No “Non-Nein-Nyet”

Europe in a unipolar world is a highly fractured and capricious continent. The European Union was bitterly divided over the war in Iraq, and now the row over what to do with a post-war Iraq threatens to widen the rift within the EU further. The Iraqi crisis, has established beyond doubt, that Europe cannot speak with one voice, that Europe cannot act as one. The current Iraqi crisis, and in the long-term American preeminence in the international arena, have become the smouldering coals of Pan-European politics.

There is, however, a consensus in Europe about the need to come to the assistance of an utterly devastated Iraq. The catastrophic humanitarian situation in Iraq, Europe agreed, necessitates the European assistance. “Our overriding concern should be what we can do now for Iraq,” said Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou at the end of a meeting of foreign ministers of 25 actual and prospective EU member states in the Greek island of Kastellorizo. The problem, though, is that there is little consensus concerning how to go about helping the Iraqi people rebuild their war- battered country.

The Americans have proposed a stabilisation force in Iraq to keep law and order, secure economic installations as a basis for the proper administering of the country. Initially, the US plan will entail the deployment of troops from the US, Britain and Poland — one of 10 European countries that are scheduled to officially join the EU next year. Additional troops from at least seven other EU member states will take part in policing Iraq at a subsequent stage. The Americans ruled out the participation of troops from France, Germany and Russia — the three European countries that most vehemently opposed the US aggression against Iraq.

Those European countries excluded from the US plans to police post-war Iraq convened an alternative meeting to chart the future of Europe’s defence policy. The leaders of France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg met in Brussels to launch what they termed the European Security and Defence Union.

The European logic is clear-cut: Europeans must avoid being hopelessly dependent on the US for Europe’s defence. Britain, with the EU’s most powerful military, is far from eager about joining the proposed new European defense system. While declining to join the new Pan-European system, Britain, nevertheless remains committed to what British foreign secretary termed a “self-confident common foreign and security policy within Europe”. Straw, however, warned against “seeking unnecessary confrontation” with the US.

Most of the prospective East European EU member states back the British position. Poland, which dispatched troops to Iraq during the war, will under the US-led stabilisation force in Iraq, command northern Iraq — the British and Americans will command the southern and central parts respectively. Poland sees its role as particularly important because of its post-Cold War experience of democratising after one-party rule. Poland will play a critical role, “not only in guaranteeing security and order, but with a lot of know how to democratise the [Iraqi] political system”, explained Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz.

French newspapers have been especially critical of the deployment of the US-led stabilisation force in Iraq without a proper UN Security Council mandate, calling the deployment a “dangerous precedent” and a “terrible example”. Eastern European countries, in sharp contrast, see the opportunity to participate in policing Iraq as a chance for closer collaboration between Europe and the US and have distanced themselves from the perspective of France, Germany and Russia — the three main European countries that refused to sanction the US aggression against Iraq.

Needles to say, France, Germany and Russia have been excluded from the US-led stabilisation force in Iraq. Still, there are faint signs that France, Germany and Russia are softening their position on the US aggression against Iraq. The three countries appear to be keen on patching up differences with the US before the convening of the Group of Eight (G8) wealthiest and most industrially advanced nations in France next month.

The G8 summit is scheduled to be convened on 1-3 June in the French spa town of Evian. The G8 groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US. G8 justice and interior ministers met this week in Paris. Significantly, the meeting was attended by US Attorney-General John Ashcroft, the most senior US official to visit France since the acrimonious disagreement over the US aggression against Iraq.

French officials were keen to show that France, in spite of differences over the war against Iraq, was a staunch US ally in the war against international terrorism. “All the G8 countries have a similar analysis: the terrorist threat is real, it is still present and apparently, alas, for a long time to come,” noted French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy. “Franco-American cooperation never stopped because it concerns the security of our citizens,” Sarkozy stressed. The US, the French are fond of saying after all, was France’s oldest ally.

The G8 ministers agreed to identify and freeze the funds of terrorists and criminal groups. The G8 ministers also pledged to protect sensitive computer data and to share DNA information between their respective police forces. At the end of the Paris meeting French officials disclosed that a Franco-American working group will develop advanced biometric techniques, such as fingerprints and iris-scanning, to track down international criminals and terrorists. While there were telling signs that the Americans are resisting somewhat the French overtures, it has become abundantly clear that a rapprochement is in the making. Ashcroft failed to show up at a press conference he was supposed to hold with Sarkozy.

Europeans, both governments and the population at large — according to the polls — are seeking improved relations with the Americans. Europe’s anti-war coalition took the moral high ground when Washington, with London tagging along, took the unilateral decision to war against Iraq, ignoring and pointedly sidelining the United Nations. Top US officials like Paul Wolfowitz, the number two at the Pentagon, have stated categorically that the UN must be excluded from the decision-making process in the reconstruction of post-war Iraq.

The vast majority of governments of the enlarged EU religiously toe the American line, even though European public opinion is generally less compliantly pro-American. But Europeans are acutely aware of their continent’s many shortcomings.

Economically, Europe is undergoing uneasy changes. France, Germany and Italy are running substantial budget deficits. The Europeans, therefore, are keen on stressing the importance of the political and military alliance with the US — Europe’s most important trading partner. “The trans-Atlantic partnerhip remains an essential strategic priority for Europe,” read a joint statement at the end of the Brussels summit meeting. “The time has come to take new steps in the construction of a Europe of security and defence based on strengthened European military capabilities, which will also give a new vitality to the Atlantic alliance,” the statement continued. The European leaders who met in Brussels stressed that their summit was no anti- US forum.

But their assurances did not wash in many European capitals. Other European leaders, especially Washington’s closest ally British Prime Minister Tony Blair rejected the concept of an independent European defence system outright. “We won’t accept, neither will the rest of Europe, anything that either undermines NATO or conflict with the basic principles of European defence we’ve set out,” lashed Blair. The leaders of Italy, Spain and the Netherlands also expressed their grave reservations about the Brussels meeting and Franco-German plans to establish an autonomous European defence system independent of NATO.

There is, moreover, a feeling in Europe that the US is not sensitive to the contemporary realities of Europe which must be taken into account. First, there is the geographical proximity of North Africa and the Middle East to Europe. Europe shares the Mediterranean basin with the predominantly Arab and Muslim countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean. Second, there are an estimated 20 million Muslims in the EU countries. With the largest Muslim community of an EU member state, some 10 per cent of the French population is Muslim, France is especially vulnerable to Arab and Muslim sensibilities.

The so-called “Non-Nein-Nyet” club of France, Germany and Russia feels that the US must show it understands its responsibilities as the sole and for the time being unassailable superpower. They believe that the best way to go about working out the current Iraqi administrative and humanitarian crisis is to involve the United Nations. Europe, too, must come to terms with a unipolar world.

“Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely,” the saying attributed to Lord Acton aptly applies to America today. The world finances America’s huge public and private debts, but cannot curtail American public spending and especially its massive defence budget.

At the onset of the US aggression against Iraq, US President George W Bush asked Congress for $75 billion in emergency funds. Today analysts speculate that the cost of maintaining US troops in Iraq will hover around $40-45 billion a year.

A major European concern is whether the Non-Nein-Nyet will be systematically excluded from US plans for post-war profits from Iraq’s enormous oil reserves estimated at 112 billion barrels. With oil reserves next only to Saudi Arabia, with an estimated 245 billion barrels, Iraq is well positioned to influence international oil prices.

Europe’s greatest fear is that its companies will be left out in the cold. Giant multinational oil corporations such as Exxon-Mobil, British Petroleum, Shell and Chevron-Texaco are poised to profit from Iraq’s fabulous oil wealth. But so are the smaller all- American oil companies which are of special interest to many top Bush administration officials.

It is no secret that Bush administration officials also have a special interest in the services subcontracts for Iraqi reconstruction. US companies Halliburton, which Dick Cheney used to run, and Schlumberger are certain to make a killing.

Another bone of contention between the US and its European allies is the debate over Iraq’s outstanding foreign debts which stand at $110 billion. Washington has lobbied hard to have Iraqi debt forgiven. The Iraqi debt is primarily held by other oil-rich Gulf Arab countries, Russia and France. Both Moscow and Paris are understandably loathe to have Iraq’s debt forgiven, especially since they suspect that the US cherishes the prospect of writing off Iraqi debts to penalise them for not supporting Washington’s aggression against Iraq.

For much the same reasons, the “Non-Nein-Nyet” countries oppose the lifting of UN sanctions until Iraq is declared free of weapons of mass destruction as decreed under current UN resolutions.