overcome its unease of Russia and grateful for its membership in NATO. What do all these countries have in common? Real security concerns which only the alliance (and the USA) can address if push comes to shove. Where there is a more credible security alternative in place, the resistance to the USA's ultimatum would have been more resolute to the point that it might never have occurred, given Europe's ability to stand steadfast to the view that Saddam does not present an imminent threat.
Through humiliation one acquires humility and resolve. The Greeks learned their lesson well on the heels of the Ocalan debacle in 1998. Since then, Greek-Turkish relations seem almost utopic compared to the recent past. Herein lies the hope for the EU, never mind that its construction is being severely tested today. The French position is one all its European allies would like to support but cannot afford to at this time. But one of the lessons learned from the Iraq adventure will be never having to be forced into such a choice again. After all, Central European farmers, for all their nagging, will get their subsidies from the EU just as the Italians and Spaniards will continue to receive their structural funds. These are not going to come from across the Atlantic. NATO is also seriously in trouble, never mind the fact that European Security and Defense Policy and a credible EU force could still be years away and those joining the US bandwagon (over Iraq) see it as their only security anchor. If security comes at a price of reluctant acquiescence into war and coalitions of the obedient, then it has to be reconsidered. Even Turkey, the only NATO member facing real and immediate threats from a war with Iraq, will have to come around slowly toward a closer relationship with its European neighbors (and vice versa). The acrimonious debates at the North Atlantic Council must have brought the point home to the Turks. Can Turkey afford to have no other options but to be so dependent on the United States when the political, military, and foreign policy elites share the view that Turkey's interests can only be harmed by the war? Even Tony Blair must concur that the United Kingdom's standing as a permanent member of the Security Council and a world power is diminished as it constantly fails to raise firm objections to some US plans at a time when the UK, along with France, concur on the EU's need for a defense procurement agency and a more viable security and defense policy.
Hence, the crux of the transatlantic malaise today: The Europeans need an EU that best expresses and defends their collective interests and world-view. If this EU represents US positions, so much the better. The current crisis tells Europeans that a strong and united European Union is just as vital. The crisis enhances the need for the Europeans to reconsider their project and priorities and to make the difficult political and financial - security costs money - imperatives necessary never to find themselves in such a humiliating situation again. This does not imply payback time for all of the United States' arm-twisting and pressure on its European allies, but a credible, logically postulated, powerful counterweight to debatable actions on the world stage which would apply for the EU as well should it attempt to venture where it should not.