By the time you read this, an attack on Iraq could have begun, Nato could have collapsed and the EU may be on the point of splitting into two blocs. Probably none of this will have happened-but long-suppressed tension is bubbling to the surface and new alignments are being forged in the heat of the Iraq crisis. The main actors, whose words and deeds are usually shrouded in diplomatic obfuscation, are saying (often shouting) what they think. The Bush administration expects its pre-emptive aggression against Iraq-a clear departure from the norms of international behaviour-to be rubber-stamped by the UN and Nato. The French government, to the surprise of many, is sticking to its anti-war position-even to the extent of blocking defensive Nato measures to protect Turkey. In retrospect, given the gulf that divides “Old Europe” from the Bush administration, perhaps it was a mistake to take the UN route at all. At least if America had acted with just a “coalition of the willing,” the collateral damage to international institutions would have been minimised.
Western publics will back war in response to a clear danger to themselves; an obvious act of aggression, as in Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait; or to stop the mass slaughter of innocents (especially if televised), as in Kosovo. None of these factors are present now, which is why the war is not popular. Too many people believe that the casus belli is Bush’s political credibility. Such scepticism is not decisive; decisions to go to war are not determined by opinion poll. Moreover, there are good arguments for liberating Iraq. If the choice is between permanently bottling up the country with inspectors and sanctions, with all the suffering that entails, and removing Saddam, then the latter may be the most humane choice. But to opt for the horror and uncertainty of war-and a new global doctrine-on such a tenuous basis and with so little public support is not justified, even if western credibility is now damaged by a climbdown. I commend to you the arguments of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer on the deterrability of Saddam.
Don’t be too gloomy about the EU. It is an association of nation states with their own defence and security policies and so condemned to incoherence during Iraq-type crises. But recall its achievements in the last two years alone-a single currency, enlargement agreed. According to Andrew Moravcsik, it has even found…