Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington DC, the US ambassador to Baghdad tried to convince his audience of an “expanded European engagement” in Iraq. Ryan Crocker referred to the recent visits to Baghdad by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt: “It seems to me that some major European countries are now taking another look, a new look at Iraq,” Crocker said, “and recognizing four-and-a-half years after the fall of Saddam that they have long-term interests in how things turn out in Iraq.” (See video clip further down.) Now, even German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has expressed an interest in traveling to Iraq.
Is Ambassador Crocker’s optimism regarding increasing European support for the US policy in Iraq justified?
Although most European analysts want the United States to stay in Iraq as reported earlier, none of the 14 policy analysts interviewed by the Atlantic Community suggested that European countries should support the US course of action and provide troops under Washington’s full authority. Because of the sharp disagreements at the start of the Iraq war, there is little sense of obligation to support the United States now.
Jan Techau, head of the Alfred von Oppenheim-Center for European Studies at the German Council on Foreign Relations, has expressed the most enthusiasm for the deployment of European security and military forces, but has two basic prerequisites; the US government has to make its European partners “real stakeholders in the planning and implementation process,” and there has to be a “realistic, sustainable and credible political and diplomatic plan for the stabilization of Iraq, its society and its economy.” Europe should then be prepared to deploy the “full panoply of measures,” which Techau would also grant to a “multinational UN force comprised of non-European troops.”
The idea of European troops for a new international force under UN mandate is also supported by Boleslaw Wozniak, head of the program “Europe in the World” at demosEuropa-Centre for European Strategy in Poland. Several respondents lend some support to such a deployment, but are mindful of the fact that European public opinion is not interested in any such multilateral initiative, be it under the UN or any other framework. Dr. Jean Y. Haine, a senior fellow for transatlantic and global security at SIPRI in Sweden, made this point and added that France has only recently re-established contacts with Washington as a “gesture of goodwill (…) rather than as a genuine effort to get involved in a political process.” There should therefore be a concerted effort by the European governments to—in the words of an Italian political scientist wishing to remain anonymous—“start educating the public about the possibilities of what happens when Al Qaeda in Iraq no longer has Americans to slaughter. As Zbigniew Brzezinski put it, the fighters are not going to swim to America, they are going to wander into Europe.”
Tereza Novotna of Boston University and originally from the Czech Republic argues that, given the European public’s resistance to sending troops to Iraq, the Europeans could “keep providing troops in Afghanistan so that the US can keep up the initial surge in Iraq.”
Another possibility for Europe to alleviate the security situation in Iraq would be to help with the much needed security sector reform. Mark Burgess, Director of the Brussels office of the World Security Institute with the WSI Blog , argues that “it is here that Europe, namely the EU, may be able to bring the most to the table,” while noting that the EU’s achievements in Afghanistan are “far from impressive.”
In addition to the obvious, financing reconstruction projects, most of the 14 policy analysts from ten European countries called for more pressure on all of Iraq’s immediate neighbors. Dr. Volker Perthes, Director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, for example states bluntly “the EU will have to make it clear to Iran, Syria, and especially Turkey, that it expects these nations to take on a constructive role.” It is in the Kurdish-Iraqi-Turkish conflict zone, that the European Union can bring the most influence to bear and the EU could offer diplomatic recognition of the Kurdish-Iraqi entity once the question of Kirkuk has been resolved peacefully and the protection of minorities is guaranteed, opines Dr. Perthes, who would then support a peacekeeping mission with European police forces. Iva Venkova, a researcher at the Institute Europeen de Hautes Etudes Internationales in France, adds that the EU membership negotiations could be used to pressure Turkey to exercise restraint on the Kurdish issue.
A diplomatic offensive is not only required for Iraq’s neighbors, but also Iraq’s internal stakeholders, argues Dr. Reidar Visser, a research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs who also runs the Iraq website Historiae. He argues that Europe should not “passively imitate Washington’s practice of constantly fêting the leaders of the two Kurdish parties and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq,” but rather engage in dialogue with other important forces to “help re-activate Iraqi nationalists.”
Surprisingly, among some analysts cited here, the suggestion was that France could serve as a credible mediator. Besides, an Italian political scientist, who wishes to remain anonymous, calls for mediations similar to those recently reported in the Economist. Warring Sunni and Shia factions met in Finland for talks chaired by former leaders of opposing factions in Northern Ireland.
This is the second of three installments analyzing the results of interviews conducted with European policy analysts and our community. will be published next week.
The first installment was published on September 25, 2007: Europeans Want America to Stay in Iraq
The third installment, dealing with repercussions for Europe should the US withdraw, was published on October 4, 2007: Premature US Withdrawal Could Threaten Europe