- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

"Is it a revolt?" asked Louis XVI as angry rioters went rampaging through the boulevards. "No Sire," was the reply, "it's a revolution."

This exchange comes to mind in discussions about the rift between the United States and "Old Europe" that has widened over the war with Iraq. The Europeans are not just resenting the American power play, they are staging a virtual revolution against an ally who has infuriated them by upsetting their cherished balance of power.

Abetted by a politically compromised leadership in Germany, eager to divert attention from a severe economic crisis culminating in a staggering unemployment rate is 11-1/2 percent, a boost from Moscow and backed by the non-aligned bloc of 114 unwilling nations, the French are seizing this crucial moment to restore the power balance that once preserved the status quo.

There is no better barometer for the state of trans-Atlantic relations than the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy chaired by the scholarly Horst Teltschik, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's trusted foreign affairs adviser. It was the forum outspoken Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and a delegation of high-powered senators had chosen to sell the American concept of a war against Iraq, with or without the support of its allies or the United Nations Security Council, to a generally skeptical elite from some 40, mostly European, countries.

There was little agreement. Questions about the administration's ulterior motives, above all the interest in oil by oilman George W. Bush and Co. and the troubling connection to Israel, took first place.

At the same time it became apparent that the perception of the deadly threat of the "new" terrorism, inflicted by al Qaeda, Hamas, the Taliban and other groups not interested in bargaining but in mass casualties, was not shared by many. The rationale being, perhaps, an assumption that the target of such attacks, most likely, would be the United States.

To be sure, the estrangement between Americans and Europeans not only concerns Iraq. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, differing worldviews and interests emerged as Europe began to examine the rationale for its traditional trans-Atlantic partnership in the context of its new European Union identity.

While there is a consensus about the threat posed by the murderous tyrant of Baghdad with terrorist ties, who has resisted demands for total disarmament for 12 years, differences became insurmountable about the ways and means to complete this risky mission that could destabilize the region and inflame the Muslim world.

Not to speak of the Bush administration's insistence on regime change that, according to French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, is in conflict with the rules of international law.

The administration's timely response to the traumatic terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, that shaped President Bush's doctrine of preventive war as an alternative to Europe's failing containment practice, was rejected by the most influential allies. For the first time, Europe's finest openly chose to challenge American "cowboy" power politics that had them cut down to size. Not since European demonstrators marched against the war in Vietnam have anti-American hostilities been more intense.

Starting with the Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis to build a coalition of the unwilling, French Premier Jacques Chirac was quick to grasp the reins of the leaderless European Union to assert European independence and France's gloire by blocking American "colonial" aspirations.

In this role, he not only defeated Mr. Bush's effort to get Turkey on the EU track, but brazenly admonished the EU's prospective East European contingent for its loyalty to the superpower that liberated these countries from their Soviet yoke.

Well-known as a crafty political infighter, "Chameleon Bonaparte" made his power grab by challenging America's military might and unilateral overconfidence with a network of conflict resolutions based on a web of treaties and regulations. It is an open question whether Europe's coalition of the unwilling is pursuing a new order of law and multilateral diplomacy because their military shortcomings inhibit certain military interventions or because of self-serving geopolitical ambitions.

The collateral damage of this exercise is considerable. Saddam Hussein, master of deceptive divide-and-conquer games, had reason to be pleased with the temporary success of his public-relations effort on the world stage. Before a single missile hit Baghdad, the venerable Atlantic Alliance had developed a crack, the European Union was split and the authority of the United Nations diminished.

Moreover, had it not been for the heavy lifting of NATO's intrepid Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, the successful 55-year-old defense organization just having celebrated its strategic partnership with the EU and its new cooperative relationship with Russia nearly fell apart over France's attempt to undermine the request for deterrent and defensive measures to meet a possible threat to Turkey.

There is recognition that the new era of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction requires fundamental changes in dealing with international security issues and that the European Union is unprepared to mount its own defense. Therefore, a radical strategic review is under way of NATO's instruments of prevention and deterrence, reflecting the changing European political and security realities.

The effort to bring troops closer to the zones of instability in the Balkans and the Middle East requires lighter, mobile, rotating units and reduces the need for large and costly garrisons in Germany. Understandably, the prospect of such tough reforms makes allies like the Germans, who just cut their defense budget, uneasy about Washington's European commitment.

Differing European perceptions of security, terrorist threats, power-sharing, the balance between national and common interests, globalism, sustainable economic growth, capitalism, and the socialist dimension in postmodern societies have long strained relations. These strains were evident well before open clashes over the Iraq war, the Kyoto Treaty, the steel issue and the International Criminal Court fractured trans-Atlantic ties.

Europeans accept alliances as a form of power. With them united in opposition to George W. Bush's "unnecessary" war in Iraq, a rapprochement by the new players may well depend on the incalculable winds of war.


Viola Herms Drath is a trustee and member of the executive committee of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

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