|The new vassals
Iraq has exposed both the splits in western Europe and the ease with which
former eastern bloc states have been drawn into the US orbit
Friday February 7, 2003
Donald Rumsfeld's division of Europe into "new" and "old" and the letter of
solidarity with the US signed by Tony Blair and seven other European leaders
have caused widespread irritation - as Washington and Downing Street hoped.
Feathers were especially ruffled in France and Germany, which were the
intended targets. In Brussels, which was not consulted over the letter, there
was also deep anger.
The crisis showed the EU not only has no common foreign policy among today's
15 members, but its chances of ever getting one when it is enlarged to 25 are
virtually nil. The pursuit of a common foreign policy was always an illusion,
and if the Rumsfeld/"gang of eight" double whammy have brought a dose of
realism, so much the better. As long as there is no United States of Europe or
a European Federation foreign policy, Europe will never be more than a series
of "coalitions of the willing" on whatever is the major issue of the day.
Trying to forge an artificial unity only leads to the kind of lowest common
denominator contortions which are currently going on at the European
convention over creating the post of a European "president".
Ironically, the notion goes back to Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary
of state. If ever there was a hard-nosed American unilateralist it was he,
though he used his childhood in Germany to flatter European leaders that he
was on their side. His famous comment that he could not consult Europe because
"Europe has no phone number" was predicated on the same instincts as
Many European leaders have accepted the argument. They believe Europe will
only be "relevant" if it has a common foreign policy. It is a false notion
which is bound to lead to constant disappointment and a continual sense of
impotence. No other continent has a common policy, or expects to.
The US certainly does not want Europe to get a phone number if the voice at
the end of the line answers no. If Washington sees even the beginnings of a
united foreign policy in Europe which might be defiant, it will do all it can
to undermine it either directly, as Rumsfeld did, or via allies of Washington
such as Tony Blair or Jose Maria Aznar. One day it is the eternal
Anglo-French-German triangle which is manipulated, with France being teased
when Britain and Ger many seem to be getting together or, more often, Britain
being wooed when France and Germany agree. On occasion, the next ring of
nations - Italy, Spain and Portugal - are drawn into the game.
The divisions that matter are those of size and power. Not "old" and "new" but
"strong" Europe and "weak" Europe. "Relevance" is not measured by how friendly
a country is to the US but how independent it is of the US. Independence need
not mean hostility, merely forging a different line when necessary, and then
holding to it by resisting the pressure which is bound to follow if it affects
what the US defines as one of its vital interests.
The crisis over Iraq shows how the US will attempt to manipulate the latest
adherents to the EU, the countries of central and south-eastern Europe.
Nations that were once the vassals of the Soviet Union are now in danger of
becoming vassals of the US. In addition to the three former members of the
Warsaw pact which signed the "gang of eight" letter, on Wednesday a new group,
a "gang of 10" - consisting of the three Baltic states, plus Albania,
Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia - issued a strong
statement of support for the US over Iraq.
In 1989 there were those who thought these newly liberated countries would be
bastions of new thinking. But the west was an attractive-looking club and they
were anxious to join the winning side in the cold war. While the EU insisted
on a slow and complex process of economically painful adjustment, joining Nato
was relatively easy and the US used a mix of fear, flattery and economic
incentives to get them to sign up.
After 1989 the public perception was that eastern Europe had always had a
fierce desire for independence, but Ernest Gellner, the great scholar of
European nationalism, was right when he wrote in 1992: "Communism was not
destroyed by society or honesty. It was destroyed by consumerism and western
militarism plus an outburst of decency and naivety in the Kremlin."
After all, eastern Europe's elites had spent 40 years accommodating themselves
to superior power. Neither the reform movement in Czechoslovakia in 1968 nor
Solidarity in Poland in 1981 challenged their countries' links with Moscow. It
was only when Mikhail Gorbachev told them in 1987 that they need not follow
the Soviet lead that they began to break loose. It was therefore inevitable
that after the USSR collapsed these countries would sense the new reality that
Europe belongs to the US. The fact that ex-communist leaders such as
Aleksander Kwasniewski, Gyula Horn and Ion Iliescu led the way is not a
paradox so much as proof that the survival instinct usually trumps vision or
The anti-Vietnam war movement which taught a generation of Europeans about the
arrogance of US power passed eastern Europe by. Isolated inside the Soviet
empire, and suspicious of Moscow's propaganda line even on the occasions when
it was right, they did not notice that the US was also an imperial nation.
The imminent threat of war in Iraq has raised the issue of independence from
the US to the top of the agenda. During the cold war it was a question which
dared not speak its name. Now it is in the open and whether they are old or
new, big or small, European nations must face this old/new question in the