Order the autumn edition here

European concern about US plans

Notwithstanding full support: European leaders fear what the United States can think of to retaliate against the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Scientist doesn't think all of NATO will be drawn.


Slowly but surely, after the NATO Summit's stated solidarity with the United States, European leaders have begun to voice some concern about US retaliation plans. The concern is not explicitly stated, but between the lines it is clear. Today, Friday, the EU's top leaders meet to coordinate their views on counter-reactions to the terrorist attack.

French President Jaques Chirac, but also Britain's Foreign Minister Tony Blair, are among those who last week have supplemented the declarations of support with cautionary undertones. Blair has taken on the self-proclaimed role of coordinator for gathering support for an international anti-terrorism network, but the UK government has made it clear that no blanket authorization has been printed for the United States. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday he met the heads of state in Berlin, Paris and Washington respectively. But even though German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and France's President Jaques Chirac support the US's right to retaliate and the anti-terror alliance, there is an underlying concern about an escalation of the conflict.

Not war

An expression of concern is that Chirac, in a meeting with US President George W. Bush on Tuesday this week, asked for detailed plans for the US counter-reactions to the terrorist acts. Before leaving, Chirac spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Tony Blair and Italian President Silvio Berlusconi. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, Chirac was asked by the other heads of state to discuss the United States' various options for action in as much detail as possible, "because we know absolutely nothing about them and they must be considered with extreme caution," a French source put it. According to the BBC, Chirac would not readily agree to put the label "war" on the situation that has arisen, and he should not have committed France to anything more than discuss the funds that will be used by the United States. Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino has also stated that "the term 'war' is inappropriate".

The Guardian quotes Dominique Moisi at the French Institute for International Affairs, who according to the newspaper says: "We are in the same boat, but we are afraid of what the boat's captain will decide to do. A type of crusade that will create a 'clash of civilizations' war makes Europe really nervous ".

Also a spokesman for the French Socialist Party, and French Defense Minister Alain Richard warns against strategies that widen the gap between the West and the Muslim world, and which could lay the groundwork for new terror. According to the newspaper, Richard says that "there must be a strategy aimed at restabilizing the region, not the other way around, adding new destabilizing elements". French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, for his part, says the country's solidarity with the United States does not deprive them of their own free judgment.

The evidence

The concern over what a retaliatory attack from the US might entail seems to follow two dimensions. One is the concern about Osama bin Laden, and the country that huser him; Afghanistan, in fact, can be held responsible for the actions against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Both German and Russian top politicians have expressed concern over whether the evidence is good enough. If they are not, and the United States is still taking action, it is not only feared that the action will be illegitimate in itself. It is also feared that it will not be able to be defended particularly in the Muslim countries with which the United States is currently seeking support or pressures to cooperate.

The second concern is whether the US response will be adequate in relation to the problem facing us. Will a large-scale attack on Afghanistan, possibly against those parts of the country where bin Laden is believed to be, in any way stop future terrorist attacks? Will the civilian losses be too great?

In Germany, it seems that politicians do not completely agree on a possible German contribution to a military operation. Germany has traditionally been reluctant to participate militarily internationally, due to the country's not so distant history. Now the country's president, Johannes Rau, expresses doubts about whether Germany will participate militarily in a possible action, but that logistical support may come into play. Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder says for his part that "I can not and will not rule out military participation". The Greens' Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, for his part, says that not reacting will be an invitation to continue with terrorism, but at the same time he warns against a "disproportionate response".

Get some land

However, what line the EU countries, most of which are NATO countries, are embarking on today does not have a direct impact on the US military line now. Christian Marius Stryken, who is researching transatlantic relations at the Danish Foreign Policy Institute (DUPI) in Copenhagen, does not envisage that the United States will want a full-scale NATO operation in which Norway or other smaller NATO countries participate militarily.

- The United States will prioritize an effective way to respond, rather than many countries participating militarily. This means that they can do it alone, or that they invite one or two countries to participate, to strengthen the alliance, Stryken believes. The most obvious support country will then be the United States' closest ally in Europe; Great Britain.

- We are then talking about a "coalition of the willing", where you invite those who have something to contribute. That means Britain and not Germany, which neither wants nor can, nor the smaller NATO countries, he says. In addition, of course, countries near Afghanistan will be asked to open bases and airspace to the Americans. In that case, of the NATO countries, it will only be about Turkey.

Despite the skeptical undertones of European politicians' statements, Christian Marius Stryken believes the other NATO countries will express their support to the United States if Americans choose to deploy cruise missiles and bombing Afghanistan.

- But if you read between the lines, this is not carefree support. How worried you are depends on whether you think the bombs are really hitting terrorist groups and to what extent the civilian population will be injured or killed. Despite the support, it is not the case that there is a unified front of the type "West against the rest". There is also a struggle within the West about how to relate to the rest, says Stryken, who emphasizes that this is not a new divide that has arisen after the terrorist attacks.

Externally, there is a rhetorical agreement, but it often covers a real disagreement about how terrorism is fought. One must not look blindly at declarations, he says.

The wording

The DUPI researcher believes the harsh wordings of American politicians, not least US President George W. Bush, can help create uncertainty both in Europe and in Muslim countries, although they may be unifying within the United States.

- Words like "retaliation" are not happy in Europe, which is primarily concerned with finding tools to combat terrorism effectively. It is also not smart of George Bush to talk about "crusade", a crusade. It does not strengthen the opportunities to get Muslim countries on the US side, says Stryken.

He believes that the Americans will be careful about deploying thousands of men against Afghanistan, when they are hunting for groups that have flexible forces that move quickly. – If they go into a large-scale operation, they may get stuck and lose the necessary flexibility. The Soviets got burned for it. If you get stuck, you are very vulnerable, and the conflict can be long-lasting, says Stryken, who also refers to the Americans' own experiences from Vietnam.

He believes, therefore, that when the US government prepares the population for the loss of military life, it can also be the lives of special forces hunting for potential terrorists.

- In the USA, a discussion has started about whether to allow the assassination of people who are believed to be able to commit terrorist acts. This is an interesting discussion, because it can be a way of fighting terrorism can require fewer civilian casualties than large-scale military attacks. I do not mean to shout hurray, hurray for such methods, but they may be more effective and less burdensome for the civilian population, says Stryken.

You may also like