Europe and the superpower


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POLITICIANS develop tough skins. In recent weeks harsh words have been spoken at heated moments which the speakers will prefer to forget, even though journalists will make this difficult. Donald Rumsfeld will find that both old and new Europe are important to the United States. President Chirac will not again patronise the new entrants to the European Union because they disagree with France. British ministers will not find it sensible again to pin all the blame on the French for lack of persuasiveness in our own diplomacy. These superficial wounds will heal. Behind them however remains the unresolved question of how those of us who are not Americans should treat the super power. No other question is more important for the future of Europe.

France has taken up the refrain which the Chinese have favoured for many years, namely that the only tolerable world is multipolar. But the events of the last decade, and particularly the explosion of American energy since September 11, show that this concept is now unreal. By any measurable standard the distance between the super power and the rest of us continues to grow. It is most marked in the military sphere. The United States could without difficulty destroy within hours any regime in the world of which it disapproved. It is not so long since the prime minister, speaking in Warsaw, prophesied that Europe would become not a super state but a super power. If by that phrase he means a power which stretched its might across the world in a manner comparable to the United States then that was a vain prophecy. The twentieth was the century of America; the twenty-first will in that respect be no different.

But the military might of a super power is supreme only in acts of destruction. However much we may disagree with this or that American policy, no one can seriously argue that the United States is essentially a destructive power. The general instinct of Americans, with their system of free elections, the rule of law and a free press, is constructive, the instinct of a builder. Yet the moment the United States wishes to turn from destroying lives and infrastructure with its bombs and missiles and begins to rebuild, it requires partners.



In Iraq, for example, it urgently needs valid Iraqi partners before formidable resentment builds against the occupying Anglo-American army. The same is true elsewhere. If its constructive aim of furthering a more decent world is to succeed, the United States will need partners in every region of the world. These will vary from place to place. Around North Korea, for example, we see a growing partnership based on the balance of power, whereby the United States and China come reluctantly together to tackle a danger from weapons of mass destruction more serious than was ever posed by Saddam Hussein.

In each of these regional partnerships, whatever their formal construction, the United States will be the dominant member, yet driven into partnership because it cannot achieve its objectives alone. This is true in the Middle East and in Africa where the shape of such partnerships is so far hard to discern and where prospects remain bleak. Across the Atlantic the Latin American countries have devised a series of organisations each with a different membership and character but find that no one of these is adequate by itself to guide the decisions of the super power.

In Europe the problem is different. There is already one particular organisation, namely the EU, which is the obvious partner for the United States. The problem is not in identifying a partner but in rescuing the European Union from its present scrappy and disorganised state. Because of disagreements within Europe, serious European countries like Britain and Spain felt compelled to hitch themselves as individual countries to the American doctrine of a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. Both prime ministers, confronting their own public opinion, judged that it was neither safe nor wise to leave the super power unsupported as it developed its policy. Having reached this fundamental conclusion both leaders then persuaded themselves that the decisions which followed were not only American but right.



Yet clearly neither of them are content with this as a permanent relationship. It lacks the balance necessary in a proper partnership. We are the farthing in a penny farthing bicycle. The prime minister will have read how sixty years ago Churchill began to realise, through all the polite rhetoric of a special relationship, the growing inferiority of Britain compared to the United States and therefore its steadily lessening influence over American decisions. The prime minister knows in his heart how huge that imbalance has grown in the interval since Churchill courted Roosevelt. That is why he and the other Atlanticist leaders of Europe are trying once again to create a partnership not just of individual European states but of the European Union with the super power.

There is a big contrast between the way in which we Europeans handle our trading and our other relationships with the United States. For years now, and almost without controversy, member states of the EU including Britain have been content to allow the European Commission to represent us in trade negotiations, speaking with one voice on behalf of a trading entity comparable in importance to the Americans themselves.



Certainly there are disputes and strong arguments between the two sides of the Atlantic. These arise from the occasional natural clash of economic interests and perceptions. But both Europe and the United States have an interest in the success of the Doha Round and indeed of the whole rule-based structure of the World Trade Organisation. Both face the challenge of restraining their own protectionism, particularly in agriculture, and opening their markets to producers elsewhere.

Shrewd hard working representatives, Pascal Lamy of the Commission and Bob Zoellick of the United States, get on with their work more or less undisturbed by the political disagreements over Iraq. The resentments caused by such disagreements are likely to prove shallow. I noticed, for example, that on a day when the papers were full of stories of boycotts of French wine in the United States, one of the biggest low cost US airlines placed an order for up to 100 Airbuses. That adds up to quite a lot of claret.

When we defined at Maastricht in 1991 the aim of a foreign common and security policy for Europe, I hoped that we would have made more substantial progress by now. But such a policy was never going to come down whole and perfect like a glass palace lowered from heaven. As often in Europe the trouble arises largely from too much rhetoric, too many speeches made as if such a palace already existed or could be brought into being by signatures on a treaty.

When European politicians speak complacently about a common foreign policy they provoke the obvious retort that such an idea is moonshine when you look at the deep disagreement, for example on Iraq. What is the point, it is argued, of chattering about a European foreign minister when we are busy contradicting each other about such an important question?



Yet the fact that we cannot agree on everything should not blind us to the fact that there is already much foreign policy which we already conduct as Europeans. I am not thinking of unimportant trivia. Four substantial examples spring to mind: First, the enlargement of the European Union is a foreign policy initiative of huge importance, transforming the whole scene in Eastern and Southern Europe. We shall now, for example, become neighbours of Russia with the sort of implications we already saw in the negotiations over Kaliningrad.

Second, Europe in its different manifestations now carries the main responsibility for the stabilisation of the Balkans with a view to the eventual entry of those countries also to the Union. When it was a matter of launching bombs and missiles against the Serbs the Americans took the lead. Now that it is a question of administration, aid and diplomacy the Europeans are the senior partner although as is highly desirable the Americans continue to be involved.

Third, the EU is one of the authors of the road map for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Here the decisive part rests with the Americans, but our participation is more than verbal. Just as the Israeli economy has to be propped up by the United States, so the new Palestinian state as it struggles to birth will depend on EU finance in establishing and maintaining its new institutions.

Fourth, Turkey has declared and maintained for several years its vocation to become a member of the EU. We have agreed with the strong support of the United States to open negotiations to this end. This will take a long time and remain full of difficulties. It is not clear that the Americans fully realise that by this policy they are giving the European Union a new card of entry into the affairs not just of the Middle East but also of the Caucasus. Whereas a few years ago I was doubtful about the wisdom of welcoming Turkey, I can now see how Turkish membership, if achieved, could add dramatically to the weight of Europe in the world.

These are all things which we now do as Europeans, not as British, French or Germans. In the past we fought each other in these areas; now we are united in helping those who live there. They are examples of how the structure envisaged at Maastricht can be built slowly brick by brick. I would rather that we said less about the global pretensions of Europe and concentrated on making a success of the enterprises closer to hand on which we are already embarked.



If exaggerated rhetoric has been one defect of European policy making, another has been excessive preoccupation with machinery. Given that Europeís role outside its own borders depends to a large extent on willingness to use our economic strength, the European Commission is bound to be involved. Yet, most member states are not willing to hand over to the Commission an exclusive power over foreign policy let alone defence. So we operate a mixed system based on the intergovernmental Council of Ministers operating in tandem with the supranational Commission.

Luckily this system has grown up under the guidance of two sensible and farsighted men. Javier Solana and Chris Patten have deserved well of us, not least because of the way in which they have damped down the frictions which might otherwise have halted this clumsy piece of machinery. The European Convention under President Giscard has put forward ideas broadly welcomed by the British government for strengthening the machinery. They suggest a single EU foreign minister with authority derived from the Council but with the right to sit in on Commission meetings which would discuss external issues without a vote. They also propose ways of changing the present fussy and inept way in which the Presidency of the EU Council changes every six months, to the obvious disadvantage of Europeís effectiveness beyond its borders.



As these and other ideas are discussed during the rest of this year much time will no doubt once again be spent on the question of majority voting on external affairs. I have never thought this a crucial issue. It is hard to foresee circumstances in which any member state could be forced by a majority vote into adopting foreign and defence policies of which it strongly disapproved. The idea that majority voting could have made us more effective in Bosnia, or indeed over Iraq, is unreal. What is required is not a system of majority voting but a greater willingness to share information, to discuss options more frankly and in greater depth than hitherto, and to establish the habit by which after such discussion the minority rallies to the majority.

It is a mistake to force the pace where there is genuine disagreement. In the examples I have cited agreement has come about through the gradual coincidence of perception and interest. European nations, which a century ago were scratching each others eyes out over the Balkans are now working as one. The best way of establishing a sure European Union is to accept that its pace may continue to be slow, however maddening this will be for impatient enthusiasts.



In military matters the defects of Europe have been well advertised. Power in the post-Cold War world has a civilian as well as military component and military weakness does not make Europe impotent. To use Robert Kaganís analogy, both Venus and Mars are needed to sustain an orderly and prosperous world order. The cruel phrase that the Americans do the cooking while Europe does the dishes has lost its edge. Whether in Kosovo, Afghanistan or Iraq, those who build are as necessary as those who clear the ground by destroying a tyranny. It is not enough to create deserts and call them peace. We no longer face a military threat from a rival super power but a complex danger from the extreme side of Islam to which a purely military response is inadequate.

Nevertheless, European military weakness relative to the United States undoubtedly impairs the total weight of Europe in the partnership. That is why the prime minister and President Chirac took their defence initiative at St Malo in 1998. The value of this Anglo-French scheme lay not so much in the precise proposal for a European rapid reaction force as in the opportunity to galvanise the quality and quantity of European defence spending.

The response has been weak, partly because of the budgetary constraints imposed by the stability pact and feeble European economic performance, partly because public opinion even in Atlanticist countries like Germany, Italy and Spain does not accept the continuing importance of military power. Most Europeans dislike the idea that you can help to create a peaceful world order by sending your fellow citizens abroad to kill and be killed even when you have not been attacked. Europeans need to look again at this problem of military effort.

But the Belgian initiative approved at the recent meeting with France, Germany and Luxembourg looked the wrong way, namely backwards. The last thing Europe needs is more divisive rhetoric and yet another headquarters. The original St Malo concept needs to be carried forward in harmony with NATO. The original Turkish objections to the mechanics of this have been overcome in detailed negotiations. In the EU deployment in Macedonia we see the first small practical result. There is another crucial point. We Europeans should regard NATO, not as an instrument of overweening American power, but as one instrument of a necessary partnership. The Americans in turn should accept that the European members of NATO will increasingly act in concert if as we hope our common foreign policy develops.



There is a strong case for NATO taking over the stabilisation of Iraq from the Anglo-American forces, following the precedent of Afghanistan. Whoever does it, this is going to be a tough task. Both our governments are beginning to show disquiet at the number of troops who will be tied down in Iraq, and the speed with which a force which came to liberate is resented as an army of occupation. Other members of NATO might spread the military and political risks and bring useful skills of policing and administration to this interim period, before a valid Iraqi government takes control.

I return finally to the fundamental concept of partnership. A partner is not a rival, seeking to outpace and undermine. There is no way in which that old Gaullist concept will prevail in modern Europe. But neither does a true partner simply scurry to Washington to find out the American view and then proclaim this as the only right course for Europe.



There is a real danger after the Iraq war that members of the EU will stay divided between these two concepts, both inadequate. Some in the US administration may be tempted to rely on informal coalitions of willing governments. They may continue to accuse the unwilling governments of immorality and ingratitude, even when that unwillingness is shared by the majority of those whom they represent. A Europe divided year after year on these lines would be a disaster. Such a Europe would not be strong enough to give decisive help to the super power, but those excluded or self-excluded would be strong enough to disrupt American efforts in NATO and the UN. By our divisions we would edge the US further towards unilateralism.

We need to forget some harsh words which have been spoken but to remember the lesson which lies behind them. A true partnership between Europe and the United States requires a more coherent diplomatic, military and economic effort by the European Union. This in turn requires a concentration on political willpower rather than on intricate machinery and speech making. Sometimes a crisis such as the present one can produce the necessary willpower.

The task is hard but not as difficult as some which we Europeans have already surmounted. Now, before new unwelcome patterns of thought and action are established, is the time to see clearly and concentrate our minds and make the effort.