Peacemaking too Important to be Left to the US

Irish Times
February 23, 2002

'A bridge too far.' This is how the US international relations scholar, Joseph Nye, described George Bush's identification of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an 'axis of evil' in his State of the Union address last month.

In the last few weeks there has been an unprecedented criticism of US policy from European leaders concerned that it marks a return to the unilateralist approach taken by the Bush administration in its first nine months in office, which was put aside after September 11th. The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, says that if the US attacks Iraq without 'properly consulting' its allies or giving the UN arms inspectors another chance to work in Iraq there would be 'very serious consequences' for transatlantic relations.

The response from the Bush administration and US media has combined surprise, rebuttal and now growing concern to repair damaged relations by intensified dialogue. Ms Elizabeth Jones, US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian relations, said in Paris yesterday that the US message had not been understood abroad, partly because it was badly conveyed. The 'axis of evil' comment was intended to give Americans an idea of the enormity of the task before them. She praised European intelligence co-operation on Afghanistan. She visited Dublin and London this week as well as Paris.

There is a growing realisation that US-European relations are going through a major transition, requiring a renewal of institutions and a re-evaluation of the interests and values that made them so close in the Cold War period and the decade that followed it.

It is a complex business, since their relations are becoming more equal in economics and politics, while in the security and military spheres there is increasing asymmetry between US power and European capabilities. These changes underlie the growing concern to develop more effective EU foreign policies and more autonomous military structures.

Much of the focus will be on NATO this year. In so far as it is becoming a more political organisation the Europeans demand more equality in determining its future; but in so far as its military role is being made redundant by the quantum leap in US budgets and technology (rendering inter-operability between US and allied forces much more difficult) major questions about the alliance's future role are posed.

Mr Bush toned down his rhetoric about the axis of evil during his trip to Asia this week, avoiding the phrase and insisting he is willing to negotiate with North Korea. According to the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, there is no plan to attack Iraq unilaterally. In congressional testimony he said the US is seeking agreement with Russia on a much tighter and more focused set of sanctions to target goods that might be used for military purposes and to make it easier for Iraq to import food and medicine.

Once that is agreed it would be put through the UN Security Council and intense pressure applied on Iraq to accept arms inspectors. If they refused, there would be greater plausibility for military action, while an acceptance would tone the crisis down. Such explanations nonetheless sit awkwardly with persistent reports from Washington that the US has decided in principle to mount an attack on Iraq, in close co-operation with Israel - hence the quiescent attitude to Sharon's military escalation against the Palestinians. US diplomats emphasise that while there is a commitment to consult its allies, if it feels national security is threatened America is prepared to act alone.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, next year's projected US military budget of dollars 379 billion exceeds the total combined military budgets of the next 14 biggest spenders, including Japan, western Europe, Russia and China. European leaders fear that the colossal US military power will create a world in which the US fights, the UN feeds and the EU funds. In the Balkans, Afghanistan and possibly Iraq it would fall to the EU states to rebuild nations after the US had engineered regime change.

As a French diplomat told the Financial Times: 'This kind of complementarity is fine in the short term. But it cannot continue in the long term. The Europeans would be very, very uncomfortable with this role. It would mean giving the US carte blanche for its military operations. The Europeans would be expected by the Americans to pick up the pieces. And the US neither respects nor appreciates what the Europeans are doing. It would be a completely imbalanced relationship.'

That is why many Europeans, including most social democrats, Greens and other neutral states, believe the time has come to strengthen the EU's foreign policy, security and defence co-operation. The framework for doing so was agreed in the Treaty of Amsterdam with the following objectives: 'Humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and task of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking.'

It is essential to understand these objectives in considering the development of the EU's 60,000-strong Rapid Reaction Force, its negotiations with NATO on how to use assets for achieving them and defence co-operation through the NATO-sponsored Partnership for Peace organisation. Much of the discussion about this in Ireland is ill-informed, based on mistaken assumptions that a competitive replication of US military power is being sought, or that war-making by a European army is contemplated.

The RRF is rather inspired by a perceived common interest in a stable border region for a greatly enlarged EU, and a desire to help those states develop and avoid political and natural disasters. Macedonia is the best case study, combining civil protection, peacekeeping, crisis-management and peacemaking. This has successfully prevented a civil war that would have triggered profound destabilisation in the region. The realisation that US troops will not be available indefinitely there adds urgency to the plans.

European defence budgets are in fact falling. Basic capabilities such as airlift, intelligence and logistics for these limited tasks are lacking, which will probably lead to pressure for greater expenditure. But even if that is achieved the outcome will be qualitatively different from the US military machine, with nothing like its global reach and a very different approach to soft rather than hard security.

The EU approach arguably has competitive advantage in a world in which, Joseph Nye argues, 80 per cent of security problems are not susceptible to hard military solutions. Chris Patten argued in Dublin this week that in such an interdependent world the US cannot act alone. Another visitor, Jari Vilen, the Finnish EU minister, said his country's experience is that the European security and defence policy 'is not in any way marginalising or weakening the position of militarily non-aligned members of the Union. On the contrary, the ESDP is a field where all the members can equally contribute and pursue their concerns.'

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