The Schršder effect and ÔOld EuropeÕ

Gerhard Schröder, Germany’s Chancellor, wanted to become Chancellor of Germany since long ago. He became Chancellor with a red-green government in 1998, after 16 years of conservative rule. . He wanted to stay Chancellor in 2002. He stayed, against enormous odds. A real strategist, a long term politician. Not that he would be known for any deep convictions. His strategy is ad-hoccery.

Jacques Chirac is, in this respect, a similar political animal. He has managed to take over De Gaulle’s French heritage, now since 1992 as President of the Republic, and to carry it on through very adverse situations, from the Left unity government under Mitterand, where he had to steady and to rebuild the conservative opposition, to the ‘plural left’ government coming out of the popular discontent of 1995, which he has managed to defeat in 2001 – with decisive help from the neo-fascist right wing.

Both have now been singled out as a ‘problem’ by the US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld. They seem to stand in the way of the projected war of the US on Iraq. This is in fact so, although neither of the two is in any way a pacifist. And it is so for deeper reasons, which will not vanish over night. So it is on them the hope can be anchored that, after all, the war on Iraq is not unavoidable, in spite of the strong military build-up by Bush’s US and Blair’s UK.

This is in fact so. With Germany and France (and behind them, a whole number of Western European states) against launching the war, it will neither be possible to have the UN security council legitimise a US American attack, nor to stabilize the situation in the Middle Eastern region afterwards. And it cannot be expected any more that the French and German positions will be turned. For Schr̦der it is a question of electoral survival, for Chirac a question of national prestige Рand this will not change in the foreseeable future. It is still not to be excluded that the Bush administration goes at it alone, but there is significant internal opposition against such an option Рand for the main ally, the British government under Blair, such a situation would be extremely embarrassing. So the chances are not bad that the war will not take place, after all.

This is so, because there are deeper reasons. Schr̦der has largely won the last elections in Germany on an anti-war-on-Iraq ticket Рand he knows that this is the cornerstone of his own power strategy. He has been going to the limits, it is true, of avoiding some of the political consequences of his stance (concerning American bases in Germany or German soldiers on NATO AWACS planes), but he is fully aware that it would mean a strategic defeat for him to give in on the core question of legitimising the war. Just not participating with German soldiers would not do any more.

This has, in fact, its roots in the European post-war experience of politics. Not that war had been profoundly de-legitimised as such – this is true only for important parts of the population, not for the majorities or the ruling elites – but international regulation has proved to provide a superior alternative. This has specially worked out in the processes of European integration and in the Helsinki processes of common security building accompanying the unwinding of the Cold War.

The successes of European integration, from the point of view of the ruling groups, especially in Germany, have also proved the advantages of a ‘participative empire’ structure over more traditional rugged imperialisms. The present process of ‘European enlargement’, which is stretching to Russia and to Turkey, is promising comparably superior results in contrast to the US American strategy of market opening plus political neglect, backed by military power threats.

That the US are trying to go back to the patterns of behaviour of Teddy Roosevelt now is going against the grain of this shared experience of Western continental Europe (with their eyes turned to the British Empire, which was only really waning in British eyes since the Falklands war, the British have largely managed not to participate).

For Germany, this has been the key to economic success (German exporters tend to rank second now in all former European colonies, as well as in all Eastern transition states – if they do not occupy the first place). For France, it simply has been the key to political significance: What neither the nuclear strike force nor the francophone community have provided to French diplomacy, has been in fact provided by Franco-German co-operation as a motor of this type of European integration.

Germany had (and continues to have) good reasons for keeping French diplomacy in the driver seat, as long as the course taken and the speed are being laid down together. So both Schröder and Chirac have deep and sound reasons for their present behaviour, reasons shared by majorities in their electorate and in the leading groups of their countries.

And there is another layer of deeper reasons: As the oil crises of the 1970s have clearly shown, European countries as s whole are not at all positively interested in having the US control the world oil resources. Especially not in the Middle East. The US are trying very hard to impose their will, in the Middle East as well as in the Caucasus countries and in central Asia. And they will continue to do so.

But no European government, in its right mind, would really support them in this strategy. Being against the US war on Iraq is a very good, well understood and relatively effective, way of working against this strategy of re-enforcing the US hegemony over Europe. As the European countries have persisted in creating the Euro against rather strong US opposition, they could also persist in creating a workable EU approach to the conflicts of the Middle East, which would constitute a medium-term alternative to the US approach to the region. This is far from certain, but a real possibility.

These reasons will not go away. US American pressure on these points would be counter-productive. And the world may be spared a destructive and, basically, silly war. And this will, then, open the way for making further alternatives at least thinkable. It will be a real crossroads of history. Or it will live to see a strategic defeat of the two Old European arch strategists, with Gerhard Schröder playing the role of the anchorman. Which can, as from now, only be brought about by the defection of one of them. Hopefully, the world will not have to learn, after ‘kindergarten’ in the 19th and ‘blitzkrieg’ in the 20th centuries, another German word in the 21st century – which would be “verrat“, betraying one’s mission.

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