In May 1997, in Washington, at the ’Bridging the Atlantic : People to People’ conference, organized by State Department, EU Commission and Dutch Foreign Affairs, we (a bunch of European and American citizens coming from NGOs and academia) invented TIESWEB in order to increase the relations between European and American civil societies because we were convinced that Internet will boost the influence of citizens in the sphere of international relations.
In April 2000 in Atlanta, I told a US audience of experts on Transatlantic relations gathered for the ’Transatlantic 2020’ conference, that in the coming years the US would ’land in history’ as they would painfully experiment the fact they could no longer ignore the weight of the rest of the world on their own decisions, contrary to what they could afford doing in most of their past history. The past two years seem to have tragically proved this analysis true.
In October 2001, TIESWEB Board decided to plan for November 2002 in Miami, a big congress called ’Reshaping Transatlantic Relations for the XXIst century : the citizens’ perspective’ because we were thinking that EU/US relations were coming to a point where they will require a complete reassessment ; and that public opinions will play a much greater role in the future, next to business and governments.
In all three cases, most ’experts’ of Transatlantic relations found our initiatives or analysis irrelevant or pure speculations. This says a lot about the ’experts’ ability to anticipate when things go into crisis and drastic changes. And here definitely we are amidst a major one regarding EU/US relations.
Therefore as a citizen promoting European construction for 17 years, and for about 6 years now, with TIESWEB, contributing to enlarge Europeans-Americans dialogs at citizens’ level, I feel compelled to share with my European and American friends what the current crisis tells me about tomorrow, about the EU, about the US and about their relations after the coming Gulf War II. Much of what made this relation in the past 50 years has already been destroyed, much more will be in the coming weeks. For me, that says only that a lot will have to be rebuilt tomorrow.
Preparing a coalition of willing citizens to rebuild Transatlantic relations To be successful, the ’coalition of willing citizens’ from both sides eager to reshape EU/US relations has to be clear now about why we got there and what are the possible consequences of the coming war. Tomorrow’s EU/US relations would have to be cleared from the people and ideas who led us where we are today if we want them to be both stable and useful for the rest of the world. This work has to start now, before the war even starts. As indeed, much will have to be discussed and rebuilt between the EU and the US.
Three major scenarios for the post Gulf War II world disorder
Let’s get a bigger picture and look at consequences on the Transatlantic relations as well as on each side of the Atlantic Ocean. The growing complexity of EU/US relations will enter into a process of simplification in the coming months with coming Gulf War II. This war will only leave three main gates to enter our common future.
The Gate to Heaven ? The US administration’s perfect war Gulf War II is ’the perfect war’ as planned by US and UK officials. A few weeks of combat with limited military casualties on the US/UK side and limited civilian casualties on Iraqi side. Then, in a matter of six months, the stabilization of Iraq allows a peaceful process of transmission of powers to a new civilian democratic Iraqi regime, while a renewed peace process in the Middle East opens a new era of stability and peace for the whole region and the world.
If this scenario becomes reality, then the consequences are pretty obvious :
. US leadership on world affairs will be even bigger than now . internally Americans will give long lasting support to the three groups defining Bush’s vision of the US (faith addicts, business opportunists and ideologists) . externally Washington will move fast to reshuffle the UN system and will most probably try to get rid of France as a permanent member of the UN Security Council (knowing that any reshuffling of the UN Security Council will lead to the suppression of both French and UK seats, to be replaced by a European one). . European Unions attempt to build a Foreign Policy of its own will be totally stopped . Nato will be reshaped as a ’coalition of the willing’ supporting US objectives . European points on world agendas will be almost all skipped in favour of US ones.
But, as a matter of fact, it is important to keep in mind that this ’perfect scenario’ is already impossible to achieve as for months, the Bush administration has repeatedly failed to convince most of its closest allies to support the coming war. In terms of strategy, the drift away from the perfect scenario is already very significant.
The Gate to Hell ?
The US Administration war nightmare Gulf war II is the “mother of all nightmares” as expected by Saddam and feared by many around the world (including in the US and Europe). This is the exact opposite outcome compared to the previous one. The war has to last more than a few weeks as Iraq is not rapidly secured by US forces. Months after the invasion, the country is still split in chaos with various groups (Saddam loyalists, religious or ethnic groups, …) fighting among each other and with the US/UK forces. Death toll of Iraqi civilians goes up by thousands every month ; while hundreds of US and UK soldiers get killed or wounded. Neighbouring countries enter the game in order to take their share of Iraq or to prevent chaos to enter their own borders. Oil prices rocket to the sky and trigger a worldwide deep recession. Terrorists attacks are perpetrated against US and Western interests in the world. Israel/Palestine relations move towards an even greater level of conflict. Only half of these possibilities do represent a nightmare scenario. Not only for the US but for the whole international community. International consequences are numerous :
. UN has to come at the rescue of US/UK and will impose conditions to both countries regarding the war outcome ; most of Bush’s global agenda is turned upside down and the US administration is obliged to comply with the very multilateral processes it intended to free itself from. . US weakness creates a big vacuum in world order and weakens the whole UN and ability to enforce international law ; meanwhile it loses all the moral credibility accumulated in past decades. . EU’s will to create a foreign policy of its own is considerably strengthened and accelerated with UK being sidelined as a credible player, while the French-German alliance is setting major goals . Prime Ministers Blair and Aznar are obliged to resign . in the US a major political crisis is started with two sides getting more and more at odds : the Bush side complaining of lack of support from allies and Democrats ; while Democrats call for a ’regime change’ in the US. The coming presidential election in 2004 sees an extremely polarized campaign.
The Gate to tomorrow’s world ?
The US landing painfully into history, with the UN to rebuild Gulf War II, as already many signs indicate it, will mark the end of the era opened after WW II and ends up the ’era of superpowers’. Globalization shows the limits of any power, even the biggest one.
Probably, history will follow a path somewhere in between the two previous scenarios, combining elements of both. But even in that case, some major consequences may be identified :
. the US will loose most of its moral credibility, patiently built up by generations of Americans. In terms of global public opinion, it already has lost the war. Only a very unlikely “perfect war” scenario could limit (not even prevent) the damages. Many in the Administration today will say that this is not very important, or that success will bring it back. Both assumptions are wrong : first, when you are in a dominant position, your domination is far more acceptable when it is rooted in some recognition of moral (which also means cultural) domination. Without it, domination rapidly becomes difficult to accept, if it does not generate negative reactions, making the domination even more complex to manage. Second, it cannot be rapidly brought back, and it can never be fully brought back, as it is like a capital which has been wasted. And this international loss will also be felt internally, creating a growing discomfort among American citizens, increasingly dubious of their own country moral standards. Let’s be extremely clear on that issue : today the US Army is the only ’American pillar’ still intact in US citizens’ mind. In recent years, Church, Corporate America, Hi-Tech Pioneering America (NASA) and the Presidency itself have been torn down with failures and scandals. A serious military set-back would generate an extremely strong wave of doubts throughout the US.
. the cost of the war (which will not be paid by the allies) will drag US deficits of all kinds towards deeper negative trends, enhancing already existing tensions within the US in terms of funds for education, for social protection, for environmental protection, … and for job-creation. The US is indeed an empire (as a political power), but contrarily to current well-shared conviction, it is already a decaying empire. The turning point took place somewhere in the 70s and was massively overshadowed by the collapse of USSR and the Internet bubble. Till the 70s, the sheer size of US economy and its political as well as intellectual (education, research, media, ..) advance compared to the rest of the world allowed it to truly be ’above history’, not seriously affected by the rest of the world’s evolutions. Today, and for about at least 2 decades, this is not true anymore and we are the witnesses of the US landing into history, discovering that it still is the biggest one, but not anymore big enough to ignore constraints coming from the rest of the world. Therefore whatever are the expectations put in Washington behind Gulf War II, they will only be met with limited and short-lived results because reality has definitely changed and will not come back to the 50s.
. Europeans will move forward to forge a European Foreign and Security policy. Maybe not all Europeans at once, but a core group of Europeans, those who lived extremely negatively the whole Gulf War II preparation phase. France and Germany will definitely be core to this group. But Spain will most certainly join as soon as the current government will leave the place to a new one. Eastern Europeans’ support to US positions will fade away in a matter of 4/5 years, the required time to pave the way for a new generation of leaders over there. One thing has to be said : Europe’s young generations (all through Europe) do not feel positive towards the current US power (and they do not remember WW II !). The current game played by the US with a few mercenary-governments, trying to jeopardize even more the weak emerging EU foreign policy, has left extremely bitter feelings among young Europeans who are in large majority pro-European integration. Imagine tomorrow Europe trying to play California or New Mexico against Washington ? What would US feelings be in that case ? Bad tricks have been played on both sides and they will require a lot of healing.
Leadership crisis on both sides of the Atlantic
All those powers lacked a capacity of coordination which prevented them to propose and led them to oppose (e.g. contributing to support the US-led troops in the Gulf in order to weigh on decisions, avoid the arguments saying that they do nothing, increase pressures on Saddam, and come with a comprehensive proposal for enhancing stability and democracy in the Middle East … which is indeed a true issue). The EU lost the 90s decade to prepare itself for the big tests of reality : political management of the Euro, enlargement to 25/27 countries and conducting a foreign policy of its own. Therefore it finds itself today amidst the calls for action with neither the instruments ready-to-use nor the leaders able to go beyond national visions. In a surprising parallel, a leadership crisis is simultaneously affecting both sides of the Atlantic : while in the US the growing Washington parochialism is marking a declining ability to understand the outside world, in the EU the incapacity of the leadership to overcome national perspectives and to really develop a European vision is conducting to the incapacity to pro-act.
The EU : The consequences of its divides show how much its unity matters
The European Union, appears clearly has a major component of the current crisis, strangely enough because of its internal divides. They are of two kinds :
. among leaders themselves (on whom most analysts have focused as it has the main impact on the current crisis) . between some leaders and their public opinions.
Before getting deeper into the analysis, let’s get rid of the purely absurd divide between ’Old and New Europe’. Europe is an old continent and all its components are old. If there is anything new in Europe, it is the European Union. The candidate countries are just going through the painful process of integration into this new European political entity. In a matter of a few years, differences within the EU will as always be between national interests and visions and not between older or younger members.
The most relevant divide between leaders is definitely the divide between the UK and Spain on the one hand ; and Germany and France on the other hand. UK and Spain support the US position for a war with Iraq (though I really wonder what the Spanish government’s support really means, as it does not even commit troops for this war ?) ; while France and Germany oppose. To look at the consequences of the war, it does not seem to me useful to spend much time on looking further at this leadership divide : for one reason at least, it is very much linked with the very individuals currently in charge and who will no longer be in charge in 3 to 5 years at most. This is even more true for Spanish government’s position which does not even commit troops and faces the highest level of public opinion opposition to the war : its positioning is totally linked to the current government and does not root itself in any long term trend (but a certain bad feeling with the German-French arrogance).
Spain and UK vs France and Germany ? Or Aznar and Blair vs most Europeans So let’s concentrate on another question : Are both sides of equivalent long term significance ?
I do not think so. The UK/Spanish camp is facing a strong internal public opinion opposition to the governmental stances ; while the French/German side is on the contrary heavily supported by its public opinions. This does not say who is wrong or right (as indeed leaders are not supposed to follow their people, neither are they supposed to ignore them) ; but it says who is speaking in name of a people or who is speaking in his own name, with a certain idea of its country- (or party-) interests. And currently it matters much as public opinions are not just getting suddenly emotional on a topic they just discover. Iraq is an 12 year old issue now. A first war already took place and was supported by public opinions. Citizens are well informed and the media cover extensively the debates on the possible new war. Just by zapping throughout European TV channels on Friday afternoon, one could see that in every European country one or the other national TV channel was broadcasting live the debates at UN Security Council. Public opinions made its mind and is very unlikely to change it in the coming months. And in Spain/UK or others of the same camp, not only did leaders failed to change their public opinions mindset ; but on the contrary they are losing every day more support.
From what we have been seeing in the past months, from Romania to Ireland, European public opinions for the first time are converging on a major international crisis to a level such as we can call it ’the European public opinion’. And French, German or Belgian leaders do currently embody the very policy this emerging public opinion is calling for.
Europeans do think the same now ; it is only the voice which is missing
This says two things :
. this crisis is definitely helping out in the future shaping up of European Foreign Security policy as it shows that on major issues, Europeans (and I do not mean leaders but citizens) can converge and identify common interests. For the upcoming generation of European leaders, this is going to be a major intellectual asset when in 5/10 years they will have to start shaping up this new 500 millions people political entity. . Europeans do not see the future of EU Foreign policy as a mere supporter of US policy but rather as a partner in co-defining policy goals and methods.
Now comes my conclusion
In almost all scenarios but the first one we are heading to major confrontations between the EU and the US. Not that American citizens and European citizens are doomed to disagree more and more.
On the contrary, they are closer than ever before. But the top of our two political entities are taken into a spiralling opposition process. The major intellectual debate about multilateralism is just about this growing opposition.
The US elites have huge difficulties to understand that this multilateral process is just the normal way of life for all other countries on the planet and that “volens nolens” the US is also joining the club because it is no longer what it used to be. Whether US elites will learn the game is definitely the big question of the next decades.
Europeans on the other hand have to assume the growing power nature of their political entity (it is also by using its potential power that it will help stabilizing global arenas). But they need to also pay the cost of it (shaping up a proper European vision, assuming defense costs, …). Even for the US it will be a better situation. Indeed you’d better have a strong partner knowing what it wants, than an insecure one always wondering where it stands.
But to reach that level Europe’s require European elites. They are still not in power, but the upcoming European generation may deliver them.
And now to end it all, a question. Even if I have started to learn a lot about the US in the past decade, I am far from pretending knowing the Americans. But I know that part of the answer for future EU/US relations will come from the American up-coming generation. So my question is :
What kind of country do this generation think they live into, they will run ? In which world ? Out of which of the above scenarios do they think their country will emerge ?