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Back to the ethical foreign policy (or not!)

Posted by Helen Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The European Council is reviewing the arms embargo imposed on China after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Naturally, the Chinese, who are busy building up and modernizing their armed forces, being one of the few countries in the world that is actually increasing spending on defence, are using carrots and sticks to achieve this. The recent trip round the EU capitals by the Chinese Prime Minister was part of that campaign.

Other pressure comes from the French government, always ready to do deals with nasty dictators, while upholding the rather curious idea of “a European model” that is somehow more virtuous than the supposedly trigger-happy Americans. Close behind the French government come numerous French arms producers who are looking for new markets and are, in any case, circumventing the ban.

The German government is also in favour of lifting the ban. Chancellor Schröder has already made it clear that, in his view, Taiwan should simply join the People’s Republic of China. After all, Germany was reunited. Somehow, he failed to add that Germany was reunited as a democracy, an unlikely contingency in the case of a “reunited” China, that never properly existed, in any case.

Now the campaign to lift the arms embargo has aparently acquired another supporter in the person of Prime Minister Tony Blair. There are rumours, notably in today’s Times, that he will side with France and Germany and against the Scandinavian and other countries, who are pointing to the dangers of selling more arms to a country with such an appalling human rights record.

Mr Blair will presumably make noises about the need to protect human rights and not use the arms to menace Taiwan, a developing democracy and a Western ally. Almost certainly the government of the People’s Republic of China will sign whatever agreement of code of conduct they will be asked to sign. What happens after that is anybody’s guess.

Then there is the United States, our greatest ally. They are vehemently against the lifting of the embargo and this attitude will not change, whatever the results of the November presidential elections. Their stand is based on political as well as human rights bases, the two being irrevocably linked. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in the past seen by some Europeans as their ally against the hard-line Donald Rumsfeld, has already announced that should the arms embargo be lifted, the US may well deny members of the EU access to its own military technology.

This would hit the nascent EU defence and security policy hard, as the assumption is that the American technology and intelligence will be used to promote it, despite the fact that its aim is to undermine the American-led Western alliance.

Does Mr Blair understand what he is doing? And what will happen to the “red line” on defence and security in the negotiations on the Constitution if he sides with France and Germany on this crucial issue?