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Europe Goes Off the U.S. Leash
25 February 2002
In the early 1960s, Charles de Gaulle requested an interview with NATO commander-in-chief Lauris Norstad. After Norstad was seated, the French president said: "General, would you please tell me how many nuclear missiles NATO has stationed on French territory." Norstad replied: "Mr. President, that information is confidential. I cannot give it to you." Returned de Gaulle: "General Norstad, that is the last time a NATO commander will speak that way to the French president." In 1966, France quit NATO's military command structure.
During the Cold War, Europeans were often angered by America's unilateralist tendencies in foreign policy, but, needing US protection against the Soviet threat, they muted their criticism. Recently, however, sharp differences have emerged between the United States and the European Union over the so-called Bush Doctrine.
The trigger was George W. Bush's State of the Union address in which he referred to Iran, Iraq and North Korea as "states which constitute an axis of evil," and promised that America will "do what is necessary to protect our security." More recently, administration officials have suggested it may be time to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.
Such talk irritates the Europeans; now, they're reacting. French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine warned against "reducing all the world's problems to the battle against terrorism. That's not a responsible approach." Chris Patten, the European Commissioner for External Affairs, said he found it hard to believe that the "axis of evil" concept was "a thought-through policy," and Spain's Foreign Minister called Mr. Bush's remarks "simplistic." In international diplomacy, such language is equivalent to a loud scream of outrage. As the German weekly Die Zeit put it, the EU ministers had "blown their tops" over Mr. Bush's speech.
The Europeans argue that Iran, Iraq and North Korea are no "axis"; each poses different problems and each should be treated differently. This was also Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's point when he called for each country to be treated on a case-by-case basis. The European strategy reiterates that of Winston Churchill: "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war." The Europeans would prefer to offer economic and political support to the moderate forces in Iran led by President Mohammed Khatami, to encourage the further development of democracy. They argue that economic and diplomatic engagement with North Korea would produce better results than bellicose posturing. Given that even the CIA can find no hard evidence that Iraq is aiding terrorists or is anywhere near developing nuclear weapons and delivery systems, the Europeans are adamantly opposed to any attack on Iraq.
But the EU aims its harshest criticism toward US foreign policy in the Middle East. Its foreign ministers believe the Bush administration has withdrawn from the political process to sit on the sidelines while the Israelis and Palestinians spiral downward in a deadly cycle of attack and retaliation. At a recent EU meeting in Spain, many EU foreign ministers listened sympathetically to French proposals that an election be immediately held by the Palestinian Authority, to be followed by a unilateral declaration of statehood, UN recognition and then negotiations with Israel.
Given US and Israeli objections, this proposal is a non-starter. But it's a sign that the Europeans are no longer prepared to let the Americans dominate the foreign policy field. Since Sept. 11, conventional wisdom says the United States is the world's only superpower and US foreign policy rules. Yet less than six months after Sept. 11, the Europeans are beginning to assert their own foreign-policy priorities. And when that process is finished, the balance of power in the West will have radically changed.