One really does wonder where the Sunday Times has been for the last year, judging from its news piece in today’s edition. With blithe serenity, under the headline "Chinese arms put pressure on Blair", Tony Allen-Mills, their Washington correspondent reports that:
The role of Tony Blair as President George W Bush's best friend in Europe has come under unexpected strain amid mounting American concern over a military build-up in China.Methinks the paper's accountants had better check the expense accounts submitted by Mr Allen-Mills because if this egregious hack thinks that the China issue is causing "unexpected" strain, then he clearly has not been in Washington. And, from that false start, Allen-Mills digs himself further in the mire, suggesting that the:
...deepening row over a European Union proposal to lift a 16-year-old arms embargo on Beijing threatens to undermine the prime minister's efforts to encourage transatlantic reconciliation during the president’s fence-mending visit to Brussels and Germany this week.As this Blog has attested many times, we can discern no such effort on the part of Blair. Far from standing resolutely by the original UK policy of resisting the lifting of the embargo, his government has cravenly capitulated under Franco-German pressure, aligning the UK with the EU, hoping that at the same time he can keep pally with his mate Bush.
Thus, as we observed a mere two weeks ago, he is not so much working to encourage reconciliation as ducking the issues.
However, at least we must commend the Sunday Times for finally waking up to the idea that "Washington is concerned that ending the embargo will enable China to obtain sensitive military technologies that may be used against American aircraft carriers if a war breaks out over Chinese claims to Taiwan."
Says, the Times, "a sudden increase in US-Chinese tension last week forced the arms embargo issue to the top of the president's European agenda. Beijing reacted furiously after Porter Goss, director of the CIA, warned that "improved Chinese capabilities threaten US forces in the region."
This was reported in detail in the Washington Times last Friday – and in other US papers, but given scant attention in the UK media.
The Washington Times report focused on Goss’s presentation to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last Wednesday, when he told Senators that "China continues to develop more robust, survivable nuclear-armed missiles, as well as conventional capabilities for use in regional conflict."
Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, also gave prepared testimony to the panel, saying that China is adding numbers and more capable ballistic missiles to its arsenal to "improve their survivability and war-fighting capabilities, enhance their coercion and deterrence value, and overcome ballistic missile defence systems."
An indication of how impotent Blair has now become though, is indicated by the Sunday Times comment that: "Bush is expected to urge the prime minister to lobby for a reversal of the European plan when the two men meet for a private breakfast in Brussels on Tuesday." It then adds, "But European officials said that Blair had little chance of halting an initiative that was supported by both France and Germany."
The subject is the picked up by the Times leader, headed: "An Atlantic divide".
The paper notes that "fundamental issues divide the United States and continental Europe, and there is little indication that a few days of glad handing will iron them out", arguing that "at the heart of this rift is the role that both continents see for each other in the early part of the 21st century."
Nevertheless, says The Times, "there is thus some cause for optimism. Both continents are champions of democracy and there is always hope that France and Germany may adopt a more supportive role of a resurgent United States."
That may be an unrealistic expectation. As per the Booker column today, the EU is determined to forge its own military identity and is rushing ahead with technical integration, which in turn is closing down strategic choices.
The alternative, concludes the Times, "is a rift that is in the interests of neither Europeans nor Americans, and one that could have a profound impact on our lives."
It is thus left to The Scotsman to make the real point about Blair's craven surrender to the EU on China:
Britain, with the experience of having our ships sunk by French-supplied Exocet missiles in the Falklands War, should be leading opposition to this anti-democratic proposal. But Tony Blair, who could have vetoed the lifting of the embargo, has failed to do so, in his anxiety to mend fences with the European integrationists. In the same mood of desperate appeasement he has signed the European constitution, with its provisions for a European foreign policy, inimical to America.This, flaccid conformity, says the Scotsman, "threatens the Atlantic alliance... An ally is only as good as his most recent supportive act. If the Prime Minister goes with the European flow, he risks squandering his hard-won credit with the US over Iraq."
That is the issue. But the Times is right on one thing. It could have a profound impact on our lives.