Dr Helen Szamuely
It is fashionable at the moment to talk of apocalyptic feelings, of the end being nigh, of cosmic and other fears. We are all supposed to go around in fear of and depression. And, indeed, we would be if we listened to some of our leaders, most of our journalists and the line-up of old-time peaceniks who supported and addressed the Saturday march in London. But are things really worse than they were in 1940 with Nazi Germany carrying all before it or in the seventies and early eighties when the Soviet Union and China in different parts of the world were extending their influence and silencing all opposition? In actual fact, many people feel a sense of optimism that was conspicuously lacking throughout most of the last century. Perhaps this is because, no matter what Presidents Chirac, Schröder and Saddam Hussein say (or for that matter Sir Harold Pinter or Sir David Hare say) the shots are likely to be called in every sense of the word by the United States in the foreseeable future. And the United States is an optimistic country because, as we have all been reminded recently, optimists went and continue going to live there.
The attitude of the United States and its supporters, despite various criticisms, is that things can be changed. A deeply unpleasant, bloody, corrupt tyranny like Saddam’s can be overthrown. Other deeply unpleasant, bloody and corrupt tyrannies in the Middle East and, perhaps, other parts of the world may well follow suit. That was the message of the huge demonstrations in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the people there were right, though they, too, received little support in the West. Communism was overthrown. The demonstrations this weekend were the exact opposite. The people were marching for the status quo. Please don’t let us change anything, they were saying. We are afraid of change, afraid of possibilities of improvement because there might be difficulties; better the devil we know, even if that devil is very bad, indeed, and let’s face it, we do not have to live with him. Except that we do. All of us are diminished by the existence of the Saddams and Mugabes and even more diminished by the craven behaviour towards them by many leaders, particularly European ones. All of us are at risk from terrorism and historical experience shows that totalitarians and terrorists attack when they see weakness in their opponents, not strength.
Giving more power to the UN is further empowering an undemocratic international organisation, the majority of whose members are corrupt and oppressive. Neither the United Nations nor the European Union are potentially democratic…They are not and cannot be accountable to the people directly.
It is nonsensical to pretend that these marches were for democracy or democratisation. The ones in Britain actually opposed the two democratic countries involved in the Middle Eastern conflict in whatever way: Israel and the United States, and were led by people and groups who have no time for liberal democracy. Giving more power to the UN is further empowering an undemocratic international organisation, the majority of whose members are corrupt and oppressive. Neither the United Nations nor the European Union are potentially democratic. That is not how they are structured. They are not and cannot be accountable to the people directly. The UN is an intragovernmental organisation that claims a moral authority it can hardly possess if it elects Libya to chair its Human Rights Commission. The EU cannot be democratic because, as one gets tired of repeating, there is no European demos. Its very essence is bureaucratic and its overriding purpose is integration and centalisation.
In the meantime what is happening in the real world, that is moving inexorably on, despite London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s and ex-radical politician Tony Benn’s best efforts to turn the clock back to the mid-seventies?
The Iraqi government has, as expected, rejected the Franco-German suggestion of more and more UN personnel in their country
The Iraqi government has, as expected, rejected the Franco-German suggestion of more and more UN personnel in their country and of the UN taking over its running. Naji Sabri, the Foreign Minister, spoke with some disdain of the idea. The Iraqi National Council, a democratically inclined opposition, whose members are in Britain and the United States, has expressed its disappointment with the peace marches, pointing out that expressions of solidarity with the Iraqi people did not extend to being interested in their fate at the hands of Saddam and his clique. Similar opinions were voiced by the Kurdish Prime Minister, who is still in Iraqi Kurdistan, though he goes in daily fear of his life from the Iraqi Government and groups linked with Al-Quaeda, not the Americans.
The Iraqi National Council, a democratically inclined opposition has expressed its disappointment with the peace marches
Russia and the UN are playing it both ways: calling for one more effort with the inspectors but also saying that Iraq will have to co-operate, as it has not done so far even according to Hans Blix, and military action cannot be ruled out. (Particularly not, in Russia’s case, if it wants to go on prospecting for oil in a post-Saddam Iraq.)
That leaves the Europeans, the EU and the Common Foreign and Security Policy. NATO has solved its problem. Its Defence Planning Committee, on which France does not sit, has agreed to send reinforcements to Turkey for protection against a possible Iraqi attack. Since such reinforcements to one member of NATO is the cornerstone of the Alliance, opposition to it seemed illogical and somewhat immoral. The fact that the decision had to be taken without France reminded everyone of the French position, which is being part of NATO, especially if it means using its resources for whatever foreign adventure the “European Security Force” may commit itself to, but disdaining full participation in the military planning. As I write, the EU is about to gather for a summit to sort out its own differences over its attitude to the Iraqi war. France, Germany and Belgium are still insisting that there should be peaceful solution no matter what and, above all, that Europe should speak with one voice. To achieve this, they have excluded half of Europe from the summit. The applicant countries are being punished for their temerity in going against Big Brother, that is the Franco-German axis. The Greek Prime Minister, who is hosting the summit, rather despairingly said that we all want peace and, therefore, should be able to agree. Even he knows that the debate is not about wanting peace but about the best method of achieving it in all the relevant regions.
…they have excluded half of Europe from the summit. The applicant countries are being punished for their temerity in going against Big Brother, that is the Franco-German axis
Meanwhile President Chirac gave an interview to Time, which was published on its website. In it he announced grandiloquently that France was not a pacifist country and would certainly support military action if all other ways of persuading Iraq fail. They have not yet failed, he thought, though he agreed that Iraq probably had chemical and other weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, he expressed his opinion that Iraq was co-operating to the extent it was only because of the massive build-up of American forces in the Gulf. Anyone who got the impression that France had opposed that build-up was clearly mistaken.
Dominique de Villepin, speaking to Dimanche de France, delivered the customary anti-American blow but it was very mild, indeed. He was more concerned with expressing a desperate need for a single voice with which the EU could speak. What that single voice would say is not entirely clear, but it will be a good thing by itself.
Romano Prodi has come up with the least coherent of all statements. He, too, has called for a single European voice and opinion, which, one assumes, will disagree with the United States. He added, “If Europe fails to pull together, all our nation states will disappear from the world scene.” As usual, it is not clear what he means. Surely the purpose of Europe speaking with a single voice – his favourite phrase – is to dispense with the nation states. Unless he sees the EU as a nation state. Where does that leave the countries, who are not even asked for their opinion at today’s summit?
The Chairman of the European Convention, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, also pronounced in his usual rather grandiloquent and supercilious fashion. In failing to come to a common position, he said, the European leaders had breached Article 112 of the Maastricht Treaty, which requires them to support a common position on any external action and to act “in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity”. The trouble is who defines what is the common position. As far as M Giscard is concerned, the answer is clear: France. Others may disagree. He thinks that problems of this kind will be overcome if some sort of a mechanism for an effective common foreign and security policy is created by the Convention and, presumably, incorporated into the proposed constitution. Alas, structures and mechanisms do not a policy make. If there are no common interests, there can be no common foreign and security policy. This is a hard lesson and one that our euro-masters seem unable to learn.
…who defines what is the common position. As far as M Giscard is concerned, the answer is clear: France.
Whatever may come out of the present "crisis", one thing is certain. The old order is changing. The United States will think hard about its involvement in NATO and its connections with Western Europe. The Europeans may well have to start living without American protection and American money spent on defence. And the cracks in the EU will turn into wide chasms.
The Europeans may well have to start living without American protection and American money spent on defence. And the cracks in the EU will turn into wide chasms.