Globalist: Despite discord, unity wins out in Europe

Posted in Europe | 31-Mar-04 | Author: Roger Cohen| Source: International Herald Tribune

With the largest expansion of NATO since its foundation in 1949 now completed, and the addition of 10 new members to the European Union imminent, Europe has reason to feel that its deepest wounds have healed. Former Communist states comprise 40 percent of the Atlantic Alliance; Yalta has been laid to rest at last in a continent made whole.

This was long the elusive dream of the patient builders of Europe's postwar order. So where is the joy? Missing, it seems, from a continent with its mind on the Madrid bombings and a murky enemy recently described by Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, as “Jihadist terrorism with its totalitarian ideology.”

A new Atlantic Alliance, a new European Union, a new totalitarianism whose “Viva la Muerte” purpose was evident in Spain: this European spring is a heady one, at once an end and a beginning. Europe has overcome its 20th-century nightmare only to find itself confronting threats for which its painstakingly constructed institutions were scarcely prepared.

Can those institutions, the European Union and NATO, adapt? On the one hand, the bombs in Madrid have provided a powerful spur to an acceleration of EU integration. In the outrage from Valencia to Vilnius, a common European identity was felt and forged. It became clear as a cloudless Madrileño dawn that a divided Europe - its police, judicial and intelligence resources scattered - would be more vulnerable to further attack.

“Spain has changed things," Leszek Miller, the Polish prime minister, said in an interview. “There is a greater conviction that we must be more deeply integrated and cooperate to preserve freedom and security.”

Already, European leaders, broadly reprising NATO's central Article Five, have pledged that a terrorist attack on one EU member will lead to a mobilization of all. That is a significant declaration of EU purposefulness. Polish and Spanish objections that have held up the adoption of a European constitution are being resolved, almost certainly allowing the treaty to be adopted in June in another demonstration of European cohesion.

But such an accord will not long mask the fact that Baltic and Central European states are entering the clubs of the West with loyalties and priorities often at odds with those of more established members. These countries, from Estonia to Slovakia, are relatively new to freedom; they are exuberant about its defense. The enlarged NATO of 26 members is beset by differences over Iraq - the wrong war in the wrong place for the wrong reasons to France and Germany; a just fight for the freedom of tortured Iraqis to Poland and Romania. The soon-to-be 25-member European Union is unsure of many things, not least how to define itself before its longtime protector, the United States. Should it shape its policies as a counterweight or a complement to the world's dominant power?

Lieutenant General Miecyslav Cieniuch, the second-in-command of the Polish armed forces, has firm views on these issues that provide an approximate indication of sentiments widespread among the EU and NATO newcomers for whom dictatorship and subjugation are a recent memory.

It would, the general says, be a “bad solution if the United States separates from the European Union because the continent of Europe is not stable enough without the American military presence.” Poland decided “to stand beside the United States in Iraq” because “Poles identify themselves with America.” He would like to see American troops stationed at bases in Poland. That would, he argues, increase the security of the country, provide an economic boost and allow Poles to train more with U.S. troops.

This, of course, is scarcely a French view of what is right for Europe. The differences are far from academic. NATO is in the midst of a transformation from a static, defensive alliance to a mobile force with a mission of bringing security to countries from Central Asia to North Africa. It is already in Afghanistan; the Bush administration would like to see it in Iraq soon.

“There is an emerging consensus at NATO that our alliance must have a collective presence in Iraq to help confront the challenge of peace and democracy in that country,” Nicholas Burns, the American ambassador to NATO, said last month. Much the same view was expressed Monday by the NATO secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, at the Washington celebration of the alliance's expansion.

But a NATO presence, after the planned return of sovereignty to an Iraqi government at the end of June, still causes some unease. Germany, for one, worries that NATO could be tainted by Iraqi involvement and so find its potential effectiveness compromised elsewhere.

The divisions, centered on divergent views of American policy, are clear enough. Of the ex-Communist NATO members, all but Slovenia have forces in Iraq: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland and Romania. But of the older NATO members, many - including Canada, Germany and France - do not. Spain, of course, does - at least for now - and it has paid a price.

Such splits are not new to the West. They were felt over Bosnia and, before that, over the deployment of Pershing missiles. But the divisions were overcome to defeat the Soviet enemy. The fruit of such cohesion is manifest in the European unification of this spring. It is worth recalling that, not so long ago, three of the new NATO members formed part of the Soviet Union and a fourth, Slovenia, fought a little European war.

Under pressure, the immutable does shift and the insuperable do succumb; perhaps these are the lessons of the historic expansion of NATO and the EU, achieved through the relentless bridging of discord. Western divisions are real today. But even the shadowy, stateless enemy of Madrid will eventually be vulnerable to unity, as surely as it will be encouraged by its absence.

Much is at stake. As Miller remarked: “NATO is security, the EU is modernization. One cannot exist without the other, the processes are intertwined.”