Since February 2009 , this blog and Huib's 3 other Euroblogs are together at:

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Friday, April 13, 2007

The Dividing Shield: Putin learns from Bush

Herr Helmut Schmidt is about the last person, I imagined, to become my ally in a strategic issue. But he is. Welcome to the Club, old (89) comrade, eternally capped like a sailor!

Philip Stephens, one of my favoured commenters in my favoured European paper, the Financial Times (it has definitively overtaken Le Monde), does not agree with Helmut and me. He considers the stationing of a small number of inoffensive missiles in Poland as something that does not endanger the balance of power in Europe, nor the 1988 treaty that banned short- and middle-range missiles from European soil.

I disagree, but that is not the issue of his interesting comment. Citing Schmidt, he says:

His ire was directed at Washington’s plans to deploy its missile defence system in Europe. The plan to site interceptors and radar in Poland and the Czech Republic, he said, was irresponsible and destabilising. It would divide Europe – a strategy, he added, that George W. Bush had pursued since his reckless (in Mr Schmidt’s
judgment) decision to invade Iraq. Nato had been the place for collective discussion and judgment on strategic security. Now it was reduced to a tool of the Americans.

Strong stuff, particularly if one recalls Mr Schmidt’s staunch advocacy of Nato’s deployment of short- and medium-range missiles in Europe in the early 1980s. That
stance, defying the mood of his own Social Democrats, contributed to the then chancellor’s political demise.

The key to an eventual solution of this new US bilateral go-it-alone initiative, is, everybody agrees on that, Germany. Stephens:

German public opinion, which turned decisively against the US over the Iraq war, is overwhelmingly hostile. [...]

Ms Merkel wants to defuse the issue by passing it to Nato. [...]

Ms Merkel has invested much in rebuilding relations with Washington. She has eschewed the subservience to Moscow often shown by her SPD predecessor, Gerhard Schröder. But she will find it hard to ignore domestic opinion ahead of big regional elections in 2008.

So, no move to be expected from Germany. A situation that is exploited by Russia:

Moscow’s strategy – long evident in negotiations with European governments about the supply of Russian gas – is to divide and rule. Mr Putin sees in Russia’s energy reserves an opportunity to recover influence over his country’s near-abroad and intimidate the former communist states of eastern and central Europe. [..]

Curiously, the commenter leaves out the UK's responsability for dividing, and thus weakening, Europe on this issue. The UK sovereignly accepted a long time ago already to participate in the missile shield, stationing elements of it on its islands. If he considers in the next passage Bush and Rumsfeld 'stupid', and rightly so, when they created a "new" Europe as opposite to the "old" one, in order to win over "willing" partners in their Iraq war, what about Tony Blair then?

So what should the rest of us make of Russia’s warnings and Germany’s wobble? Well, the first thing to be said is that Washington must accept a share of the blame. If Moscow’s purpose is to drive a wedge between the former Warsaw pact states and the “Old Europe” of Germany and France, it is worth asking where the idea first came from.

Step forward Donald Rumsfeld, the former US defence secretary, who thought it a clever wheeze to depict a continent split between Old and New when Washington was assembling its coalition for Iraq. Dividing Europe may have seemed a smart tactic then. It looks a pretty stupid strategy now.

And I cannot see, why Angela Merkel's proposal to reconsider the anti-missile issue within the NATO-framework, should not be taken seriously. What the US, the UK, Poland and Chechia did wrong, was that they left out multilateral consultation. NATO could be a forum for that. More still: It should be. If the North Atlantic Treaty still means something.

If there really is a danger of an Iranian nuclear attack, European multilateral consultations, plus consultations with the US and Russia, should cover a whole range of possible defensive measures, while unilateral decisions by individual countries could be judged by their possible effects on the security of others. And do not forget NATO-members like Turkey, one of the countries which would run more risks of being attacked, if that 'shield' would be located in central Europe.

Considering all that, Merkel's proposal is the right one, the one that should have been imposed on the Americans during the Iraq debates in 2002 and 2003. It cannot be dismissed as simply a move to avoid serious discussion in Germany in relation to regional elections coming up there.

I would say, Mr. Stephens, start at home. Change the "S" in "US" in the next passage into a "K", and you get the right text:

Nor has the US administration quite grasped just how powerful a pull anti-Americanism now exerts – not just in Germany but across Europe. The uncomfortable fact is that when it comes to matters of security, public opinion is disposed to believe the worst of any new US initiative.

When US officials talk about bilateral negotiations with individual governments about issues that do affect Europe’s collective security – as they have done about missile defence – they feed all these neuroses. That does not mean Mr Schmidt is right, any
more than it means that Mr Putin has Europe’s best interests at heart.

It does mean that the US has a lot of bridges to rebuild.

Europe's unity on security matters can only come from Europe itself.

Complaining about other imperia, or would-be imperia, who use quite naturally, as always in history, "divide et impera" as their policy, is somewhat hypocrite. Although it is good that it is being said.

Putin learnt from Bush. May Europe learn from Putin.

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