Monday, February 28, 2005

Imagine a world where Russia and the European Union of 25 nations, and Russia and China, and the EU and China, all find more in common with each other than with the United States. Unimaginable, you correctly say. But the seeds of such an anti-U.S. entente were planted in Europe last week.

In Brussels, President Bush told the EU3 — France, the United Kingdom and Germany — it was their responsibility to quash Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the United States would not negotiate directly with the totalitarian theocracy in Tehran. The U.S. position was judged absurd by the EU3 before Mr. Bush arrived. And it was still deemed absurd after he left.

The Europeans argue, with some validity, they do not have the clout, even with economic sanctions, to change Iran’s mind. But the U.S. still insisted it cannot legitimize the Iranian clerics by talking to them face to face, let alone offering them a non-aggression pact in return for respecting the non-proliferation treaty they signed and ratified.

Russia, meanwhile, says it is satisfied the mullahs are not playing with nuclear fire and it will go on helping Iran’s peaceful nuclear power program. Score one for a rapprochement between the EU and Russia over Iran.

Next comes the EU plan to lift a 15-year-old arms embargo against China next June. Mr. Bush said this would be a mistake, but he is withholding judgment until he sees a promised new EU regime that would carefully regulate nonlethal military sales to China. Until now, EU members have done pretty much what they can get away with. Germany, for example, has sold diesel engines to China for its submarine fleet. This sale was approved on the laughable ground the engines were widely used for civilian purposes all over the world.

Like it or not, say the Europeans, China is headed for superpowerdom in the foreseeable future. Its human-rights record, while still poor, has improved immeasurably since the Tiananmen Square massacre June 4, 1989. The Chinese government doesn’t bother anyone who wants to make a fortune in business so long as they keep their nose out of politics. And China has become a global economic behemoth. There is little doubt China will use some of its $200 billion in U.S. Treasury paper to buy the wherewithal to become strong enough to overwhelm Taiwan in a showdown.

The last major crisis between China and what it considers its wayward province came on President Clinton’s watch in 1996. As volleys of Chinese missiles plunged into the sea near Taiwan, Mr. Clinton quickly dispatched two carriers to the region. Today, say Pentagon war planners, carriers wouldn’t scare Beijing the way they did then. China now has the latest Russian submarine torpedoes that can arc around a carrier, attack from the stern and knock out its giant propellers.

What the Chinese want from European defense industries are the electronics for command and control, as well as communications and surveillance, to achieve command of a modern battle space, the way the U.S. did in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Bush may decide to look the other way to avoid a row with the EU. But Congress has already blown the whistle.

The House recently voted 411-3 to warn the EU if it lifts the arms embargo on China, the U.S. will halt technology transfers to Europe. The Senate will follow suit shortly. The Europeans are now drawing up a list of American “civilian” technology transfers they say have added muscle to China’s military girth. Score one for rapprochement between the EU and China.

It is yet to dawn on U.S. gatekeepers that 6.7 percent of Chinese defense imports come from the United States and only 2.7 percent from Europe. Humvees are mass-produced in China for the People’s Liberation Army. Rolls Royce engines are in some Chinese fighter-bombers. Russia gets most of China’s $15 billion defense market.

On the third front — Russia’s democracy deficit — cooler heads prevailed, presumably remembering when the Soviet empire imploded in 1991, U.S. advice to the new Russia was to go cold turkey into market economics and democratic politics. The ensuing chaos lasted 10 years. Russia was stripped of $200 billion, assets transferred to the foreign bank accounts of a new class of bandit capitalists. Under Boris Yeltsin, prime ministers came and went, much the way they did in France between the end of World War II and 1958, when Gen. Charles de Gaulle returned to power.

De Gaulle shed France’s colonial empire in North Africa and sub-Sahara Africa, dodged assassination attempts, kicked NATO out of France, created a new constitution, and gave France a new lease on life. During the 11 years he governed France, he was half autocrat, half democrat. De Gaulle is Mr. Putin’s role model. Putin is half czar, half democrat. Like de Gaulle, who was saddled with a war in Algeria, then part of metropolitan France, Mr. Putin has Chechnya.

Democracy, as understood in Washington, is not on Mr. Putin’s agenda. Nor could it be after 1,000 years of authoritarian rule, including 70 years of totalitarian communism. Strong leaders invariably get the nod in Russian public opinion surveys. The score: a draw.

Mercifully, Mr. Putin and President Bush focused instead on the survival of civilization — combating nuclear terrorism. Russia still has thousands of nukes, some of them still loose, and scores of still insecure nuclear materials storage facilities. Ten billion dollars has been spent in 10 years under Nunn-Lugar legislation to foil would-be terrorists seeking to acquire Russian nuclear knowhow. Another $20 billion — half from EU and Japan — has been committed to finish the job by 2010.

CIA Director Porter J. Goss recently testified terrorists “have targeted nuclear weapons storage sites.” Former Georgia Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn believes it would be a miracle if leakage has not already occurred. Score: Still playing.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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