UNRAVELING OF THE ATLANTIC ALLIANCE?

By Walden Bello
September 2002

“Germany Isolated for Iraq Stance.” This headline, blared across the US in the last few weeks, stands as a classic illustration of how Orwellian American journalism is these days.

Germany isolated? One does not get this from US polls, which indicate that the majority of Americans feel that President George Bush has not made the case for war on Iraq. Nor does one get this impression from Europe, where most people are against Washington’s war plans. If anything, it is Gerard Schroeder, whose coalition recently won the German elections, who is in step with the vast majority of Europeans, and Tony Blair, George Bush’s loyal helper, who is out of step, even in Britain.

During a recent book tour in Italy, the question I was asked most frequently, by both journalists and audiences, was whether waging war on Iraq would allow the US to revive its faltering economy, which almost everybody assumed was the motive behind Washington’s drive to invade Iraq. Upon hearing of the trans-Atlantic flap over the German Justice Minister’s remark comparing Bush to Hitler, Europeans in a civil society gathering in Copenhagen registered agreement, with one person commenting that the official’s only mistake was telling the truth without first checking if there were reporters.

EXTINGUISHING SYMPATHY

A year ago, sympathy for the US was perhaps at its highest point during the post-War period. The French daily Le Monde was moved to declare, in distinctly un-Gallic fashion, “We are all Americans now.” The inhabitants of a village in Kenya donated their highest form of wealth—cattle—to New York. Though some pointed out that 11 Spetember was rooted in historical injustices against the Islamic and Arab worlds, almost everybody on the left globally condemned the attack on the Twin Towers as despicable.

How did the US squander such goodwill and create a situation, one year later, where it stands more isolated than before 11 September? How did Washington manage the feat of pushing the Euro-American political and ideological alliance that sustained western hegemony over the rest of the world for most of the post-war period to the edge of the precipice?

There are many reasons, but three stand out.

Instead of taking the road of using legal mechanisms to bring the perpetrators of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon to justice, as it did with Libya over the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing, Washington chose to unilaterally bomb, invade, and destroy a country. “Liberated Afghanistan” has become synonymous with a Hobbesian world where all are engaged in a war against all.

Instead of taking a serious look at Arab and Muslim grievances against the West, the US refused to give them even the slightest recognition, putting itself instead 100 per cent behind Israel’s effort to bomb and bulldoze the Palestinians into submission.

Instead of welcoming the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change as major steps forward in global governance, Washington airily refused to be party to these institutions. The arrogance of Bush administration officials stems from a view that is best expressed by Robert Kagan, one of the right’s reigning intellectuals, who dismisses multilateralism as the weapon of “weak” Europeans seeking to constrain a muscular Washington that is intent on imposing a global order from which Europeans themselves benefit.

IRAQ: THE BREAKING POINT?

The debate over Iraq has simply crystallized a divergence in interests and values that has been growing over the last few years. Writing in the current issue of Foreign Policy, Andrew Gowers, editor of the Financial Times, argues that the rift is indeed very deep. The Euro-American alliance, he claims, “is in trouble—deeper trouble than the leaders of the community seem prepared to admit. The commonality of views that bound the United States and Europe together is fading. Since 11 September 2001, after a brief flurry of togetherness, they have been unmistakably drifting apart. The sense of a terrorist threat has initiated a profound transformation in US foreign policy, but one that Europeans do not share and do not begin to understand. This misunderstanding is mutual. It affects all aspects of international relations, from mediation (or lack of it) in the Middle East to cooperation (or the lack of it) in defense and from disruptions of trans-Atlantic trade to policy on weapons of mass destruction.”

In this view, the “isolated” Schroeder position on Iraq has simply been the most dramatic step in a longer process. The US may yet get its way and intimidate European governments in a war against Iraq. This will merely, however, accelerate the unraveling of the Atlantic Alliance.

While there are those on both sides of the Atlantic that mourn the fading away of the Alliance, it is, in fact, a positive step for most of the world. It opens up the possibility that Europeans will begin to grapple in a serious way with the problems of injustice and poverty in the developing world by addressing the structures of western domination that are largely responsible for. It paves the way for innovative global alliances that can be beneficial for most of the world, including the eventual formation of a Europe-Africa-Latin America-Asia alliance against US hegemony.

Of course, Europe has had its own set of oppressive practices, such the Common Agricultural Policy, which is one of the biggest causes of agricultural disruption in the developing world. Its corporations are often as exploitative as American corporations. And its restrictions on migrants are often more draconian than Washington’s. However, the need to seek allies in countering Washington’s unilateralism may serve as an incentive to begin to reform these institutions.

Living in a cocoon of relative prosperity, Europe long regarded itself as a junior partner of America. Now Europeans are beginning to feel a little bit of what the rest of us have felt all along: exploited, marginalized, ignored. As Washington structures its relationship with the globe in the Kaganian image of a lonely imperial power surrounded by numerous jealous but weak rivals, we say to Europe: “Welcome to the rest of the world.”

*Walden Bello is executive director of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South and professor of sociology and public administration at the University of the Philippines.