Wednesday, March 09, 2005

In the national interest

In what is already a dark and tragic episode, the shooting of the Italian police agent at a US checkpoint near Baghdad airport last week, there seems to be an even darker side, which impacts significantly on EU claims to have a common foreign policy.

This emerges from an editorial in the Wall Street Journal today, headed "Italy's Ransom: Rome adopts a policy of deliberately aiding terrorism."

The paper notes that Americans are joining Italians in mourning the death of Italian secret service officer Nicola Calipari, whose funeral was held in Rome on Monday. Agent Calipari, it says, died a hero last Friday, reportedly using his body to shield freed journalist/hostage Giuliana Sgrena from gunfire as their car approached American troops near Baghdad Airport.

Then, says the paper, perhaps Ms. Sgrena will also shed a tear for the Americans and Iraqis who will die because of the ransom that was paid for her release.

So far, it says, all the world's moral anger has focused on the claim that U.S. soldiers were reckless but arguably far more reckless was Italy's decision to pay ransom - reportedly of $6 million or more - to secure her release.

Italy is also believed to have paid ransom for the release of two aid workers taken captive last year. The Italians know the US opposes the policy, which may be why Ms. Sgrena's transfer to the airport was not sufficiently co-ordinated with US forces.

Echoing long-standing policy on dealing with terrorism, the paper says that not only does paying ransom encourage more kidnapping - of Italians especially - it also puts money in the hands of the enemy in a country where $40 buys an automatic rifle and $200 an attack on US forces.

The shooting of a speeding car at a military checkpoint in a war zone, says the WSJ, is an unintentional tragedy, but the paying of ransom amounts to a policy of deliberately aiding terrorists.

Surely, though, there is an issue here for Mr Solana? What affects the Italy also must affect all the other EU member states and surely the Italian government should have consulted with the "colleagues" instead of taking unilateral action.

But, what this does show is that, where national interest is involved, national governments act first and consult afterwards, even where their actions adversely affect others. It also shows why a common foreign policy will never work.