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European perceptions, America's 'greater Middle East'

Volker Perthes

Following the divisions over the Iraq war between the United States and some of its key European allies as well as within the European Union actors on both sides of the Atlantic have been trying to heal the wounds and better prepare themselves for future challenges that may come up. On the European side, where the split over Iraq was seen as a real threat to the perspective of political integration, the EU has made an effort to unify its perception of international and European security in its European Security Strategy, adopted by the EU's heads of state and government in December 2003. At the same time, a quieter debate on how to deal with threats in the world is being conducted between the United States and Europe in transatlantic fora such as, among others, NATO and the G8.

The European Security Strategy describes the risks and threats which Europe perceives as emanating from its geopolitical environment. Five "key threats" are defined, namely terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, state failure and organized crime, including drug smuggling, illegal migration and trafficking in human beings. It is noticeable that many of these risks and challenges emanate from, or are in one way or other, a feature of Europe's southern neighborhood i.e. the Middle East. The strategy points to the Middle East explicitly in its dealing with proliferation and regional conflicts.

Somalia and Afghanistan are mentioned as examples for state failure; and many European policy-makers are fearful that the American-led occupation of Iraq will not actually bring about a stable and democratic new Iraq, but another "failed," disintegrating state. Speaking of terrorism, the paper mentions that this phenomenon has recently been mostly linked to "violent religious extremism."

Europe has had its own experience with "secular" types of terrorism; and the European Security Strategy expresses European thinking well, in not confusing "Islam" and "terrorism." Instead, it points to the "complex causes" of terrorism, including "the pressures of modernization, cultural, social and political crises, and the alienation of young people living in foreign societies." There is no doubt, however, that terrorism with Islamist backgrounds is increasingly seen as a threat that demands international action and cooperation including, as in the case of Afghanistan, military means. At the same time, Europe does not fear any peaceful take-overs by political Islamic parties; at least the decision-making elites are quite aware that radical Islamists do not represent a majority in most Arab or Muslim countries, and that any democratic transformation that would allow regular and free elections would most likely reduce their appeal. The experience of Turkey, where democratic competition has allowed a conservative party with Islamist roots to become the force of reform, is certainly reassuring in this respect.

In the transatlantic debate on common challenges and opportunities, the Middle East again takes a pivotal position. There is agreement of sorts that the Middle East will be in the center of international geopolitics for at least the next decade to come; it will therefore also be a major issue for EU-US cooperation. Note that the so-called US Greater Middle East Initiative is still a project under construction which the US government is going to present to its European allies at the coming NATO and G8 summits in June 2004. Not even the precise geopolitical content of the project has been defined so far. US policy-makers see the initiative as a scheme that could give new life to these transatlantic institutions. This may explain one of its major weaknesses, namely that it is being discussed with the Europeans on various levels, but not with the political and societal elites of the states it deals with. Little wonder that so many Arab commentators perceive it negatively as a dictate and not as an offer of cooperation.

Very generally, compared to European approaches, US strategies tend to be more global, more security-biased, and based on certain perceptions of a "moral order" of what is good and what is bad in the world. And, as the only remaining world power, the United States gives less value to time-consuming consultations with the objects of their policies. European strategies tend to be more regional in focus the European Security Strategy is the most "global" approach on offer from the European side and it is still, as shown, heavily centered on developments in its immediate geopolitical neighborhood. European policies also tend to be more multidimensional, and institutional. In other words, Europe would see to it that security policies are not only military policies, but be combined with political, economic, cultural contents and means; and European policy-makers believe in the virtues of institution-building processes, even if these processes are long-term undertakings that do not yield the wished-for results within one legislative (or presidential) term. The long-term, multilateral, multilevel and multi-issue Barcelona process is a prime example of European approaches toward its neighborhood; it also underlines the European preparedness to let oneself in into sometimes time-consuming exercises of confidence-building and consultation.

From this vantage point, European policy-makers would have preferred the US initiative for the Middle East to take predictable Arab apprehensions into considerations from the beginning: Any form of consultation with the countries in question would likely have done away with the confrontational subtext which it now includes. Such differences should not lead to wrong conclusions, however: The EU and its member states are as intent as the US administration to bridge transatlantic gaps, and they will not say "no" to the American initiative. But they will certainly try to leave their mark on any common transatlantic plan that will emerge from it.

Volker Perthes heads the Middle East and Africa research group at Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin. This is the first of a two-part analysis of US and European perspectives on Middle Eastern issues written for THE DAILY STAR dailynews.com.lb

The Islamic Movement:
Its Assumed Political And Cultural Position
Al-Hayat, March 7, 2004, In this article, Gharaybe addresses the question "How can the wider Islamic movement go back to its original political and cultural position of contributing to development and reform instead of being a political and security burden?" Giving a brief history of the Islamic movement, he argues that it no longer represents the opinions of the public it represents.

Prior to security partnerships and economic cooperation:
Let the West Make Peace With Islam First
Arab News, March 2, 2004, "People in the Middle East see things differently from what the West envisions for them," Dr. Al-Oraifi explains. Providing a Middle Eastern perspective on recent history in the region, she urges that the West to first "make peace with Islam" before seeking security partnerships and proposing economic cooperation.

Common Ground News Service February 20, 2004
CGNews promotes constructive perspectives and dialogue about current Middle East issues.

From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 22-03-2004



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