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Kupchan Predicts Widening Split in Western Alliance, Foresees France Veto in Security Council to Block U.S.

Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor
Interviewee: Charles A. Kupchan, Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow
February 28, 2003

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Charles Kupchan, the Council on Foreign Relations’ director of Europe Studies, says the divisions over Iraq that have split the Western alliance will only deepen. He says that if the United States attacks Iraq without Security Council backing, “the underpinnings of the Atlantic alliance will have been dealt an irreparable blow.” Kupchan, the author of The End of the American Era, predicts that the United States will fail to get the nine votes needed for a new Security Council resolution. Even if it manages to get them, he says, “there is a strong chance that the French will exercise their veto.”

Kupchan was interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman, consulting editor for cfr.org, on February 27, 2003, as part of an online forum on the website of nytimes.com. This is an edited version of that conversation.

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What will be the long-term repercussions for the United States and Europe if Washington decides to go to war with Iraq without the complete agreement of France, Germany, and Russia?

In that event, the United States and its key European allies will have parted company on first order principles— a question of war and peace. This will mean that American and European security are no longer indivisible. The underpinnings of the Atlantic alliance will have been dealt an irreparable blow.

Will this crisis result in the end of a common foreign policy in Europe, and possibly the idea of a federal state in Europe?

In the short term, the current crisis will weaken a collective Europe and create a divisive debate about whether to follow America’s lead. In the longer run, however, I believe this crisis will strengthen a collective Europe by driving home to Europeans that America’s strategic priorities are changing and that America’s days as Europe’s protector are coming to an end. Effectively, the collapse of the Atlantic alliance will mean that the European Union will have to step up to the plate and assume responsibility for managing Europe’s security. The Central Europeans, who remain very pro-American and Atlanticist, will ultimately realize that their future rests with Europe, not with a NATO in demise or an America that will be focusing on the Middle East and East Asia.

With Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s remarks about the “old” and “new” Europe in mind, how damaging are the Bush administration’s criticisms of its allies?

The Bush administration is indeed short-sighted to dismiss Europe’s principled objections to war against Iraq. At the same time, [French President Jacques] Chirac’s rhetoric, along with the over-the-top rhetoric of Rumsfeld, needlessly inflames an already heated debate.

You opposed the expansion of NATO in the mid ’90s. Do you still think bringing Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into the alliance was a mistake?

The enlargement of NATO has gone more smoothly than I expected. And as someone who opposed enlargement, I do admit that it has had positive effects, such as inducing discipline and reform among prospective members. At the same time, I believe that NATO is rapidly turning into a hollow shell. Enlargement or not, the European Union will increasingly take over from NATO primary responsibility for European defense. I do think it is important to attach Russia to NATO, even as NATO becomes less relevant, in order to insure that Russia becomes a part of a broader European order.

What response do you have for pro-American Europeans who are extremely worried about the unilateral tone of recent United States announcements? Does this threaten the continued legitimacy of the United Nations, either by destroying it or by turning it into a “rubber stamp” organization for U.S. foreign policy?

My advice to concerned Europeans— and to concerned Americans, for that matter— is to voice your opinion and stand your ground. I am deeply concerned about the policies being pursued by the Bush administration, and strongly believe that public protest and voicing of opinion is necessary to push the government toward a more responsible and moderate course. America’s political system, as well as the international system, is currently out of balance. The Bush administration and the United States are both in need of a counterweight.

Can the United States and France work out a compromise on Iraq in the Security Council to, at least, mend relations for a while?

I do not believe so. Washington and Paris have different objectives. The Bush administration has gone to the U.N. to get a blessing to go to war. War is its preferred outcome. The French and most other members of the Security Council are looking to the U.N. to avoid war. Weapons inspections and peaceful disarmament are their preferred outcomes. That is why I do not expect a compromise to be reached in the coming weeks.

Do you see the Iraqi crisis putting any long-term strain on France’s and Germany’s relations with Britain? How badly does British Prime Minister Tony Blair need a deal in the Security Council?

Britain’s position is causing considerable strain with the Franco-German coalition. This split, even though it will slow Britain’s effort to deepen its ties to the E.U., will not prevent it from ultimately joining the Euro zone and integrating with Europe at the expense of its ties to the United States. In the long run, Britain’s economic and geopolitical future is tightly wedded to that of Europe. When push comes to shove, even the British will choose Europe over America…. I think Blair is very much in need of a second resolution. His own party and the vast majority of the British population have deep reservations about his strong support for the policies of the Bush administration.

Will France use the veto if the United States is able to get the votes for a resolution?

My guess is that the United States will not be able to gather nine votes in favor of the second resolution. If it is able to do so, however, I think there is a strong chance that the French will exercise their veto. The events of the last few weeks indicate to me that France and Germany are prepared to sacrifice the Atlantic alliance over this crisis. This is partly because they strongly oppose the war, but also because they believe that the United States needs to be tamed. For these reasons, I think France is likely to hold its ground.

Will the current rift shorten NATO’s lifespan?

NATO’s lights will probably remain on through the end of the decade. Institutions have a certain inertia that keeps them going even when their relevance has become questionable. My sense is that once this crisis is behind us, America will no longer view NATO as an important part of its security apparatus, and Europe will be increasingly ready to end its decades of dependence upon American power. Despite support for the Bush administration from some European countries, American power is becoming less respected and more resented across Europe.

You have indicated that the rift between the United States and Europe will continue to grow, and that the United States should abandon hopes of bridging the gap with its European allies. Isn’t advocating American withdrawal from European affairs a potentially dangerous enterprise?

America’s gradual withdrawal from Europe would happen even in the absence of the current crisis over Iraq. Europe is wealthy and at peace. Democratic reform in Russia seems to be moving ahead, meaning that all of Europe’s great powers will have been tamed by capitalism and democracy. In that sense, American policy toward Europe has been a great success— but that success also means that its mission is coming to an end. In addition, the United States faces pressing strategic challenges in the Middle East and East Asia, hence the diminishing importance of Europe in America’s strategic priorities. The crisis over Iraq is thus expediting, but not causing, the separation of Europe from America.

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