glimmer of European defiance
and Russia have ensured Bush has no UN mandate for war
to Alternative Reader Index
Washington and Whitehall spin machines have made much of the US-British teamwork
which crafted the new UN resolution on Iraq. But another little-noted alliance
was just as decisive in achieving the final compromise. Who would have thought
two years ago that France and Russia would join forces to oppose the full might
of United States diplomacy? For the two countries' presidents to confer on the
phone in resistance to Washington, and have their diplomats draft amendments
together, would have been inconceivable in the past.
as the Bush administration increasingly looks to war as its weapon of first
resort in international relations, this joint venture by two of Europe's most
important states may not be the last. They have ensured Washington has no UN
mandate for using force in Iraq, and that it is the weapons inspectors who will
report to the security council on whether Iraq has violated its obligations.
Washington may call foul from the spectators' stands as loudly as it likes, but
the inspectors are the referees, and they have the best, and only authoritative,
ground for the Franco-Russian rearguard action which achieved these important
changes in the American resolution was laid by chancellor Gerhard Schröder's
taboo-breaking criticism of US "adventurism" during the German
election campaign. Germany is not a veto-wielding member of the security
council, so played no direct role in the UN drafting. But Berlin's initial
the others courage. On non-strategic issues, like engagement with Iran and
support for the Palestinian authority, European states have taken a different
line from Washington for several years.
the Bush administration defines Iraq as a crisis of global dimensions. For
Europe's "Big Three" to unite in opposition to America on such a key
issue is therefore a hugely significant shift. Historians could even come to see
it as Europe's declaration of independence, and the beginning of the end of
American influence over Europe. Shortly before Nato meets in Prague next week to
invite seven more countries to join the alliance, including the Baltic states
which used to be Soviet republics, this may seem an odd judgment. After all,
Nato is just as much an American-dominated grouping as ever. But the bigger the
alliance becomes, the emptier it gets. The fact that the US is so keen to extend
it is a sign of weakness rather than strength: the US rightly senses that the
non-military sources of its hegemony in Europe are declining.
relatively relaxed line towards Nato's further expansion eastwards reflects this
perception. Some analysts claim that President Vladimir Putin made a strategic
tilt towards America after September 11, seeing a chance to use Bush's "war
on terror" to get US acquiescence in his war in Chechnya. His opposition to
a US strike on Iraq suggests his policies are more subtle. During the cold war,
Moscow occasionally made futile efforts to "split" western Europe from
the United States.
the 1990s, Moscow think-tanks discussed whether Russia should choose a
"European" or an "American" orientation. That debate is
over, and it is clear Putin does not see things as either/or. He will oppose the
United States on some issues - just as France and Germany will - and work with
them on others. While Putin comes from a Soviet tradition where the norm was
confrontation with Washington, and Chirac and Schröder come from one where it
was cooperation, they are now converging on a platform of issue-by-issue
pragmatism. Of the major European states, only Italy and Britain have
governments still bound by the old instinct of subservience to Washington.
is one fly in this new ointment. When he meets Schröder today in Norway, Putin
will hear critical comments about Chechnya. European governments reacted
differently from the US to the hostage seizure in the Moscow theatre. While
Washington supported Putin's claim that the main Chechen leader, Aslan Maskhadov,
was linked to the incident, Europeans were more cautious. They realise the war
can only be ended by talks, and Putin's efforts to portray Maskhadov as a
Chechen Yasser Arafat, who is too weak to confront terrorism or discreetly
supports it, will put Russia into a cul de sac. Maskhadov cannot be the
exclusive partner, and a way must be found to bring the leaders of the various
armed factions into talks.
Russia's efforts to ignore those who
have taken up the gun only ensures its unwinnable war will grind on. Thus
European leaders must continue to call for a sensible peace settlement in
Chechnya, even as they
accept Russia as a partner in the great challenge of the next decade: the need
to restore the integrity of the UN as the arbiter of international conflicts,
and to restrain the irresponsible use of American military might.
Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002
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