Europe Splits

What a difference a fortnight makes. In mid-January, George W. Bush had hardly an ally in sight as he moved toward war against Iraq. Even his staunchest comrade in arms, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, looked wobbly to some. There he was, arguing that "time and space" be given to the weapons inspectors in Iraq. Antiwar Germany and deeply skeptical France, capturing a spreading popular unease, cast longer and longer shadows across Europe. Bush looked lonely.

Then along came a 616-word manifesto signed by eight elected European leaders--a ringing declaration of common cause with the United States. Published in a number of European papers on Thursday, the open letter by the so-called gang of eight was a direct challenge to the go-slow "European way" on Iraq that Gerhard Schroder and Jacques Chirac had been championing in recent weeks. "Today more than ever, the transatlantic bond is a guarantee of our freedom," the Euro-rebels declared: Jose Maria Aznar, Spain; Jose Manuel Duro Barroso, Portugal; Silvio Berlusconi, Italy; Tony Blair, United Kingdom; Vaclav Havel, Czech Republic; Peter Medgyessy, Hungary; Leszek Miller, Poland; Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark. Praising America's "farsightedness" in coming to Europe's aid in previous generations, they called on Europe today to show a similar mettle and back their ally. "The transatlantic relationship," they said, "must not become a casualty of the current Iraqi regime's persistent attempts to threaten world security."

Thus the first casualty of war last week was the very idea of Europe. The headline news, quite rightly, was that an important chunk of Europe stood with Washington. But there was a subtext of historic importance. Since the end of the cold war, many European leaders have dreamt of constructing a Europe that is a counterbalance to the United States, not just economically but geopolitically. That dream now looks to be deferred, if not dead, as Europe splits over Iraq.

The second casualty of war is France--and, to a lesser degree, Germany. For decades, the Franco-German Axis has driven Europe. Their vision created the Common Market and then the Union. Driving everything from the pace of monetary integration to enlargement, Paris and Berlin have grown accustomed--too accustomed--to having their way on matters that count. What they haven't noticed, of late, is how their frequently high-handed ways have alienated their fellows. In October they angered other members of the Union by reaching an agreement between themselves on the controversial issue of EU agricultural spending. More recently, they crafted a deal to establish a powerful European president, also without consulting anyone else. Then last month in Berlin, celebrating the 40th anniversary of their friendship treaty, they ceremoniously pronounced that they would work together to save the world from war.

The idea was not unreasonable: to forge a common European front as a counterpoise to Washington. What they didn't anticipate was how it would enflame resentments already brewing against them. The letter crafted in support of Washington last week was, in effect, a declaration of independence. Pointedly, neither France nor Germany were invited to sign; indeed, they learned about it by reading the newspapers--a fact seemingly calculated to bolster the letter's point. More, the signatories were all, literally and philosophically, on the periphery of the Union. Britain does not participate in the euro, nor does Denmark. The East Europeans--robustly pro-American--are still on the outside looking in. Italy's corruption-tainted prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, makes no secret of his desire to shore up relations with the United States and Britain at the expense of France and Germany. Neither does Spain's Jose Maria Aznar, who by repute speaks more frequently to President George Bush than any other European leader.

By declaring their support for Bush on Iraq, they unmistakably signaled that, henceforth, France and Germany will no longer call the shots for the Union. Judging by the howls emanating from Paris, the French now know that too. "Bush and his eight mercenaries," headlined the daily Liberation. The ubiquitous spokesman for the French establishment, Francois Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research, called it a "catastrophe." Politicians and pundits of every stripe bemoaned the schism that had suddenly opened in the heart of Europe--into which France had toppled.

The manifesto seemingly came from nowhere. But of course, it didn't. The French suspected a British plot to usurp their leadership, backed by Washington. Yet while Britain indeed helped push the letter, the fact is that the decisive steps were taken by Aznar, a close ally of Blair's--and an even closer one to Bush. (Aznar also a much cannier politico than the other European leader credited as a coauthor of the manifesto, Silvio Berlusconi.) And in European terms, what matters most about the manifesto is not who drafted it or how--but who was left out.

Significantly, it wasn't only the French and Germans. Other important European leaders were also kept in the dark. "It only took a matter a days to get this done," says a Downing Street source, suggesting the draftees went straight to sure-fire supporters. Javier Solana, former NATO head and now nominally in charge of "common" EU foreign policy, was not consulted. (He reportedly heard about the open letter on the radio.) Neither was Costas Simitis, prime minister of Greece, which holds the EU's rotating presidency--even though Blair actually spoke to him by telephone on Wednesday afternoon (presumably not mentioning the manifesto) before news of the letter broke on late-night newscasts across Europe. And the Swedish prime minister, Goran Persson, one of Blair's closest political allies in Europe? Also not in the loop, he said. And so on across the Continent.

This was perhaps impolitic. But it underscored, no doubt deliberately, the "time's up, chips are down" tone of the manifesto--a seemingly conscious echo of the "you're with us or against us" rhetoric that Bush employed (and that so many Europeans hated) after September 11. Along the way, it revealed a deep and probably abiding divide at the heart of Europe. If last week's letter proves anything, it is to discredit the myth of a European independence of America. It shows, decisively, that "Europe" cannot tackle a hugely important foreign-policy issue in a single voice in defiance of the booming baritone from Washington. "This was a setback to the idea of Europe speaking with a single voice," laments one Scandinavian cabinet minister, but it was also more than that. It highlights a shift in the center of gravity from the "old Europe," as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indelicately puts it, to a new Europe--away from Berlin and Paris and toward the newly enlarged and younger Europe, where the voices of Central Europe and the Baltics will increasingly join those of Spain, Italy and Britain to create a new balance of power.

The same dynamic is at work elsewhere on the periphery. Consider Russia, which Europe has long regarded as its geopolitical backyard. The logic of growing commercial and political ties, it was thought, meant that Russia and Europe would share a growing community of interests--including a certain standoffishness toward America. How to explain, then, the recent softening of President Vladimir Putin's opposition to a U.S. attack on Iraq. At last week's Davos conference in Switzerland, amid a sea of anti-Americanism, the Russians were among the United States' most vociferous defenders. Russian parliamentarian Grigory Yavlinsky expressed a view shared widely among Russian businessmen and politicians of all political stripes. Doing their geopolitical math, they reached a startling conclusion, at least from a European point of view. Said Yavlinsky: "For Russia, the door to Europe lies through Washington."

An equally sharp turn appears to be taking place in Turkey. For weeks, Ankara has denied U.S. requests to station ground troops in Turkey in the absence of a second U.N. resolution. But that appears to have changed. Last Friday, according to military and diplomatic sources, the Turks approved plans for 20,000 troops to transit through Turkey for deployment in northern Iraq. Another 5,000 U.S. servicemen will be stationed at U.S. bases in Turkey proper, along the Iraqi border. Turkey will apparently send a roughly equal number of its own troops to form a "security zone" about 70 kilometers deep along the entire border, presumably to help keep order in the event of conflict and cope with an expected flood of refugees. The Turkish Parliament must still formally approve the plan, but that is expected as early as this week.

What's going on? Pressured by the Iraq crisis, European countries are re-examining their sense of self-definition. They're deciding, at least partly, whether to stake their lot entirely with Europe--or to safeguard their relations with America, in spite of Europe's traditional leaders, France and Germany, as well as the overwhelming antiwar sentiment of their own voters. And when push comes to shove, they're choosing America.

No wonder the French are feeling angry and isolated. Clearly, there's much to talk about when Blair and Chirac meet in the Channel resort of Le Touquet on Tuesday. Fresh from Washington, where he won an agreement from Bush to give the U.N. inspectors six more weeks to do their job, the British prime minister will now push hard to win French support--or at least acquiescence--for a new resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. All in all, it's an embarrassing turn of events for France.

Who's happiest about all this? Not Blair. Not even Aznar or Berlusconi. Certainly not Chirac or Schroder. Who then? Call him Uncle Sam.