Emphasis on the East

Article published on Feb. 24, 2005
community published
Article published on Feb. 24, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The term “Europe” is changing its dimensions, not only in the context of enlargement to the Eastern countries, previously forming the “Soviet-bloc”, but in the eyes and perception of American policy-makers, who are trying hard to win support across Europe for a military action against Iraq

Recently the American Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld said at a press conference (22.01.03) that thinking of Europe in terms of France and Germany as main actors is no longer accurate. America wants to put an emphasis on the East, as it is there that it seems to be most welcome and has the greatest support in Europe, and not only on the Iraq issue.

This statement is a continuation of dialogue full of support and loyalty between many ex-communist countries of Eastern Europe and the USA. Poland seems to be a leader in that trend, and finds itself often under criticism from some of the Western Europeans out of fear of too many American allies in their backyard.

Additionally, Polish-American military relations have also been strengthened earlier this year by a deal struck with Americans for fighting aircraft for the Polish army, now forming a part of the Nato forces. Notably, the French Mirage and Swedo-British Gripen were rejected in the end. The deal with the Americans implies long term cooperation at the offset, investments compensating the purchase of the aircrafts and the projects’ implementation is forseen for a period of ten years. While visiting the American producer of the aircraft and the University of National Defense earlier this year, President Kwasniewski stressed that Poland is a loyal ally and will not refuse to cooperate.

President Kwasniewski, at the recent summit in Davos, also strongly opposed the growing antagonism between Europe and the USA on the Iraq question. Adding that both continents sharing the same values should be able to solve the issue quickly.

On whom else in Europe could the Americans count apart from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland or the Baltic states, Romania and Bulgaria?

Other obvious allies are the UK, and somewhat less favourably Spain and Italy.

Is it only about loyalty? Obviously loyalty may not be the only answer here. What is however an outstanding feature of the USA is its uncontested political, military and economic power recognized by all political leaders in Europe and described as arrogance in most Western states, or decisiveness and confidence by the Easterners. As Marek Ostrowski pointed out in ”Uncle Sam and Aunt Europe” – the article appeared in “Polityka” issue 17/2002 - the USA after its success in Afganistan, seems to still be at war, even if the international solidarity with the States, announced on 11/9, is long since forgotten.

Close relations with the USA and future EU membership

The special relations and friendship with America dates back to the Cold War era, when the Easterners often felt abandoned by the Western Europeans, while America manifested its strong support for freedom, democracy and sponsored dissidents actions in these countries. The Western Europeans seemed more conciliatory towards Moscow. And when martial law was introduced in Poland on 13.12.1981 the then American President Reagan lit a candle in a window in the White House, while the then French minister of foreign affairs Claude Cheysson simply said France will naturally do nothing.

What is more, when the Iron Curtain finally came down, it was not the Western Europeans who opened their door to the Easterners. It was more a result of American pressure and a clear position that it was up to the European Community to ‘take care’ of their new, free neighbours.

Political leaders from Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary, already members of Nato since 1999, and looking forward to formally joining the EU some time in 2004, see no contradiction in supporting the USA's position in the Northern Alliance and becoming a part of the European Community. Nato’s security guarantees are unparalled in Europe, on the other hand, the EU offers welfare and prosperity. And for countries with heavy experience from the Cold War the combination of both options is unquestionably necessary.

As Jan Rupnik, professor at the College of Europe and renowned academic working at the European Centre for International Studies, commented on the Nato summit in Prague opening the door to seven candidate countries and the EU Copenhagen summit held last year where the accession negotiations with 10 candidate countries were closed: the first appeared clearly as an historical event, while the latter was yet another example of European bargaining…

So far, all this political rhetoric and debate has not found much support among public opinion both in the USA and Poland. According to recent polls in the USA, some 58% of population are not convinced that war against Iraq is justified at this stage of the weapons inspections, and overall support for the President’s actions is falling.

In Poland, according to a poll published by CBOS public opinion poll institute on 3-6.01.03 more than half of the population is against Nato intervention in Iraq, even if sufficient evidence is provided by the UN inspectors; only 1/3 is for supporting the USA-Nato initiative, but only 25% would like to see Polish soldiers fighting a war in Iraq.