Tue, Apr 03, 2007 - Page 9 News List

All Europeans need a `Europe of Common Interests'

The EU must develop a common position on all significant, strategic issues in its foreign relations, especially energy and defense

By Joschka Fischer

As if things weren't bad enough for Europe after the French and Dutch "No" to the EU Constitution, a new divisive issue now threatens to strain Europe's cohesion. The US wants to establish an anti-missile defense system that is supposed to protect the US and parts of Europe against missiles from the Middle East. The US missiles are to be stationed in Poland, with a radar system to be set up in the Czech Republic.

Russia is up in arms about the US plan. A month ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a fiery speech against the project during the Munich Conference on Security Policy. The US representatives were perplexed; the Europeans were shocked.

Now the US says it has reached agreement with Poland and the Czech Republic to study the concrete details of the stationing of the necessary defense systems. Once again, Europe is shocked -- the two great powers of the Cold War seem not to be taking Brussels seriously.

Are we threatened with a new arms race between Russia and the US, with Europe once again the theater of their rivalry? Indeed, is a new Cold War looming?

There is no reason to panic about the US' proposed anti-missile defense system. Nor can the political climate, old differences and the by-no-means new power rivalry between Russia and the US justify pessimism.

No doubt, Russia has regained strength from high oil and gas prices, and it is reclaiming its position as an independent global actor. Putin's policies are popular in Russia, which of course does not make them right. But, in criticizing Putin, the West should be mindful of his domestic support.

Russia's return to the world stage means that new and old rivalries will develop and may even intensify in the future. But we are light years away from a new Cold War. There is now no longer any ideological hostility between Russia and the West. Estrangement? Yes. But hostility? No. Eleven defensive US missiles in Poland will not threaten Russia's security. And they will not mark the beginning of a new arms race.

But it is also hard to understand why the US needs this decision now. Timing? Priorities? The US policy seems unreasonable. The threat from Iran, against which the missiles are meant to defend, is still far away and can be avoided by diplomatic means.

In fact, the West needs Russia's cooperation on almost every important international issue of the day, be it North Korea, Iran, Iraq, the Middle East, South Caucasus, Central Asia, Kosovo, Darfur, climate change, energy security or nuclear non-proliferation.

For some time now, US policy towards Russia has been anything but consistent. Apparently, the US can't decide whether to treat Russia as a rival power or a difficult partner. It would be in the US' interest, with Iraq, Iran and the broader Middle East as its foreign-policy priorities, to pursue the partnership option.

Europe's policy towards Russia is in even worse shape. Indeed, it increasingly resembles a chicken farm after a fox has broken in. And now, with the US announcement that it will build the anti-missile defense system on a bilateral basis with Poland and the Czech Republic, there is also a hawk circling overhead. Confusion and panic are spreading in Europe.

What is most frightening about all this is not the US anti-missile project or Putin's rhetorical muscle-flexing, but rather the increasingly dramatic European weakness that the episode has exposed. The EU has been working for a decade on a common foreign and security policy. So how can discussion of an issue as crucial as the establishment of a US anti-missile defense system in Europe be ignored at the EU level, with no attempt being made to find a joint European position?

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