EC's 'common defense' put on hold by gulf war WAR IN THE GULF

March 18, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Paris Bureau of The Sun

PARIS -- The European Community's efforts to coordinate a response to the Persian Gulf war is curbing the ambitions of West European officials for rapid steps toward a common European defense, according to defense and policy analysts here.

The war highlighted the different approaches of the 12 members toward security matters and again inserted the primacy of national interests into the debate on European political union.

"This failure belongs to a Europe that was an illusion," said Yves Boyer, a French defense analyst. "Maybe the Europe that emerges will not be a bloc acting in concert. It will be tied to the histories and interests of each state."

As the United States gathered support for the anti-Iraq coalition, the European Community launched its own plans for monetary and political integration, with proposals for an eventual security component through the West European Union that would be linked to the EC.

But faced with the challenge presented by the gulf war, the EC floundered: The 12 states decided against sending a last-minute delegation to Baghdad, only to learn hours later that France had not ruled out such a visit by its foreign minister, Roland Dumas.

At his first luncheon with new British Prime Minister John Major, French President Francois Mitterrand neglected to mention Paris' contacts with Iraqi intermediaries, or the prospective visit by Mr. Dumas.

And while not directly related to the EC, Germany's initial indecision over whether to defend NATO ally Turkey against a potential Iraqi attack was not lost on Bonn's allies.

The gulf war had injected the whole debate over common foreign policy and defense with a dose of "pure political realism," said Nicole Gnesotto of the West European Union's Institute for Strategic Studies.

Public reactions to the war varied from country to country. In Germany, popular sentiment ran against involvement, while the British and French overwhelmingly supported their countries' participation.

One Foreign Ministry official here said there was "no question" that the gulf war had "cooled our ardor for this debate."

"The war has forced us to address the question on a less symbolic, more practical basis," he said.

"The Germans cannot become English and the English Germans."

Now, policy makers here speak more of allowing the 12 to proceed with monetary and economic union as scheduled, and of giving the common foreign and defense policy time to evolve more naturally and with more leeway for national interests, analysts here said.

With time, German businesses and people will be so mixed with the other countries of the borderless Europe that a common defense policy would more clearly be a matter of national interest, they say.

No longer does the possibility exist that European positions on security matters will be reached through majority voting, said Ms. Gnesotto.

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