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Is there an alternative to
European estrangement
from America?




Jonathan Power

May 7, 2003

LONDON - Europe, including Britain, is going through an agony of heart searching about what its future relationship with America is going to be. American policy makers seem to have no compunction about telling Europeans that they no longer need Europe to do what they want to do in the world. The mood may be extreme- one can't imagine ex president Bill Clinton allowing it to run away with itself as it has the last six months. But Bush, aided by the fallout from September 11th , seems quite capable of making these so called neo-conservative views the mainstream over the next five years.

On the European side the signs of estrangement are just as manifest. While in Britain, always at heart a warrior nation, public sentiment, following victory in the war, has swung back in favour of American leadership, in the rest of Europe opinion is firmly against being under the American thumb. The meeting earlier this week of France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg to create a pioneer group of European Union states to advance the cause of defense integration is but one manifestation of this.

The argument is spilling over into Britain where the intellectual class on balance is more pro European than pro British (and out of step with general opinion). In London's Financial Times columnist Michael Prowse argues that Europe must develop the will to build up an independent military capacity that the U.S. will respect, dismissing the arguments of those who have long said this would cost too much by stressing the savings that would come from integration. And in the current issue of Prospect magazine the former British ambassador to Moscow, Rodric Braithwaite, argues that Britain has allowed itself to get too dependent on America even though it gets little in return. And it must learn to stop being taken for granted and be prepared to walk away from the table, as the Turks did before the war, refusing to allow American forces permission to cross its territory. Maybe, too, he says, Britain should be ready to forgo the tight links with American intelligence and the military that allow it to maintain its own nuclear deterrent and instead revive the idea of a joint Anglo-French deterrent since the French nuclear forces are truly independent.

I find all these arguments disturbing, if understandable. Where does it end? Given present day American paranoia I think it would end in Washington seeing Europe as a rival power block. This is not a very good idea. Even if were most unlikely to lead to war it would lead to a lot of other distasteful things- more bitter trade disputes, less academic cooperation, less tourism both ways, and a general worsening of mood whereby popular opinion begins to caricature the other side, making it difficult for politicians to cooperate in the myriad ways they do now. Besides Washington will take no more notice of Western Europe whether it spends 4% of its gross national product (the US figure) on its military than 2% (Europe's present figure).

Europe must strive to take the lead not by challenging American prowess but by trying to set an example in less confrontational ways. This is what it has been doing the last few years- bringing the often factious, less than democratic, sometimes corrupt, east Europeans up scratch so that they can become full upright members of the European Union. This is what it has done with its peacekeeping efforts in post war Bosnia and Kosovo. It is what it has done by fighting for the establishment of the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto treaty on global warming and a multitude of other endeavours. But these are just the beginning.

Working with Canada, Japan, Russia and, to use that well worn expression appropriated by the Bush Administration, "coalitions of the willing", it needs, making use of its immense economic power, to push through much more aggressive policies on a settlement of the Israeli/Palestine dispute, on bringing Iran out of the cold, on working with Pakistan and India to find an acceptable compromise over Kashmir, on further development of its already unique ability to field peace keeping troops, and to rebuild the UN so the Americans can start to respect it once again, which means not least finding a secretary general who can command American attention, perhaps an American. (Former secretary of state James Baker comes to mind.)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said this week that, "I don't want Europe setting up in opposition to America. I think it will be dangerous and destabilizing". That is right. But to make sure it doesn't happen Blair has to work as hard on Europe as he did on Iraq- which means taking Britain into the Euro and signing up for a common foreign policy, as long as it is not an anti-American one. This is a big jump for all of Europe but a far more sane and sensible one that dwelling too much on a unified defense force able to match America's.


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2003 By JONATHAN POWER


Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the

40th Anniversary of Amnesty International

"Like Water on Stone - The Story of Amnesty International"






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