Request for military aid could challenge European nations

EU to convene Friday to discuss strategies for fighting terrorism

September 19, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - When it comes to fighting world terrorism, the United States is sure to call on Europe, a continent rich in troops, bases and diplomatic influence. But how will a continent composed of nations with different agendas respond in war?

That's the question hanging over Europe as the 15-member European Union is due to convene an emergency session in Brussels on Friday. So far, the United States has received strong backing from Europe's leaders as well as the public, with polls showing support for the American military retaliation expected after last week's terror attacks.

Political backing for America is sure to be reaffirmed Friday, just as it was garnered last week when the 19-nation NATO alliance supported America.

But the difficult challenge for Europe will come when it is asked to help the United States conduct military operations, with some on the continent expressing reservations that such actions could go too far.

"As long as we don't know what the Americans are going to do there is a common European position, which is one of support for the Americans," said Dominique Moisi of the French Institute for International Relations. "The moment the Americans start doing something, well, you will see nuances between America and Europe and maybe among the Europeans themselves."

For now, there is solidarity, even as the diplomacy heats up.

French President Jacques Chirac met with President Bush in Washington last night.

"I've come here to tell you of the emotion - the emotion of France, the French people, an emotion which has no precedent in history before this tragedy, which does not have a parallel. Indeed, it is a tragic event, something which is beyond crime; there are no words to qualify it," Chirac said.

"I also wanted to say that we are completely determined to fight by our side this new type of evil, of absolute evil, which is terrorism. And I also wanted to say that France is prepared and available to discuss all means to fight and eradicate this evil," he added.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has consistently pledged to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the United States, is to fly to New York and tour the ruins of the World Trade Center, where perhaps as many as 250 Britons died, and go to Washington.

Although Europe has many political institutions, it's clear that in this crisis, the main players are Britain, France and Germany.

"The British assets are supposedly good secret services, very good links with their former empire, plus a willingness to take risk," Moisi said.

The British possess vital military bases and have crack troops that could be committed to a ground war. Moreover, about 20,000 British troops are scheduled to take part in an exercise next month in Oman. That puts a British military force near Afghanistan, supposedly home to prime suspect Osama bin Laden.

Britain can serve as a diplomatic go-between, using ties with Pakistan, on the front line with Afghanistan, as well as maintaining diplomatic relations with Iran, a vital force in the region.

France has diplomatic links to the Arab and Muslim worlds and a strong military but, despite Chirac's words, has made it clear it won't be pushed into an attack.

"If any commitment was made in the name of France, it could not happen without consulting the National Assembly and the Senate," Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said yesterday, according to Reuters.

Germany provides economic muscle, strong links with the rest of Europe and a home to prime American military bases.

"Germany represents the new Europe," Moisi said. "It has no complex any longer [over war], and she is much more imaginative. She combines emotion with the United States with the closeness to Europe. In a way, she is a bridge between the Atlantic and the Continent."

Germany is also at the heart of the investigation into the terrorist attacks, with a university in Hamburg apparently the base for a cell involving three of the hijackers.

Spain has offered the use of bases, and Italy has signaled military support.

"We must avoid causing the deaths of more innocent people," Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi said Monday after meeting with Blair in London. "None of us know where the investigations will lead. We need a sure identification of the suspects. Then action will follow."

Europe also seems prepared to take tough law enforcement measures to combat terrorism.

Europe's interior ministers meet today to consider a wide-ranging agenda to combat terrorism. According to British media, the subjects to be discussed include creating a continentwide police force to counter terrorism, standardizing arrest warrants and providing a broader definition of terrorism to enable police to move against those accused of aiding and abetting terror acts.

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