Europe has been torn apart by the world's only super-superpower
By Steve Richards
09 March 2003
How has Iraq, a country with a lower gross domestic product than Essex, managed to split the UN, divide Nato, and throw the European Union into disarray? This was a question posed recently by the former foreign secretary Lord Howe. Like nearly all Conservatives in senior ministerial positions during the build-up to the last Gulf War, Lord Howe has severe doubts about the current rush to conflict.
The question, though, is a trick one. Or at least I take it to be so. The fracturing of international unity has little to do with Iraq. It is the United States that has caused the disarray, or to be more precise, it is the overwhelming might of the US. The world has a single superpower a super-superpower and does not know how to adapt. The Iraqi crisis is the first time other middling powers, most notably those in Europe, have been forced to address this new world order, the one that took shape after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
As the American writer Robert Kagan points out in his wave-making new book Paradise and Power, the US is likely to be the dominant super- power for decades to come. The US spends far more on defence than the bigger countries in Europe and has a relatively youthful population. The super-superpower can do more or less what it wants and although, as Kagan points out, this unilateralist instinct did not start with President Bush the US is indeed ready to do what it wants.
In Europe there have been, broadly, two responses to the emergence of the single, mighty superpower. Britain has led the way in supporting the US, while urging President Bush to seek a multilateral route to war. France, on the other hand, has been the leading country in opposing the US, proposing an alternative policy to a war in the near future. Before a single bomb has fallen on Iraq it is possible to reach conclusions on the success of the two conflicting approaches from Europe.
What is extraordinary about the build-up to this war is the degree to which the diplomacy has been played out in public. There is no mystery, and there are no unanswered questions. A year ago Tony Blair told President Bush that he could rely on him to back a war with Iraq. We know, from his public statements, that the Prime Minister made this commitment. In February of last year he stated that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction "had to be dealt with". We know also that he and President Bush had no confidence that Saddam would give up his weapons without a war. They have said so publicly. Mr Blair told the BBC last month that he, personally, was convinced that Saddam would not co-operate fully with the UN inspectors. That could only mean that he had reached the conclusion that war was unavoidable.
Last September Mr Blair told journalists that the media was "moving ahead" in its excitement about an imminent war. Presumably he knew then that a war was planned for the spring of this year rather than for last autumn. At around this time he urged George Bush to go through the UN; but the Prime Minister had always planned to support the President without UN backing. We know this because Mr Blair stated in September that the UN had to be a way of "dealing with the issue, not a way of avoiding the issue". In other words, the UN would be given the chance to support military action, but if the UN "avoided" taking the opportunity war would still go ahead.
We know this, also, from the even more candid diplomacy of President Bush. He has said several times that the US did not need a second resolution and would still go to war if it did not get one. It is to Mr Blair's credit that he urged President Bush away from a unilateral strike without even trying to get UN backing. However, it is already clear that his highly ambitious objective of uniting the international community around a war against Iraq has failed. Mr Blair has been forced to state that he would go to war if a second UN resolution was vetoed, even if it was vetoed by more than one country. By raising the prospect of an "unreasonable" veto he has undermined the UN while expending a massive amount of energy on retaining a link between the US and the international community.
But, evidently, President Chirac has also failed. He is opposed to war in the immediate future. President Bush has said he will ignore such opposition. The French President's opposition, even though he is backed by Germany and Russia, will not stop a war. This is the reality in a world with a single superpower that has opted for war. In the meantime some of President Chirac's right-wing colleagues in France are uneasy about the breach with the US. In Germany there are several senior politicians Gerhard Schrφder is probably one of them who twitch uneasily about their impotent defiance. Even where there is a greater degree of political symmetry, there is deep unease. The right-wing Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar, who supports war, calls for less of Donald Rumsfeld and more of Colin Powell to soothe his anxious country.
For European leaders, whatever their stance on Iraq, the last few months have been a political nightmare. Once this current crisis has passed or at least its first phase leading countries in the European Union have a choice. Either they can regard this as a decisive moment, one in which "old Europe" as Donald Rumsfeld puts it moves one way, and "new Europe" another. Or they can attempt to work more closely together, to avoid falling apart again when the US flexes its muscles.
On this I dare to be mildly optimistic. In Britain some of the most senior figures in the Government suggest that the current split in Europe will be damaging only in the short term. I sense that Mr Blair's determination to join the euro has been undimmed. I sense also that Gordon Brown is preparing to speak more openly about the broader case for Britain being part of Europe and ultimately for Britain being part of the euro. The challenge for Britain is to resolve its ambiguous relationship with Europe. That will demand real leadership, genuine boldness. The challenge for France, Germany and, to a lesser extent, Russia is to resolve their ambiguous relationship with the US, partly by recognising that fractured opposition to the superpower does not make much practical difference.
The might of the US has torn Europe apart. The countries of the continent must respond by working closely together on defence issues, as much as on economic policy. At the moment this seems like an absurd fantasy, but the only alternative is the one in which a country with a lower GDP than Essex inadvertently causes mayhem.
How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?
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