Thursday, July 15, 2004

Compulsory reading

Reginald Dale, editor of the Washington-based policy quarterly European Affairs writes in The International Herald Tribune on "The EU's foolish idea of selling arms to China". It should be compulsory reading, especially for all UK politicians.

Dale argues that a new strategic confrontation between Europe and the United States is threatening to inflict further serious damage on trans-Atlantic relations. And this time, he says, it is European unilateral action that risks precipitating a crisis.

"The immediate dispute is over a French-German proposal, fiercely opposed by Washington, to lift the European Union ban on arms sales to China imposed after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. But the broader and equally controversial background to the Franco-German initiative is the EU's drive to forge a strategic relationship with China, independently from Europe's links to the United States."

"It reflects the desires of both France and China to create a multipolar world, in which the United States would be no more than one of several global power centers. The EU, however, risks overestimating its potential influence with Beijing and paying too high a price for a pact with China."

"U.S. officials say that Beijing is taking advantage of trans-Atlantic divisions over Iraq and the war on terrorism to drive a strategic wedge between Europe and the United States, and fear that the Europeans will fall for the Chinese ploy."

The possible lifting of the arms ban, Dale writes, "is causing particular alarm in Washington" but, for now, "the administration does not want a big public fight".

"Washington rightly argues that lifting the embargo would send the wrong political signal by endorsing Beijing's unsatisfactory human rights record, on which it has recently been backsliding. And while EU arms exporters might still not win major contracts, they could certainly provide advanced technology that would substantially increase China's firepower - much of which is aimed at Taiwan and intended to deter the United States from intervening in any conflict over the island."

"Washington is understandably horrified at the thought of its forces coming under fire, or even the threat of fire, from weapons that North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies had helped to produce. New European technology transfers would also heighten the risk of arms proliferation and threaten an uncontrolled free-for-all in which Russia abandoned current restraints on its arms sales to Beijing and U.S. defense industries demanded their share of the action."

"European officials claim that other EU voluntary safeguards would still restrain European sales. That is wishful thinking intended to salve the consciences of EU governments. The Europeans see China as an integral part of their strategy to achieve greater worldwide clout for the enlarged 25-nation EU."

But here is the crunch: "All is not yet lost. A decision to lift the embargo requires unanimity, and Britain - the most important voice besides France and Germany - says it has not yet made up its mind."

Whatever else happens, Blair must stay firm on this and refuse absolutely to give any ground on the arms embargo. But he must also look again at the British involvement in the EU's Galileo project – which threatens to circumvent the embargo. The points made by Gale are echoed in my Bruges Group pamphlet on this and they are very, very worrying.

These are not something we can afford to ignore.

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