- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

The European Union promised "total support … without equivocation" for the United States' bombing campaign in Afghanistan at a summit in Ghent on Friday. But the conference, during which the 15 members discussed how to aid the campaign against terrorism, highlighted the fact that assistance hasn't been so easy to give. This has been because of tensions between members within the European Union as well as a lack of direction by the Bush administration.

Likewise, in September NATO promised the United States its assistance and paved the way for Operation Enduring Freedom by declaring that an attack against one of its members is an attack against all. Yet, six weeks after the attack, members cannot agree on what help should be given, nor are they sure what is being asked of them. The result has been that the administration has increasingly chosen to deal with countries directly, rather than with each institution as a whole.

"You could say the real problem arises for NATO, which offered its services and was told 'don't call us, we'll call you'," French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said last week after the United States had rejected NATO's offers of help. France's offers of its commandos, as well as the use of its jets in Uzbekistan, had been refused. NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson disagreed that NATO was being underused, repeating President Bush's words that "NATO is the cornerstone of the international coalition."

In typical Bush style, the president is choosing to create his defense and economic policies directly with individual members. As the United States and Britain carry out most of the military exercises in Afghanistan, Mr. Bush is enlisting the help of other NATO members for other support: Germany and France for intelligence, and Australia and Canada for naval assistance. But even here, members have run into problems as politicians have rushed to offer support that their parliaments have not yet approved.

The European Union was stuck with similar challenges Friday. First, there was disagreement in Ghent over what could be considered a legitimate goal of the terrorism campaign. Though Britain, France and Belgium wanted the overthrow of the Taliban to be the ultimate objective, the EU ended up settling for the elimination of al Qaeda.

The more detailed proposals raised at the summit provided sticking points as well. Take, for instance, the matter of the European arrest warrant, which would allow for terrorists to be extradited more quickly. Only six of the EU members defined terrorism as a crime before the Sept. 11 attacks, the Financial Times reported, making extradition difficult. In addition, getting rid of "double criminality" laws, which require both the country extraditing and the country receiving the terrorist to have laws defining their action as terrorism, will require a lot of work.

Still, there is in Europe an increasing desire for unity since the attacks on America. It will be in the United States' best interests if the European offers to help are taken seriously.

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