Fri, 21 Mar 2003

Looking toward a transatlantic relationship meltdown

Bantarto Bandoro, Editor 'The Indonesian Quarterly', Centre For Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta,

The emergency summit in Azore, Portugal, on Sunday between the U.S. president and the British and Spanish prime ministers produced a 24-hour deadline for the United Nations to enforce its own Iraq disarmament resolution or accept war within days. Bush's statement that "the U.S. will go to war with or without the help of the UN" has become reality, as the diplomatic process to avert war ended in a deadlock.

The diplomatic process was considered over when the French declared it would veto any new UN resolution.

It is not only a war game that the world community is beginning to witness, but also a deeper fracture in the relationship between the U.S. and its European allies -- which has become more evident since last year when the two sides tabled strategies on how to resolve the Iraq issue.

As war became more imminent, Britain accused France of "poisoning" the diplomatic process at the UN, saying the actions of the French had made it more difficult to avoid war. The French and Germans had organized the opposition to U.S. efforts to bring the current crisis to a definitive conclusion.

Thus, postwar Iraq will witness a moment when the U.S. and its European allies will need to overcome further frictions in their transatlantic relationship. Foreign policy will then be the next front the U.S. and its European allies will have to face to prevent further disarray in transatlantic relations.

The reluctance of the Germans and French to support the U.S. military approach to Iraq has drawn bitter criticism from the U.S. and some of its European partners.

During the diplomatic process, France in particular was seen as the most resistant to the U.S. war policy. Paris lobbied the nonpermanent members of the Security Council against the Anglo- American second resolution and declared its willingness to veto that resolution.

France also sought to block NATO assistance to one of its own members, Turkey, forcing the other members of that organization to neutralize France's obstructionism by moving to an alternate venue.

Washington and Paris differ on a number of issues, such as global warming and the missile defense system. Their differences on certain issues have led them to view their respective international positions from their own standpoints.

Being "old Europe", French opposition to the U.S. war approach is simply meant to prevent an enlarged Europe from being politically dominated by U.S. interests.

It is highly likely that postwar Iraq will see further deterioration in U.S.-French bilateral relations. Thus, the daunting challenges for U.S. policymakers after the war will include rebuilding U.S. trust relations with Europe, particularly France.

The war in Iraq will not automatically outdate the European preference of multilateralism in resolving international problems. Europe will perhaps say no to U.S. requests for an increase in European armaments in case of a future crisis like the current one. Support for multilateralism in Europe will become stronger, thus rebuffing the unilateral approach the U.S. is likely to adopt in the future.

The immediate impact of war will be a serious rift between Europe and the U.S. The already unequal relationship between the two will become more transparent, and perhaps they will require more time to put their transatlantic relations back on the right track. As a result of the war, Europe will demand a more equal partnership with the U.S.

Obviously, equalization is more developed in some spheres than in others. In particular, the U.S. remains unchallenged as a military superpower. But perhaps it would be foolish to expect even in a crisis of this magnitude to deflect such powerful trends. Rather, the challenge will be to harness these trends constructively. A U.S.-Europe coalition cannot be sustained without a more equal transatlantic relationship.

Iraq after the war will see Europe enjoying some competitive advantage at the regional and global levels as transatlantic equalization proceeds. The EU will operate in a multilateral fashion based on the rule of law. Its chosen method of governance will be more in harmony with a changing world than hard-nosed military unilateralism. European leaders will be more assertive about these methods and interests should the U.S., in the future, again be tempted to insist on hegemonic multilateralism.

With the beginning of the war, and the crisis that will ensue over the role and position of the UN, it should be clear that it is the U.S. that has insisted that it will not be bound by the UN, that has undermined the UN's credibility and chosen the path of unilateralism. This will be extremely damaging to the UN's credibility and in the long run also for transatlantic relations.