Menzies Campbell: The wages of sacrifice

The fragile transatlantic relationship is rapidly losing any meaning

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As the Black Watch mourns its dead and Fallujah braces itself for further onslaughts, there is an air of uncomfortable realism, for once, in the debate about Europe's relationship with the US. The American people have indeed spoken. But had the British people spoken last week, their view of that relationship would have been more critical perhaps than at any time since 1945. The foreign policy establishments in Britain and the US have talked of little else but the transatlantic relationship since George Bush was first elected. But Tony Blair's unequivocal support for the President, and for military action against Iraq, has shown in sharp and embarrassing relief how far apart is the practice from the theory of that relationship.

As the Black Watch mourns its dead and Fallujah braces itself for further onslaughts, there is an air of uncomfortable realism, for once, in the debate about Europe's relationship with the US. The American people have indeed spoken. But had the British people spoken last week, their view of that relationship would have been more critical perhaps than at any time since 1945. The foreign policy establishments in Britain and the US have talked of little else but the transatlantic relationship since George Bush was first elected. But Tony Blair's unequivocal support for the President, and for military action against Iraq, has shown in sharp and embarrassing relief how far apart is the practice from the theory of that relationship.

What of lasting use has been achieved by the PM's strategy of unqualified support in public in return for the hope of private influence, apart from the imperfect achievement of Security Council Resolution 1441, itself a study in ambiguity? We have sent the Black Watch to facilitate American operations in Fallujah with the now proven risks that entails, but has the British voice been heard in the discussion about how these operations are to be conducted? What conditions did the Government set for the deployment of the Black Watch?

To put it crudely, what is in this relationship for us? Are we client or partner? Is the PM's influence on the President so strong that Mr Blair's pledge to make progress on the Middle East peace process has any hope of being redeemed? Would not a little awkwardness on Mr Blair's part - even if only in private - produce results more in the British interest?

Such practical and immediate questions need answers if the continuing theoretical debate on the transatlantic relationship is to have any meaning.

How is it, when Europe and America have so much in common culturally and politically, that transatlantic relations are now so fragile? The Iraq war has, of course, had enormous implications but the causes run deeper and are more fundamental. We need to recognise that the premises on which Europe has based its relationship with the US, founded on the geo-strategic thinking of the Cold War, are no longer valid.

As the US has grown in military and economic might, Europe has struggled to keep up: for America, Nato and other alliances are a matter of choice; for Europe, and the UK, multilateralism remains a necessity. In the emergence of terrorism and WMD, Europe has long since lost its pivotal role in US global security strategy. The tectonic plates of international politics have shifted; the US has realigned and so, too, must Europe.

European states have similarly failed to acknowledge the profound shift in American psychology that has taken place after 9/11. A hard-edged, crusading America has been endorsed by its citizens. The attitude and outlook of America have been transformed. Europe should no longer be deluded: Bush was no accident, and the neo-conservatives no aberration.

Would John Kerry have made all the difference? A change in style, yes, but in all likelihood, no change in substance. Style matters in world affairs but is rarely decisive; words require action. What of Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and US trade protectionism? What even of Iraq? We must accept that post-9/11, US strategic and foreign policy doctrine will be resistant to change whoever inhabits the White House.

The UK's relationship with the US has endured as one of fluctuating influence, maintained by political partnerships and underpinned by personal friendships: Macmillan and Kennedy, Reagan and Thatcher, Clinton and Blair, but it has long been unbalanced. The approach of Mr Blair echoes that of Macmillan and Wilson, who both sought, with only limited success, to balance a strong allegiance to the US with a comparable partnership with Europe.

Europe must maintain a strong alliance with the US, and - as the Prime Minister himself has said - it is not a simple choice between one and the other for the United Kingdom. But we must finally and fully acknowledge the fundamental importance of Europe to our modern-day prosperity, stability and security. Equally, we should be under no illusion as to the force of American pragmatism and the determined pursuit of its national interest. As Iraq has demonstrated - in planning, execution and aftermath - unless the UK is fully engaged with Europe, our influence in America will be diminished. To achieve this, our Prime Minister will need to learn a little modesty. His self-appointed role as a one-man bridge across the Atlantic may be well intentioned, but a Europe that presents a united front will cut far more mustard in the US than an "old friend" trying to call in favours.

It is in the strategic and economic interest of Britain to build a Europe that is constructively Atlanticist; a genuine US-European partnership of influence. The achievement of constructive engagement, based on trust, will not be easy. The best relationships, as in life, need to be worked at - but the rewards are considerable. Europe must make every effort to persuade America to re-engage with the international community; to convince the White House that American security will not be enhanced, but undermined, by unilateralism, the exercise of crusading power and the doctrine of pre-emptive strike.

WMD must be dealt with by strategies for counter-proliferation, containment and hard-edged engagement. For instance, Britain, France and Germany - the so-called EU3 - should press hard to reach agreement on a civil nuclear energy programme for Iran; America must be willing to endorse this, if agreed, and underpin it with conditional security guarantees.

Terrorism gravely threatens international peace and security, and as a solution, the power and apparent finality of force are seductive. But terror can never be defeated by force alone. Military force may be required, as in Afghanistan, but enduring success can be secured only by greater co-operation between states and by winning the hearts and minds of ordinary people, families and communities. As we are seeing in Iraq with tragic consequences, the unjustified use of force is a powerful, growth agent of terror.

As a priority, there must be strong and even-handed re-engagement on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Strenuous efforts must be made by all members of the quartet, including the US, to restart dialogue and make genuine progress towards a two-state solution. The bombings must stop, but so also must the building of the wall, and West Bank settlements, on Palestinian land. All are forbidden under international law; all should stop. International law is at its most effective when it is applied universally and without discrimination. An enduring peace can only be built on dialogue. A settlement unilaterally imposed by Israel, of which disengagement from Gaza is one component, will not resemble the road-map; it will not bring stability to the region and would radicalise Palestinian opinion. If there is a change in Palestinian leadership, the response must be not to impose solutions but to agree them.

Increasing international interdependency means that global challenges require comprehensive responses; America, as the world's superpower, must be part of these responses. It must commit substantially to multinational action on poverty, through the UN; on the environment, on international crime and weapons proliferation. America should reinvigorate its support for the framework of international law and human rights that it was so instrumental in creating. Recent events have undermined America's international standing for a generation. We expect America to adhere to the principles upon which it was founded. This weekend, the lesson is that to do anything else is surely asking for trouble.

Sir Menzies Campbell MP is the Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader and Shadow Foreign Secretary

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