UN-Nato-EU: Do we have a clue?

Paul Hilder
21 February 2003

#18 – 21.02.2003: Moving troops

Military intelligence from four fronts in central and south-east Europe. Any more reports? [email protected]

On 7 February, Bulgaria’s parliament granted overflight, temporary basing and transit rights to US and coalition forces and approved the commitment of Bulgarian nuclear, chemical and biological defence units. 152 (count them) Bulgarian troops may be deployed to the Gulf. 18 US aircraft and 400 US ground troops may be based in the country, which borders the Black Sea.

On 14 February, Austria refused to give US troops based in Germany transit rights through to Italy and the Mediterranean in the absence of a second United Nations(UN) resolution. (On the same day, the first shipment of military supplies arrived in Bulgaria.)

On 17 February, after intense talks, the Hungarian opposition Fidesz rose up against the government and demanded transit rights be limited to Nato forces for Turkey’s defence – and this will not be the main purpose of the majority of US forces in Turkey. Fidesz vice-president Zsolt Nemeth had an appointment with me that morning; his harassed secretaries apologised simultaneously in Hungarian and English. In English, they said, “That’s war.” In Hungarian, “That’s politics.”

This war has certainly brought politics back to the surface – but of what kind? As The Economist’s Charlemagne noted, “If you glance at maps of Europe these days, it is hard to repress strange thoughts about frontiers, land mass and the control of raw materials.”

Turkey continues to offer mixed signals about its readiness to approve the upgrading of its military installations in preparation for the northern front. But that’s all. As Islamist AKP party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan proudly stated, they’ve held off voting on US troop deployments for now.

Prime-Minister-in-waiting Erdogan is more and more visible, pumping out the rhetoric as he prepares to stand for parliament in the Kurdish-majority province of Siirt, less than 200 km from the Iraqi border. The by-election will be held on 9 March, in the antechamber of the war.

As negotiations continue over political, military and economic factors (aid promises currently stand at $6bn, loan guarantees at $20bn; the last Gulf War cost Turkey $100bn), the new date for a parliamentary vote is next Tuesday, 25 February. American patience is running out: they tried to issue an ultimatum yesterday (and were rebuffed); yet without the Turks, they may be in trouble.

But is the “deep state” of the generals taking its own initiative, in any case? On Wednesday, US armoured vehicles were already seen landing at Iskenderun in southern Turkey…

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#17 – 20.02.2003: Ramstein, 2006

A case-study – fiction or fact?

[The cast: Timothy Taylor, formerly a lieutenant on the Ramstein military base in south-western Germany; Murphy, an attaché at the American embassy in Bad Godesberg.]

“Mr Taylor, please be careful! That’s a warning!” Those were his first words.

“Careful of what?” I asked. “Are you afraid of the few surviving terrorists who are still running around?”

“They can’t stand us!” he exclaimed. “They hate us!”

“But who can’t stand us?”

“All of them. The Germans. The French. The Spanish. They’re all anti-American. We have virtually no friends left here anymore.”

I tried to calm him. “But the alliance still exists, doesn’t it?”

“The alliance exists only on paper! It’s not an alliance any more, it’s a bad joke.”

“What do you expect? After we withdrew our troops… God knows the two hundred men in Berlin don’t count…”

“Exactly!” he cried.

“But it was our decision. Congress…”

“I was against it from the start.”

“You know as well as I do that the European community is a henhouse, a snarled-up ball of states that gets smaller and smaller – if you can still call them states at all.”

“But they all manage to agree when it comes to putting us down. And then if you thump the table they hide inside their tangled mess. No clear statement, no long-term perspective. No offence to anyone at all. All their imagined complexities, privileges, and minorities have to be respected. Sometimes it’s the environmentalists who have to be featherbedded, then it’s the Moslems or the Basques or the retired Communists. A while ago they even wanted to print their banknotes in twelve languages. It would drive you crazy! I’m glad I’m being transferred to Seoul soon. At least the situation there is clear right from the start.”

No wonder we’ve got problems, I thought on my way to the station, with diplomats like that…Nevertheless, I felt sorry for Murphy, and ultimately, like all paranoiacs, he wasn’t completely wrong…

I worked my way through the undergrowth and reached the compound I had lived in.

The house was still there but the weeds were a yard high in the porch. The banisters were broken. I tested the steps carefully. The floor in my living room was rotted. The ceiling evidently leaked. The skeleton of a refrigerator stood in the kitchen. Not even a tramp could have found shelter here. I startled a herd of deer between the munitions depot and the helicopter hangar. The airfield control tower had collapsed.

This was German writer Hans-Magnus Enzensberger’s European prophecy of 2006, written in 1986/7.

There are prophecies that come true, those that don’t, and those in between. The last are perhaps the most illuminating.

New US supreme commander in Europe and former Marine James Jones is developing plans to redeploy 70,000 troops from Germany, where they have dug in for over half a century, to fast-response “lily pad” bases in south-eastern Europe: Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania…

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#16 – 18.02.2003: Multilateral snow-balls (UN-Nato-EU)

“Member states shall actively and unreservedly support the Union’s common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity. They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union’s effectiveness or likely to undermine its effectiveness.” – Draft European Constitution, Article 14

Like you, over the last week and a half, I have watched three overlapping episodes of this train-wreck of a soap opera. I have watched them on French, British, Belgian and American satellite news stations. Here were the TV listings:

Friday 7th February: Five go to the UN
The US and the UK gain momentum for a new UN resolution. Russia and China play their cards close to their chests. Germany and France are isolated “old-Europe” naysayers – but France will come round next time. [Starring the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Bulgaria, the current Europeans at the Security Council.]

Monday 10th: Nineteen go to Nato
The US and Turkey press for Nato to defend Turkey – but France, Germany and Belgium join to combat the US logique de la guerre, pinning Nato down in old-Europe technicalities. US unilateralists cheer.

Monday 17th: Twenty-five go to Brussels
The Greeks bang new-and-old European heads together. Everyone still disagrees.

And what actually happened?

Friday 7th: Five go to the UN
Hans Blix undercuts Colin Powell. Germany and France propose intensified inspections (backing down from the German idea of 20,000 peacekeepers on the ground – logistically improbable at this late stage), and Russia comes behind them. France’s dashing De Villepin receives a round of applause for standing up to la logique de la guerre. The US and UK look more isolated. US unilateralists cheer.

Sunday 16th: Eighteen come back from Nato
“France, Germany, Belgium… these countries are destroying Nato.” So blazes a Hungarian-Jewish European over fish soup, the night before Germany and Belgium switch sides (in the defence planning committee, which France, alone among the “multilateral” members, sits outside). Belgium’s main price: “any decision on intervention in Iraq should take the development of UN discussions into account.” But they’re safe: there will be no such Nato decision.

Monday/Tuesday 17-18th: Fifteen go to Brussels, ten kids tag along
Heavens above! The Greeks have done it, with Kofi Annan’s help. A joint statement (again), something for everyone (again), a tip of the hat to the protests, force is a last resort (possible but not inevitable), inspections cannot continue indefinitely, the Security Council must decide… the UK and France sign together. The next day, the unruly kids of future Europe meet and add their names as well – despite Chirac’s extraordinary criticism of their “not well-brought-up behaviour” as “childish”.

Three excellent openDemocracy articles have covered these pacy developments from the heart of Old Europe. In his first column for us, Michael Naumann brilliantly debunks Rumsfeld and Schröder as like-minded stubborn Lower Saxons, then reflects on the US imperial role in the transatlantic divide, while noting Germany has more peacekeeping troops abroad than anyone but the empire.

Patrice De Beer of Le Monde stresses Chirac is not alone – he has the mainstream of European public opinion behind him.

Kirsty Hughes agrees, stresses the French and Germans were properly respectful of both UN and EU, and rightly regrets the lack of an earlier common position that could have set the agenda.

Three remarks, from the margins, which they don’t entirely address:

1. Europe is still proposing no credible alternative. The US is still pressing the accelerator of Iraq. Europe is just applying the brake.

2. Chirac stands proud against US unilateralism and with the people of Europe – good! But he is overplaying his hand. He cannot bank on Russia and China. After an unnecessary sabotage job (yes, he would prefer EU to Nato defence), he was left alone in the Alliance. France, like the US and Russia, is motivated by economic and political interests as well as by “universal humanism”. With his “childish” comment, Le Président exposed himself to central Europe and the world. This matters more than American “cheese-eating surrender monkey” talk.

3. The “kids” have the clear sight of the weak: playing games of advantage for crumbs from the table, seeing the clash between principles and power, capable of deflating bombast with humour. Like many in the ex-Soviet bloc, Estonia’s Siim Kallas saw totalitarian parallels between Iraq and the Soviet Union. Romanian prime minister Adrian Nastase, not yet accepted into the EU and on Chirac’s “delicate” ground, said: “I as well, when I have trouble with my wife, I shout at my boys.” Radio Free Europe reports a Slovak on a discussion forum: “Dear Mr. Chirac, I think it's escaped your notice that we are not your colony.”

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#15 – 16.02.2003:Cyprus against unity?

Tassos Papadopoulos, a moderate nationalist, topples President Clerides of Cyprus, Kofi Annan’s friend, with Communist support and a 90% turnout. The February 28 deadline for acceptance of the UN peace plan to reunite the island in the loosest of confederations is two weeks away.

The press is “surprised”. But the polls predicted it. More to the point, and a little-reported fact: a majority of Greek Cypriots are, like the Turkish north’s government, against the UN plan. They argue the return of 7% of land is not enough, and their territorial irredentism is superficially costless: they have been promised they can sign the EU accession treaty on 16 April with the other nine countries – with their northern Turkish compatriots under the Annan plan, or alone. They seem to prefer alone.

So what are the chances of old Papadopoulos and the north’s military ancient Denktash doing a deal? Slim to zero, unless Turkey and Greece pull out a mammoth surprise aid package in the next week. Scratch one coup for the Greek EU presidency.

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#14 – 15.02.2003: People of Europe, rise up!

You have nothing to lose but the US!

Seismic protests with their epicentre in our continent, worldwide six to ten million… even if, between the ex-imperial boulevards of Budapest, they were hard to find (only 20,000-30,000 here turned out, including 100 neo-nazis). Unprecedented, simultaneous, glorious, invigorating; sometimes creative, fundamentally non-violent. The chaotic upwelling of a majoritarian general will: “No” to US unilateralism.

But as Dave Belden observed from New York, very few of them, on either side of the Atlantic, were saying “No to Saddam”.

The people’s consent to acts of war, to the sending of their young men and women into the maelstrom, is not to be taken lightly; it forms the platelets of the lifeblood of democracy. Yet in Europe, governments and people are lining up on opposite sides. Should rapprochement not follow, either democracy will clot, or the Hercules of democracy will sweep Blairs and Aznars out of Europe’s Augean parliaments.

Divergence might be explicable under the banner of Enlightened Leadership on death penalty policies. But can a democracy ignore its people on war?

Perhaps there is a view that, if one is sending few or no troops, war-support falls rather into the class of distant, complex acts of diplomacy. The people don’t see it that way. If they can be reconciled with their governments, it is only within the UN. Global governance by popular norms? Let Europeans hope the death penalty is not decided thus.

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#13 – 11.02.2003: New Europe in the snow

Budapest’s Ferihegy Airport: snow blows in at the angle of an arriving plane, icicles hang from the signs, old Europeans slip and slide across the icy tarmac. Many Hungarians are nervous about the EU. It has ambushed their pessimism by saying yes to them, and in less than two months, they must finally decide whether to say yes back.

Underground “No” campaigns are spreading, on the internet, on lamp posts: myths about the banning of poppy-seed cake and home pig-slaughtering spin out from shadowy groups like the Movement for a Free Hungary. Fears of price hikes, borders closed to guest-workers, and perhaps most of all, an avalanche of uncertainty, mean the pro-EU camp has collapsed in the last few weeks from 67% to 56% of voters. ‘No’s have surged from 10% to 22%.

Yes, Hungarians will say yes on 12 April – unless the Crown of Istvan (seated at the heart of their grand Parliament building) rises up magically to forbid it. The last fourteen years have been all about the stony road toward Nato and the EU. But then? “Your grandmother may be poorer, but your daughter will be better off”: this honest but ambivalent promise offered by Attila, the pleasant, goateed EU information officer, cannot put an end to uncertainty.

France and Germany leapfrog Nato to shake hands with old Father-Bear Russia: but 82% of the Hungarian people are against war even in the event of a second resolution. They find themselves closer to “The Axis of Delay” than their own government, a “Wall Street Journal Eight” subscriber.

The political stars’ alignments are unfamiliar to a visitor from further west. Nationalist conservatives Fidesz toy with pacifism; ex-communist Socialists and liberal Free Democrats are hawkish.

From this corner of the New Europe: more soon.

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#12 – 09.02.2003: Perpetual peace – constitutionally, federally?

The Presidium of the European Convention on the Future of Europe has just released the first draft section of what may become our continental Constitution.

Excerpts: “The Union's aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples... including the discovery of space... strict observance of internationally accepted legal commitments, and peace between States.”

What does it all mean?

“Peace”: playing to the transatlantic news agenda, but also rooted in Europe’s torn history. (Even if the Balkans and the Iron Curtain refute arguments that we have created “over fifty years of peace” in our backyard.)

Concrete objectives: a space programme, full employment, “protection of children’s rights in the wider world”. These will infuriate those (like my openDemocracy Europe co-editor Frank Vibert) who believe a constitution should stay clear of too many determinate rights or policies.

A principle had been suggested that the First Part of the Constitution will be abstract, general, and for all time; while the Second Part, containing the Union’s policies, shall be more easily changed. Predictably, the policies are making a dash for the First Part, and immortality.

For Europeans to decide – for instance – that space discovery (a Giscard favourite) is polluting and expensive may be tougher in future. Remember the US experience: “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed”…

Much media heat and light over the anodyne phrase, “a Union… which shall administer certain common competences on a federal basis”, little more than a redescription of what happens already, with a – for some – incendiary word.

“Federal”: reams have been written already on its many meanings. Let’s remember: in federal theory, power flows upward from the states, rather than downward from the centre, just as in the EU today. Some critics are worried that federalism has lost its relevance in an age of multi-level interdependency. Others, that it may centralise power in a United States of Europe. But could Europe as a polity ever become greater than its states, in this diverse and many-languaged continent?

The problem: this is not yet a constitution, merely a fragment. More heat and light has been generated around economic and foreign policy “coordination”: but the current articles are empty ciphers, free of institutions, hence of content.

Yet it is a surprisingly compelling fragment.

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#11 – 07.02.2003: Farewell, Vaclav Havel

The fairytale of Prague Castle is over. Farewell, President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. Like a good European from a cold-wintered country, he went into Portuguese retirement.

Vanishing as well, the Liberty Bell gifted to him – or Czechoslovakia – by George Bush Senior, and the brief aftertaste of his unilateral signature on the Wall Street Journal Eight letter, scrawled to stiffen “the world’s immune system”. Let’s hope ideals of drama, clarity and poetry in governance, of scooters in the hallways of power, do not vanish also.

After more than one try, the Parliament has failed to elect his replacement: it may decide to hand this tricky task over to the people. In his New Yorker tribute, subtle and acute, David Remnick wonders whether Havel will write a diary – and quotes the Prague Post’s suggestion that it will be “somewhere between Henry Kissinger and Charles Bukowski.”

“The truth and love will always beat the lie and hatred,” Havel cried in 1989 to a crowd of millions. Leaving office on 2 February, older, sadder, he said, “It was not to be continually loved by all that we were chosen… We were elected in the hope that we would do what, according to our knowledge and our convictions, is in the long-term interests of human society as a whole.” His final gesture, the V-sign of peace.

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#1 - 23.01.2003: Where are we going? #2 - 24.01.2003: Two heads @ Versailles #3 - 24.01.2003: ‘Off with Saddam!‘ #4 - 29.01.2003: Fast track from Copenhagen #5 - 30.01.2003: Europe Prophecies? #6 - 03.02.2003: The Gang of Eight #7 - 04.02.2003: Turkish holidays and war #8 – 04.02.2003: Bitter, Lower Saxony #9 – 04.02.2003: Buying Europe on eBay #10 - 06.02.2003: The posse from Vilnius

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