- 10 December 2003
Experiences from Iraq
A few weeks before the war broke out I went to Iraq with a delegation from the European Parliament. We wanted to see, whether there was any kind of information, we could get, which could help us prevent the war.
We talked to the weapons inspectors, to UN-officials and to doctors and teachers. From the weapons inspectors we learned, that in all likelihood there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. A control system was anyway being put in place , and within a very short time it would be completed and would make it virtually impossible to use any such weapons.
The weapons inspectors also confirmed, what had already been said by the FBI, that if any chemical weapons existed in Iraq, the prospect of Saddam Hussein handing them over to terrorist organisations would be much bigger if a war was started. Taking into consideration, that there is a very long borderline between Iraq and Iran, and that Iran is beyond any doubt hosting terrorist organisations, it would not be difficult for Saddam Hussein to hand them over.
The weapons inspectors also confirmed, that El Quida was not present in Iraq. A fact we knew already since Saddam Hussein was one of the top figures on El Quida’s list of unwanted persons.
The UN –officials told us about the effects of the embargo on Iraq. The value of the dinar had fallen with several 100%s. A medical doctor had a salary of 10 dollars per month, a professor 25 dollars per month. 60% of the population were unemployed and their only source of income was the food distributed from the food for oil programme. That consisted of 16 kilos of food, but the composition of the food meant that most people suffered from malnutrition. Many people had to sell part of their food to buy other necessities.
Because the food for oil programme was a humanitarian programme and not a development programme everything bought with that money would have to be imported. That obviously meant the total collapse of the Iraqi economy. Even though the food supplies did not include farm products the farmers could not sell theirs because nobody had money to buy them.
The food for oil programme was administered by Saddam Hussein and thus made the people even more dependable on him. Allegations that the programme was mismanaged and that Saddam Hussein profited from the programme himself was completely untrue. The programme was excellently managed. Many of the problems arose partly because of the co laps of the local economy, partly because a number of things including vital medicines had dual uses and could therefore not be traded.
We visited hospitals and saw a lot of malnourished children looking 2 or 3 years old but being 10 or 12, we saw children dying because there was no medication and deformed children . In the schools we visited the class rooms were hardly fit for stables, there were no school books, the children did not go to school any more also because they had to make money.
The situation of woman used to be very good in Iraq prior to the embargo. They were teachers and doctors, lawyers and scientists but they were to first to be badly affected by the embargo.
The UN-officials predicted a catastrophe in case of war. Nobody knew what would happen to the food for oil programme. But if the electricity system was bombed, there would be no clean water since the water system is electricity driven. Drinking polluted water would mean that many people, who were already suffering from malnutrition especially children, would die. The UN-officials estimated that the number could raise up till 2 millions.
The Iraqi people could easily distinguish between the terrors of Saddam Hussein and the suffering inflicted upon them by the embargo decided by UN but maintained by the US. Therefore they would also not see an invasion as a liberation but rather as an occupation. It was totally naïve to believe that any soldier would be welcomed as a liberator. What the Iraqi people wanted was for the rest of the world to lift the embargo and empower the Iraqi people to get rid of Saddam Hussein themselves.
Our delegation of 33 MEPs returned from Iraq more convinced than ever that going to war would be a major mistake.
After Iraq we went to New-York and Washington to speak to Kofi Annan and to the congress and the senate.
In the States it became more clear why mr Bush wanted the war at all costs.
Surely the oil played a part in it. Especially since China as a potential super power in a few years is going to need much more oil. With the US controlling the Iraqi oil they would indirectly also control China.
Another element was, that Saddam Hussein had threatened to trade his oil in euros instead of dollars. If euros were to replace the dollars as the worlds trade currency that would mean the end of the US being able to rub off its deficit on other countries. The way it is now, the rest of the world which is utterly opposed to the war in Iraq is paying for it because the US can just print more dollars and raise the deficit without ever paying it back.
Clearly the reaction after September 11th would have led Bush to believe, that a war would stimulate his popularity.
But most importantly the war was prompted by right wing religious fundamentalist fanatics who believe that Christianity is superior to all other religions and that the US should be an empire builder forcing democracy on the rest of the world with arms.
The European positions are well known. They were totally divided for various reasons.
The conflict in Iraq has as far as I am concerned shown the world, that a common foreign EU policy is perhaps desired by many leaders of the member states, but this being said, it is currently not possible.
The pro-American Eastern Europeans
I think the Iraq conflict is a solid starting point for another important discussion - that is the prospects of the power balance in an enlarged Europe.
Whereas the member states of the EU were taking quite different positions on the issue of Iraq, the situation in Central and Eastern Europe was quite different. Observers have pointed out that many Eastern European countries were very pro-American when taking position in the conflict.
I must in this context underline that what we in Western Europe traditionally think of as Central and Eastern Europe is not to be perceived as a homogenous group. Great differences between the accession countries persist, both economically and politically.
This does not change the fact, however, that most notably the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic has during the recent and ongoing crisis in Iraq taken a position that is not at all in line with expecially the positions of Germany and France. This has stirred up quite some reactions in Western Europe, and has drawn the attention of the current members of the EU to the fact, that the balance of power within the Union will be altered due to the enlargement.
America's Trojan Horse?
Some has even talked about whether Eastern Europe constitutes a 'Trojan Horse' for the Americans into the EU.
The question is whether Eastern Europe will continue the pro-American line when they become full members of the EU.
In short: Will the new Eastern European member states advocate American views in the European community?
According to the American Secretary of State, Donald Rumsfeld there is no question about the answer to these questions. Eastern Europe has to a high degree shown their peace-loving nature and appreciation of democracy in relation to their sympathy statements in the Iraqi conflict. Mr. Rumsfeld seems to think, that Eastern and Central Europe are showing adaptability and vitality by showing preferences for the American policy in Iraq. Rumsfeld has recently labelled these countries the "New Europe". These countries are opposed to what Mr. Rumsfeld diagnosed as "Old Europe". In the Rumsfeld diagnosis "Old Europe" is unlike Eastern Europe starting to show invitality and are stucked in an old fashioned perception of their role in the world.
The diagnosis has been subjected to extensive discussion throughout Europe and is still going on. I would like to contribute to the discussion by addressing the issue.
In my opinion the core question is: What are the prospects of the Eastern European behavior as an American ´Trojan Horse´ in the future?
Bearing in mind that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe differ in many ways, they have at least one thing in common.
Until recently they where governed by communist dictator-regimes, and their foreign policy has consequently been dictated from Moscow.
As we all know, the governments of Eastern Europe took quite another position on the Iraqi conflict compared to some of the most prominent members of the European Union. This can simply be understood as a process of normalization, after the recent changes in their history. The Eastern Europeans are still remembering the Warshaw-pact from which they suffered for so long. They most probably have a strong desire to actively use the newly acquired status as full members of the international community.
This fact should indeed be taken into account when analyzing why for example Poland is currently deploying troops in Iraq.
In my opinion the most obvious reason for the pro-American position in the accession countries is anchored in their quest for security.
With the Soviet regime still fresh in mind, the Eastern Europeans are on the look out for a real security guarantee.
For their part the signing of the pro-American statement prior to the intervention of Iraq could be seen as an attempt to facilitate American approval of NATO enlargement within the US Congress. The common statement would ensure that any hesitant senators have no doubts about the loyalty of the Eastern Europeans to the US.
One could argue, that the security guarantee has now been provided with their entry as members of NATO why their new status will diminish future appreciation of a pro-American agenda.
There is no question that the Eastern European approach to the US should be seen as a matter of security. But one should also consider the prospects of security understood as political and economical stability gained by their upcoming EU-membership.
For many years to come the new accession countries will be economically dependent on the old members, which will probably have strong influence on their political strategies. Their increasing economic integration into the Union will also affect their perspective bringing them politically closer to their European neighbours rather than their trans-Atlantic allied.
A counter-argument to the "Trojan Horse" is therefore that the future Eastern European member states will become increasingly forced into the EU's way of doing business. The economic advantages of sticking to a European agenda should not be overlooked.
Though the question remains whether there will be a so-called European agenda. If not, like in the Iraq-crisis the political prerequisites will be different and the outcome of an analysis different. But if we look at the position taken by the Eastern Europeans on less high profiled issues, they tend to be in line with EU preferences. They support the EU on issues like non-proliferation, the Kyoto protocol, the death penalty and the International Criminal Court. And they support the EU despite US opposition. Also their voting patterns in the United Nations are usually consistent with the other European nations.
One last, but in my opinion overlooked aspect of the disagreement between some European member states and their Eastern European conterparts on the Iraqi conflict is, that the population in most countries are against the war. Public opinion polls in Eastern European countries is overwhelmingly against the war, just as it is in the rest on Europe. The war in Iraq may prove to be a special case, and Washington should in my opinion not count on Eastern Europe in future military adventures.
Much of what I have described so far will depend on the development of the international political and institutional situation. If the situation in Iraq stabilizes and the United Nations becomes a significant actor in Iraq, all EU-member states will support the rebuilding of Iraq. This will facilitate an improvement in the relationship between most notably Germany and France and the Eastern European accession states. Especially if no new international incidents occur in the nearest future. If new incidents indeed occur, one could very well expect that this would provoque additional disagreements among Member States and deepen the political gap we are witnessing today even further.
Whether the accession countries will behave accordingly in the future is of course difficult to predict. Especially due to their new status as NATO-members and soon to be members of the EU. But the framework outlined by the foreign and defence policy in the draft constitution will in a long term perspective support a common European position on international issues. The establishment of common bodies of analysis and forums for dialogue will diminish both the prospects of European differences and the national sovereignity.
The balance of power within the European Union will in the long term perspective be subjected to changes with the accession of the new Member States. But it is very difficult to predict exactly in which direction with the many unknown variables that we are currently heading towards with the draft constitution as the most pressing.