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America and Europe vs. Saddam

The Economist this week has a "special report" on how future action against Iraq will define U.S.-European relations in the coming months. It is an excellent overview, and defies summarization. An excerpt:

Europeans do not want to give up their butter for more guns, not least because they feel there is no threat at present that would justify attempting to close such a yawning gap in capability. Americans have not been unduly worried about Europe's failure to compete, since it increases their own freedom of action. Indeed, they might be far more alarmed if the Europeans were really to make their promised EU defence force credible, and demand a greater say in decision-making as a result. Hence neither side has a strong interest in rebalancing the relationship.

That said, even at current spending levels, Europe's contribution would not be zero. As Mr Bush has repeated ad nauseam, this is a new kind of war in which policing, intelligence-sharing and financial sanctions will be as important as military might. Europe's usefulness in all these areas would not be limited by its feeble defence budgets.

The full report is quite lengthy, but extraordinarily informative and balanced. It's worth reading.

[I do want to note, however, that the (seven-paragraph) conclusion is a little odd. It begins with an argument that, it seems to me, suggests the opposite of what the Economist claims — that the Europeans should care what Bush thinks, and not the other way around:

There are several reasons why [Bush] should [care about what the Europeans think], and they boil down to the argument that the events of September 11th brought America and Europe closer together. Europe is the other western target of al-Qaeda's hatred, and has an overwhelming community of interest with America. Since many of al-Qaeda's sleeper cells are in Europe, the continent's police, spies and financial-fraud busters will do what they can to neutralise terrorist cells. If the next terrorist strike were in, say, Paris or London, America would not be going it alone.

It also goes on to point out that if the United States ignores European concerns, Europe wouldn't really do anything differently in response (i.e., one less reason for Bush to care, you'd think). Finally, here is how it ends:

These are cold, even mean-minded, calculations of opportunity-cost. The big question matters far more: which is more important to the administration in the war against weapons of mass terror, America's unfettered freedom of action or the Atlantic alliance?

This is a question only Mr Bush can answer. But the stakes are as high as they can be. Either the president gives the transatlantic alliance a new reason for existing in the 21st century; or one more victim will be added to the toll of September 11th, the future of the alliance itself.

In other words, it all comes down to the belief that the alliance itself has some real value that is threatened. Well, why didn't they just say so? If that's the case (and I happen to agree), then it's good reason to cooperate. But the argument for it is nowhere to be seen.]

March 13, 2002 2:07 PM

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Copyright ©2001-2003 Matt Pfeffer

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