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Europe and Iraq

A Question of War and Peace?

28.03.2003 · Wolfgang Bücherl


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For most European governments the core question concerning the military campaign against Iraq is not one of war and peace. Most European countries neither commit troops nor do they have vital security interests at stake.

The real issue behind Europe's internal divide is the transatlantic partnership: What kind of relationship do the Europeans want to sustain with the US? Should Europe follow America's lead or should it say "no" to the United States?

Today, the traditional disputes between "Atlanticists" and "Europeanists" have emerged in Europe again. Maybe the speed of European integration in the 1990s with projects such as the internal market, the Euro, the cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs, the Common Foreign Security Policy (CFSP), or the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) have blurred our understanding that the US still is a European power. It therefore does - at least to some extent - play a role in the process and every-day conduct of European integration.

Just to name two examples for American leverage over Europe since 9/11:

  • The American Container Security Initiative (CSI), that was passed after 9/11 to protect the US from the import of potentially dangerous material, provides for security checks of cargo in the ports of origin before it is shipped to the United States. By concluding CSI agreements with a number of individual EU member states and not the European Community as a whole, the US has circumvented the European Commission, that is the representative of the EC in external trade and customs matters. The benefit that the US is offering to the individual states is clear: The US provides the ports of the countries, that take part in CSI, with a comparative advantage over the ports of other EU states, because cargo under CSI is imported quicklier into the US than cargo from ports in countries that do not sign CSI-agreements. The CSI example showns that the attractiveness of the US as a destination for exports gives the US some leverage in trade and economic policy even towards the European Community, that is the only market worldwide with a strength and importance equal to the US.

  • The Prague NATO-Summit was a demonstration of America's resolve to set the Alliance on its track. European NATO members accepted the American threat perception and tacitly abandonned geographical limitations to the Alliance's operational outreach. By inviting further countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) to join NATO, America also become the security guarator for Eastern Europe. The CEE states - quasi in return - support a US war in Iraq politically. What followed Prague was the "letter diplomacy" in Europe with the letters of the eight and the ten, that made European divisions apparent. The split is not only inside the EU, it will also perpetuate into an enlarged EU and will hardly make it easier for an EU of the 25 to reach common positions and strategies inside CFSP.

Examples like these show that its status as the only global superpower gives the USA considerable leverage over Europe. America is Europe's most important trading partner and its prime source of and destination for Foreign Direct Investments. America is furthermore Europe's prime partner in security policy and the only power that can provide security on a transatlantic scale. It is, however, obvious, that the degree of US leverage can vary. In economic and trade policies the leverage of the US is far less significant than in security policy, as the EU is a unified economic actor and contributes a share to transatlantic trade that is virtually equal to that of the US.

However, with a US administration, that is ever more assertive in the unilateral pursuit of what it regards as America's national interest, the disarmament of Iraq will not remain the only case where the Europeans have to take sides in favor of or against America.

America will continue putting European unity to the test.


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