REPORT URGING UK TO INITIATE A UNITED EU APPROACH TO THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY
28 November 2008
[In brief:- In the short interim before the inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20, Britain and its European partners should right now start to develop a united position towards the new American administration. Obama’s chances of leading the international community towards greater cooperation will be much greater if supported by a Europe with a clear idea of the relationship it seeks with the new administration. Britain in particular is part of the G. W. Bush years which Obama claims he will leave behind. So Britain’s influence with his administration will be far greater insofar as it is part of a European response.
Britain’s contribution to a dialogue with its partners in the European Union is in part already sketched in the landmark interim report of the Commission on National Security in the 21st Century (presented by Lords Ashdown and Robertson on 27 November). In a “world of shared destinies” the key to resolving the immense challenges set out in the report is vastly greater international co-operation if there is to be hope of resolving immediate issues and containing the inevitable conflicts associated with climate change, shortage of resources, etc.
Though hitherto often a laggard in matters European, Britain is uniquely placed to foster a united European response to the Obama presidency, thereby recovering lost influence in world affairs].
1. On January 20 Barack Obama will be inaugurated as President of the U.S.
For the first time in 8 years there is the prospect of real change in American foreign policy towards an era of greater co-operation with other countries – a welcome change from the confrontational policies of President G.W. Bush.
2. These few remaining interim weeks provide Britain and our European partners with an unrepeatable opportunity to prepare a united European response to the Obama presidency. But what are we doing? As usual, waiting for America – a severely damaged America which should not be left to bear the whole weight in the huge task of mitigating the damage done to the West as whole during the G. W. Bush years. Obama has talked of the “urgency of now” and is wasting no time in forging his policies. He has spoken of his need for international support. We Europeans, who owe so much to America, should also be wasting no time in considering how we can help the American recovery. It will be far more difficult to work out a basic European approach to the new team in Washington once the Obama administration has “hit the ground running”.
3. Fortunately, Britain’s contribution to such a discussion with our European partners has, to a considerable extent, just been mapped out in the Interim report of the cross party Commission on National Security presented by Lord Ashdown and Lord Robertson on 27 November. This sets out in detail the challenges Britain – and indeed the world – faces as the Obama Administration takes office. The key recommendation is for far greater international cooperation. This requires far greater policy co-ordination with the European Union and NATO, and through these, much greater co-operation with Russia, China and the major emerging powers – and a readiness to approach foes and potential foes. The urgency is clear. We should start right now to enhance policy co-ordination with our partners in the European Union.
4. We Europeans owe a great deal to United States leadership during the fraught decades of the “Cold War”. But, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the absence of a European voice in foreign policy has had deplorable consequences not only for Europe but for the world.
5. In the 90s, for lack of a firm and united European response to the aggression of Milosevic’s Serbia on our doorstep, the United States had to come yet again to Europe’s aid to resolve a European conflict – with mixed results and too late to prevent tragic ethnic cleansing. Worse, this lesson was not learnt. In the first three years of the new millennium no significant attempt was made to co-ordinate a European response to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. As a result Britain and some others joined the invasion, while France and Germany and much of the world opposed the war. Europe and Nato were split – and the scars are not yet healed. This was demonstrated recently over policy towards Russia. Now that the G. W. Bush presidency is ending, it behoves Britain in particular to take the lead in resolving strains which originate in the differences over Iraq in 2002/3, so that Europe can take a common position as the Obama presidency begins. .
6. America is gravely weakened as a result of the G.W. Bush administration’s two quasi-ideologies:– “free market absolutism”, which led to the world financial meltdown. And neo-conservative “unipolarism”, which sought to establish American supremacy in the 21st century through the invasion of Iraq and the resultant domination of “a new Middle East” of their making. That failed and as a result, “unipolarism” is now out of reach. As Brent Scowcroft, the distinguished Republican National Security expert put it: “the world is not susceptible to U.S. domination, but without U.S. leadership not much can be achieved”.
7. With a divided Europe sitting on the sidelines there has been no countervailing wisdom, little attempt to use politically Europe’s economic weight to mitigate the damage these two “mind-sets” have done worldwide. Individually our European partners, both opponents of the war and coalition members, have simply been led – or dragged – along by the American colossus on a much mistaken path. We now face a more hostile new world scene than if Europe had played a significant role.
Imagine if Europe had had a united response to American de-regulation which was worrying many financiers, and had imposed new regulations suitable for a globalised financial sector and the new forms of credit that were emerging.
Imagine if Europe had had a unified response to Saddam’s Iraq. Whatever the Americans had chosen to do, we would be facing a very different world scene – one where Europe would have earned much worldwide credibility and support.
8. Now it is the U.S. that needs help to get out of the “hole”, Mr Obama’s word, that it has fallen into - even dug itself into. Now it is Europe’s turn to help and encourage the U.S. to lead in the direction of international co-operation. For changing the basic direction of a great country’s foreign policy is never easy. There is a kind of momentum from so many who voted for, or worked for the previous policies and from so much of the media who supported them.
9. The former Republican regime was not decisively defeated – in the Senate for example the Democrats still do not have the 60 seats in a full house needed to overcome a filibuster. There is much resistance to the U.S. accepting any restraint on its policies. To mention just three: American “exceptionalism” seeks primacy for America as something of a moral right. Then there is the Pentagon/industrial complex with its immense political weight in so many states. And Israel and the Israel lobby wield such influence that American presidents have for long been unable to uphold American interests where these differ from Israel’s perceived interest as defined by the Israeli government of the day.
10. What should we be discussing with our European partners? What would we like to influence the United States to do? This is not the place to go into detail. Indeed there is no need for Europe to do more at this stage than to show its preoccupations and sketch how it might help the Obama administration to lead the world away from confrontation towards the new era of international co-operation made possible by the end of the Cold War nearly twenty years ago. To touch on just four points on the immediate agenda:-
11. The first problem for the EU and its relations with Washington is, of course, the continuing two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – the latter involving NATO and its European members with their reluctance to increase their commitment. Here the Ashdown/Robertson report suggests that all the riparian powers should be involved in working towards the stabilisation of Afghanistan. For this is also in the interest of Russia (and three former members of the Soviet Union), China, Iran and Pakistan - and India too. This might also be the pattern for the stabilisation of Iraq pending American withdrawal – possibly an even wider consultation including the Arab countries and Israel leading to an international “Congress” on the Middle East.
12. Second, there is Russia, geographically and culturally so much part of Europe as its Foreign Minister Sergei recently observed (20 June). The EU needs to reconcile the Franco-German policy seeking Russian cooperation and thus a resolution of Russia/ EU relations over energy and mutual security (including an end to the attempt to include the Ukraine and Georgia in NATO), with Britain’s and some eastern members’ greater concern at a resurgent autocratic anti-democratic Russia. Obama has already signalled that co-operation with Russia is essential if international progress is to be made on a number of issues – though not at the expense of security.
13. Third; nuclear proliferation and Iran: a potential casus belli for the U.S. Here Obama has made it clear that he favours direct contact with the Tehran regime however distasteful. But there is much opposition to this. Here the European Union has already found a procedural method enabling a single approach to Iran under its Supreme Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Xavier Solana. This is an important precedent for establishing a unified European policy perhaps on other issues too, despite the failure to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. If the European initiative is to yield results it will need the backing and direct participation of the new U.S. administration. Once again success with Iran will depend on wider co-operation – notably the support of Russia and China. It will also depend on the resolution of the Iraq problem. Europe has input of value for a pragmatic president no longer opposed to contacts with Iran or Syria.
14. Fourth - there is the so-termed “War on Terror” which many experts (including participants in the Ashdown/Robertson report) consider should be pursued as international crime – mainly a police/intelligence responsibility, and not primarily a military matter. Here too, European expertise could help the new U.S. administration to re-organise. One objective, all agree, is to remove or at least reduce the deep Muslim resentments that make up the recruiting ground for al Qaeda and other like-minded ‘jihadists’ it has spawned. This means striving to cure the long “running sore” of Israel/Palestine. This is a truly daunting problem because any viable Palestinian state is only possible if a very large part of the “illegal” Israeli settlements on the West Bank are dismantled. That would require overwhelming outside pressure. And that is politically impossible for any American administration at least in the absence of some credible truly international guarantee of Israel’s security. Yet assured security is what most Israelis seek. At this stage Europe needs to stress the urgent need for a new determined approach to Israel/Palestine as essential for combating “jihadist” terrorism. Security for Israel can only be obtained in the context of a wide Middle East settlement including the stabilisation of Iraq, which in turn requires a resolution of the Iran problem. Here Europe has a major role to play in encouraging Obama’s announced policy of stepping up international co-operation.
15. In sum - Europe can do much to assist the new administration in abandoning, at least tacitly, its “unipolar” pretensions, one of those two quasi-ideologies of the Bush years. That is the sine qua non for any move towards real international co-operation. It can also do much towards replacing that other quasi-ideology – “free market absolutism” with a new architecture for financial globalisation. Here too, there is immediate need for greater co-ordination with our European partners, especially with those in the Euro zone.
16. But beyond the imperative to consider without delay how the EU can help the U.S. to recover from the damage caused by these quasi-ideologies, Europe has to start now outlining a unified stance on the great challenges to mankind set out in the Ashdown/Robertson interim report. This principally names climate change, population growth, shortage of resources, alternative energy, migration, epidemics as well as nuclear proliferation and terrorism – in short the problems of a “world of shared destinies”. This poses the great question: can even a massive international move towards collaboration on these matters prevent the armed conflicts that threaten in national jockeying for position in such a world of competition for resources, including habitable land? Europe needs to consider these matters as a group, before discussing them with the U.S.
17. As the interim report of the Commission on National Security concludes, the outlook for Britain, Europe and the world is grim - even without the severe additional challenge of the financial crisis. But with the advent of this new American administration there is a real possibility that the immense problems of our globalised world will at last be addressed with the seriousness and determination they deserve. Meaningful results would, though, be far more likely were Europe as a whole to play a supportive and at times guiding role proportionate with its stature.
18. Historically Britain has often lagged and so lost influence in shaping the European story. But no country is better placed than Britain to encourage a united European response to the Obama administration. This is something that can be achieved despite the set back for Lisbon and the doubts about the eventual form of the European Union. We have witnessed the dire results of Mr. Blair’s belief that Britain, just by being “close to the Americans”, can best influence them. We must recognise this and move on.
19. With the shift of power eastwards, it can only be through partnership with Europe that an effective “special relationship” can be exercised. There is no time to lose.