Widening Atlantic?

Scilla Elworthy
24 July 2001

Missile defence

The US feels threatened by “rogue states” – those usually cited are North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Libya. The list of threats, I’m told by official sources, is “certain to grow”. In the US view, missile technology is to the 21st century what air power was to the 20th. The US must and will use its unique technology to build the necessary defence against the next “inevitable” threat. Richard Perle, appointed to head the Defence Policy Board, says: “We’re going to proceed with missile defence and either they can join us in that endeavour, or they can sit on the sidelines and complain.” A reliable Washington insider told me recently that going through the process of consultation doesn’t alter the fundamental attitude to Europe on missile defence, which is, “We’re going to do it, so just get over it.”

What is the European perspective on these issues of missile threat? The emphasis seems to be increasingly on cooperative threat reduction and elimination. Many commentators detect a change of focus from concentrating on the threat, to improving communication and trust-building. For example, after the Bush administration had said that it was no longer willing to talk to North Korea, this May the EU sent a high-profile mission there and secured a promise to continue the moratorium on missile testing at least until 2003.

There is an inclination in Europe to promote dialogue and trade incentives with “states of concern”, rather than counter-aggression. They see that arms control and diplomacy deliver results. In the previous US administration, Clinton’s November 2000 initiative secured an agreement with Beijing to reinforce its own missile export control system; and Madeleine Albright’s signed agreement with Russia in December 2000 to reduce the risk of accidental launch.

For the European side, missile proliferation can only effectively be addressed in a powerful collective manner. That was spelt out, for example, at the Franco-German summit in Freiburg on 12 June, when Chancellor Schroeder and President Chirac issued a joint declaration as follows: “France and Germany consider that the risks of ballistic missile proliferation necessitate the reinforcement of the multilateral instruments on non-proliferation.”

The weaponisation of space

If you take a look at the website of US Space Command – and I very strongly recommend it – you will find their Vision for 2020, and phrases such as the following: “dominating the space dimension of military operations, to protect US interests and investment”, and “integrating space forces into war-fighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict”.

Within a generation, it is asserted by commentators like Charles Krauthammer in the Weekly Standard on 4 June, “the US will have an army, navy, marines, air force, and a space force… Space will be an avenue for the projection of national power, as were the oceans 500 years ago.”

And corporations are setting the pace here. I do take into consideration the point that it may not be the corporations that are actually pushing decisions. Nevertheless, the actual decision-making process reveals a “revolving door” between members of the key corporations and powerful administrative decision-making positions. Taking Lockheed Martins Space Systems alone as an example: on 31 May, President Bush nominated Albert Smith, in charge of Lockheed Martins’ space systems division, as under-secretary of the air force. Bruce Jackson, vice-president of Lockheed Martin, is a leading member of the Bush defence team, and chair of the Republican foreign policy platform committee.

US policy is explicit on freedom of action in space. On 8 May, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld quoted the 1996 US National Space Policy: “The US will develop, operate and maintain space control capabilities to ensure freedom of action in space, and if directed, to deny such freedom of action to adversaries”.

Taking the European position on the other hand, the inclination seems to be to observe the treaties concerning space: the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, prohibiting the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in space; the 1975 Registration Convention; and the 1979 Moon Agreement. There is the belief that space could be made safe collaboratively, if China and the US would cease – for their different reasons – blocking negotiations on the PAROS Agreement, which is very much in the drafting stage in the United Nations standing conference on Disarmament. There is now a proposal for an Ottawa Process, based on the lines of the process that produced the Landmines Agreement, to prepare, negotiate and to establish a code of conduct for the non-aggressive uses of space. Europe tends to be more inclined to see “space dominance” as a fiction, easily countered by relatively crude means (for example, putting masses of lead pellets in similar orbits to key satellites).

Nuclear policy

US policy on this issue is radical. Many see it as the end of arms control. There is a perception in Washington that the entire structure of bilateral arms control is a useless relic, seriously damaging to American security. For example, Charles Krauthammer (in the same Weekly Standard article) wrote: “The US will no longer acquiesce in multilateral nonsense.” He is only a commentator, of course. But the proposed financial year 2002 Budget of the Bush Administration would, for example, reduce the Department of Energy funding for joint non-proliferation efforts with Russia by 32%. The overall DoE funding for cooperative nuclear security programmes would also be cut by nearly a third. Americans spend more on cat food than on the Co-operative Threat Reduction Scheme with Russia.

The view is that non-proliferation, as we have known it, is not enough and that passive steps to deny “rogue states” missile technology are necessary, but not sufficient. The US must move to a “higher platform” – and space is the ultimate high ground.

On the question of nuclear treaties, Rumsfeld believes that treaties “ought not to inhibit a country, a president, an administration, a nation, from fashioning offensive and defensive capabilities that will provide for our security”... So we must, in our appraisal of this, balance the US plans for deep cuts in existing weapons – which are obviously to be applauded – with US plans for mini-nukes and bunker-busters.

What of Europe’s general tendencies on nuclear policy? There is the sense that bilateral and multilateral treaties have been effective in reducing the numbers and dangers of weapons of mass destruction over the past half century. And they should be further implemented, because only through treaties do you get i) verification and ii) irreversibility.

There is a fear in Europe that there will be a cascade of weapons of mass destruction proliferation if the US abandons the non-proliferation regime, and that the abandonment of the regime would cause just what the US most fears. At the end of last year, I travelled to many European capitals to talk to people in foreign and defence ministries. There is a wide indication of adherence in Europe to the 13 practical steps for the implementation of Article 6 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. (The 13 steps were agreed by consensus, including the signature of the United States, the United Kingdom, and all the P5, at the United Nations NPT Review Conference in May 2000). In 1999, Europeans adopted a Joint Action on cooperation programmes for non-proliferation and disarmament with Russia. The European Commission hosted its first conference on non-proliferation and disarmament cooperation in Russia in March 2001.

Strategic security policy and arms control

What appears to the world as “unilateralism”, the US perceives as self-interest. The method employed is to be nice, to appear understanding, but in the end, to do what suits the United States. Bush Administration Foreign Policy will, in the words of National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, “proceed from the firm ground of the national interest, not from the interest of an illusory international community.” And we mustn’t forget the sheer weight of what we are talking about. The US Defence Budget equals twice the combined defence budgets of all the nations of Europe.

By contrast, Europe tends to rely more on the solid foundation of a half-century of treaties and agreements, which are generally believed to have delivered security in the face of the great dangers of the Cold War. So on the one hand there is the “view from within”, an attempt to protect our interests and values from what is outside, using force where necessary (the view generally held in Washington); and on the other the “view from above”, the realisation that global problems are shared problems which can only be solved collectively. The success of European unity has made war unthinkable, and, for example, provided a base on which to combat international crime and drug trafficking.

In the European Union, we are moving forcefully towards the use of proven and cost-effective conflict prevention and conflict resolution techniques. The EU resolved at the Gothenburg summit this June to “mainstream” conflict resolution; and to commit further substantial resources to the prevention of violent conflicts through improved early warning, cooperation with civil society and NGOs, and the addressing of the root causes of conflict. At a time of scarce national and natural resources, the only way forward is perceived to be collective resource management.

Anyone familiar with English villages will know of the “tragedy of the commons”. There was a tradition that all those in a village or town who had one or two cows had the right to graze them on common land. As long as everybody stuck to one cow or two the common grass was able to regenerate and survive. But when one farmer decided to graze six cows on that same common land, and others, seeing that action, followed suit, disaster ensued. The land could not support any of the cows.

The lessons for Britain

The people of the United States do seem to feel threatened. That may seem odd to non-Americans. It may even seem ironic, given that the US is by orders of magnitude the most heavily armed nation on earth. But on their behalf, President Bush is aspiring to “invincibility and invulnerability”. Europe has, by virtue of its geography, never been able to aspire to such levels of security, and has had to find ways to coexist with its neighbours.

Britain has cherished for half a century a “special relationship” with the United States. Besides being based on cultural affinity, this is largely an intelligence relationship where global signals and satellite information are shared. Nevertheless, as the British public begins to learn the facts about the new US policy – particularly missile defence – opposition to it is building. Two small examples: the number of MPs (mainly Labour) who have signed the early day motion opposing Bush’s plans for missile defence has risen to 235. This begins to get serious. Meanwhile the trade unions are preparing to present to the Labour Party conference in September a resolution opposing any cooperation with US plans.

So, to conclude, Britain seems rather like a person with one foot in each of two separate boats. The problem is that the direction of the boats is diverging: one towards transatlantic allegiance, the other towards allegiance with Europe. By not making up its mind, Britain risks not only getting wet, but possibly sinking into irrelevance.

Conversely, a British government that did choose its fundamental allegiance could still acquire a powerful bridging role across the ever-widening Atlantic “pond”.

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