Europe can say ‘no’

It’s of little practical importance if the evidence that US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the UN Security Council was, in fact, convincing or not. What is politically crucial, however, is that with Powell’s case, the US has taken a path of no return, which confronts its allies with a dilemma: They can either openly question US credibility or side with it, groaning or not. The recent rebellion by the «group of eight» prompted many to say that Europe lacks all political leverage and is doomed to fall behind the sole superpower. This view ignores the fact that Europe has shown far more resistance to Washington’s foreign policy bravado than it did in the Kosovo crisis, and it fosters a climate of unjustified fatalism. What can be done? First of all, France could, with German backing, veto a decision by the Security Council. This would also draw in Russia and China, and prevent the US from gaining any broader legitimacy for an attack. In addition, the two powerful states could make clear that they won’t participate in a war or in the Pax Americana (meaning the lengthy and extremely risky administration of postwar Iraq that the US would like to put on Europe’s shoulders). Such a stance would facilitate EU attempts to build preferential ties with Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia (all regimes that have reasons to believe that they could come next in line after Iraq) as well as Russia, thereby opening the path for Europe’s emancipation from oil dependence. Finally, they must make clear to the future EU members of Eastern Europe that they must leave their old habits behind and not jump to attention before the distant superpower as they did with the Soviet Union. All these things, of course, are harder to do than to say. There is always the other option. Powell could finally «convince» Germany and France and hence vindicate Britain, Spain and Italy, which had from the start backed the right horse.