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US and Europe fall out in the fight against terrorism

Kirsty Hughes
27 February 2002

Since 11 September, and especially since the perceived success in Afghanistan, the US and European worldviews are again diverging sharply.

Before 11 September, the US emphasis was on Missile Defence, but the new approach goes sharply beyond this with its presumption of pre-emptive military action against perceived threats. The European reaction is to call for a multilateral approach, and a multifaceted approach emphasising diplomacy, dialogue and the use of economic and other tools. The abrasiveness of the US approach is seen as putting at risk the potential effectiveness of these softer approaches.

But it appears that the US for now is not listening - and a number of voices in both the US and Europe claim that the US will not and need not listen while the EU cannot match or contribute in any serious way in terms of military capabilities. This is a rather misleading and sometimes disingenuous debate. Why should the EU hugely increase its military capacities in order to argue for a non-military solution? And certainly from the US point of view, the underlying expectation is that such an increase in capacities would be only to support the US approach - not to add weight to alternative arguments. For Europe, the serious argument about military capabilities has to be about what the EU needs to play a more serious role in regional security.

In terms of the current rift with the US, what Europe most urgently needs is a strong common voice. The EU provides over 50 percent of international aid. After enlargement it will have a population of almost half a billion. It needs a common political voice to match that economic weight. And it would certainly need such a common approach if it were to use increased military capacities effectively. But this of course is highly problematic.

The EU has been moving forward steadily but slowly in developing its common foreign and security policy. But national differences of view remains strong. Although very muted, there were clear differences of views between the larger and smaller EU member states over military action in Afghanistan. And the latest debate over the axis of evil speech indicates a large gap between the UK on the one hand, and France and Germany, together with the European Commission on the other. Blair has remained loyal to the US, while Foreign Minister Jack Straw made a soft and vain attempt to allay domestic concerns without upsetting the Americans - failing on all counts. This leaves Solana in an uneasy position hovering between the differing parties both within the EU and across the Atlantic divide trying to calm the argument.

Some commentators both in Europe and the US are accusing the EU politicians of whingeing, suggesting they should put up (in military terms) or shut-up. The big problem in fact lies elsewhere: the urgency of the unfolding global crisis means that what Europe needs to 'put up' now is a clear strong common position. This will not solve the current transatlantic divide but it could provoke a vital global dialogue about how to move forward. But without such a common position, the EU's comments risk indeed being voices in the wind.

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