Europe Must Now Defend Itself

The U.S. and the European Union (EU) still have not reached an agreement on the International Criminal Court (ICC), mainly due to the American fear that its own soldiers may face trials in a non-American court in accordance with the statutes of the ICC. In this article, the author argues that if the U.S. wants to block the renewal of the mission mandates of the ICC, it can either cut its financial contributions in peacekeeping or withdraw its troops from areas such as the Balkans. If Washington picks the latter option, EU countries will have to devote more resources to peacekeeping in the continent, which will increase the integration of Europe. – YaleGlobal

Europe Must Now Defend Itself

Quentin Peel
Sunday, July 7, 2002

First, the bad news. The dispute between America and Europe over the future of the International Criminal Court is potentially the most dangerous and divisive dispute across the Atlantic since September 11.

That may sound exaggerated, if differences over the Middle East peace process, or invading Iraq, are considered. Then there are disagreements over the Kyoto protocol on global warming, the nuclear test ban treaty, the protocol on biological weapons, trade disputes over the uses of biotechnology, agricultural subsidies and steel imports. And, of course, there is missile defence.

The list is getting alarmingly long. But most of these are disagreements over policy, even if they are pretty profound. Some are simply differences over strategy or tactics. Others are about money. The trouble with the confrontation over the ICC is that it is ideological. That makes it much more difficult to deal with.

It seems that a very powerful contingent in Washington will stop at nothing to ensure that the court is stillborn, or at least emasculated at birth. That must surely be the thinking behind threatening all United Nations peacekeeping operations in order to force through changes in the ICC constitution.

The ostensible aim of the US campaign is to protect American soldiers from the unlikely prospect of being hauled before the court for war crimes committed while trying to keep the peace. But instead of simply withdrawing the small number of American personnel involved in more than 18 UN peacekeeping operations (about 700, none of them soldiers), John Negroponte, US ambassador to the UN, made it clear the administration was ready to block renewal of the mission mandates.

The other powerful US option is to cancel its financial contributions to peacekeeping, which pay more than a quarter of the UN's costs. Either move would be disastrous for exercises that have kept the peace from Lebanon to East Timor. In the words of one senior European diplomat: "The US policy has lost contact with reality."

Let us step back a bit. Much of the inspiration of the ICC was American, from non-governmental organisations such as Human Rights Watch. The Europeans backed it, including such normally sceptical governments as the British and French, because it would provide an extra weapon to the international community in seeking to restrain tyrants such as Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic.

If the concept can be criticised, it is because it would institutionalise victor's justice, already apparent in the tribunals seeking to judge war crimes in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The chances of the ICC being used as a weapon against American personnel or others on peacekeeping missions are remote.

The attack on the UN is a red herring. If there is a danger to the US, it must be in the circumstances of far more muscular operations such as the proposed invasion of Iraq, or American intervention in places such as Colombia or Afghanistan, or any proposed operation in pursuit of the campaign against terrorism. Even then, any person accused of war crimes can be tried at home, not by the ICC.

The real opposition in Washington lies in the belief that US citizens should be above all laws but their own. It is an understandable idea when you are the solitary superpower. But it is inimical to the idea of a world order, embodied in the UN and its institutions, that has done so much to keep the peace since the second world war.

That is the bad news. But could it have a silver lining, at least in Europe? Could it not galvanise the European Union into making its fledgling common defence policy a reality, and do more to share the security burden with the US?

The immediate consequence of the US campaign is most likely to be American withdrawal from peacekeeping in the Balkans. Quitting the UN-mandated police force in Bosnia would come first. Pulling out of the UN-led operation in Kosovo might well follow. Hawks in the US administration have been looking for a good excuse to do so since President George W. Bush was elected. Now they have one.

On the positive side, such an outcome should galvanise the flagging efforts to establish Europe's common defence policy. It would force Europeans to face the reality that peace in the Balkans is in their vital interest, if not America's. "The Americans may go but we cannot," Javier Solana, EU high representative for foreign and security policy, said last week.

The push for a stronger European defence pillar - both inside the Nato alliance and outside it under the EU - has been bogged down because of institutional wrangling, lack of finances and the age-old suspicion between Greece and Turkey. A peacekeeping crisis in the Balkans could force the participants to cut the Gordian knot.

Turkey has been blocking the use of Nato assets to support the proposed EU defence force, for fear it might be used in Cyprus or the Aegean. When a deal was thrashed out last year, Greece promptly blocked the compromise. The summit in Seville failed to bring them together. But both have vital national interests in the stability of former Yugoslavia.

For the rest of Europe, the main questions are over resources. More money is needed for heavy-lift aircraft, better intelligence, and communications to co-ordinate a single command structure. No one wants to pay enough.

One way to make ends meet is to agree on much greater specialisation: one country to provide the medical services, another to provide the airlift, and so on. But that would imply a huge step towards an integrated European army. For the British government, at least, that still looks a step too far.

Yet if a European defence force is going to work, two key countries will have to throw their full weight behind it: Britain and France. They are the only two with the depth and breadth of military expertise. They can make it work, or ensure that it fails.

Funnily enough, it was in Bosnia that the project really began, when British and French soldiers buried their old rivalries in the first abortive peacekeeping effort. They failed to keep the peace until the US joined in - but at least they learnt to co-operate.

This time round, it could well be America's departure that forces them to take the next steps towards closer integration. Whether Washington likes it or not, US unilateralism is driving the process of European integration.

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2003.