Menzies Campbell: The wages of sacrifice

The fragile transatlantic relationship is rapidly losing any meaning

Share
Related Topics

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

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently  

Shia LaBeouf to Luis Suárez: Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Ellen E Jones
Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay's Chris Martin “consciously uncoupled” in March  

My best and worst stories of 2014

Simmy Richman
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015