Tuesday

23rd Jan 2018

Opinion

The clothes have no emperor

Nobody, it appears, has profited from the war in Lebanon - that is if you discount the arms dealers. Indeed the whole affair in retrospect has seemed a bizarre exercise in pointlessness and futility - an object lesson in what not to do.

Neither of the two sides have achieved sustainable military objectives while a tragedy of epic proportions has been inflicted on a hapless civilian population some of whom will certainly now be sensitised to the beguiling call of hatred, terrorism and violence anew.

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Indeed it is not easy to ascertain just what ends were met by a cease fire after 34 days of fighting that would not have been met equally by a cease fire a month earlier. Of course, certain people - on both sides, incidentally - believed that force of arms would deliver a knock-out blow. It is quite astonishing how sanity and rationality disappear when fighting starts. It is as if a kind of gambling sickness takes over whereby the victim becomes convinced that one last strike, one last throw of the dice, will reverse his run of ill-fortune.

But of course the knock-out blow never came, at least not in that sense. What did come were the deaths of more than a thousand civilians, the massive destruction of homes and infrastructure and an environmental catastrophe as an oil slick of 'Erika' proportions decimated the spawning grounds of the eastern Mediterranean.

The EU's falling reputation

Still the damage has not been entirely confined to the benighted folk who live north and south of what has become the 21st century's Rubicon: the Litani river. For the European Union's reputation and influence have also taken a tumble. For all our fine talk about a bi-polar world - twin centres of democratic influence across the Atlantic pond - Europe's real power has been shown, quite brutally, to be a sham. You might say that the people have seen that the clothes have no emperor inside them.

Despite geographical proximity and a long history of involvement with the region, despite important strategic and economic interests, Europe was quite unable to bring serious influence to bear on halting the fighting until the United States had effectively agreed that enough was enough.

To be sure, Europe is hamstrung, as it so often is, by having a Common Foreign and Security Policy that is neither common, nor foreign, nor secure. Instead of a policy of its own, Europe divides variously between its acquiescence or antagonism to the policy of the United States.

It does not, it cannot, seem to speak with one voice: it cannot even agree to speak through one person - but, as in this case, insists on bombarding the protagonists with a plethora of emissaries representing individual member states, the presidency and the high representative, Mr Solana, himself. None, it seems, could speak for more than themselves. It was not an edifying sight, nor was it effective diplomacy.

And yes, it does matter that Europe should be able to speak collectively with a single voice about something that affects our interests so vitally. Of course there are differences of view; among a group of 25 member states, that is only to be expected. But the advantages of speaking and acting authoritatively with the collective weight of the world's largest trading bloc are so self-evident and overwhelming that, provided always that Europe adheres to its ideals, the detail of the policy becomes relatively unimportant.

Almost any policy expressed in a cohesive and coherent manner is better than what we have now, which is, in effect, no policy at all.

Nationalist adventures

In the aftermath of war, what better task would there be for a European Army to support the United Nations, rather than national contingents drawn from European member states and operating as national forces? The purposes and modus operandi of a European force have been well laid down. But the force needs a proving ground and what better proving ground could there be than Lebanon?

Yet apart from the commitment of a small contingent in the Balkans the European Army is almost mythical, an idea too willingly superseded by nationalist adventures in the world's trouble spots.

Would all this have been easier with the European Constitution in place and a formally designated foreign minister in post as the text proposed? Perhaps. But constitutions have to be built on a foundation of political will of which, at present, it is hard to detect much trace.

The illusion that there is more to be gained by acting independently, by striving for a narrow and nationalistic win against the collective, by rejecting the spirit of the European project, seems daily to grow stronger. Certainly it is difficult to detect any centripetal drive among Europe's member states today of the sort characterised in Benjamin Franklin's telling advice to his co-American revolutionaries: "We must all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

No will to act collectively

In signing the Declaration of Independence Franklin and his colleagues committed themselves to a project of collective enterprise. But the declaration came from the political will, not the other way around. A European Constitution without the political will to advance Europe's interests would not serve to advance matters much.

But in the European Union the political will to act collectively seems almost to have evaporated. Few leaders appear concerned about this with the notable exception of president Chirac of France and he anyway has but a few months remaining to his term.

It is a curious phenomenon this languor, almost as if Europe, after its exertions to deliver the single currency and to re-unite the continent, had lost the will to go on, as if the rejection of the constitution had been taken as a rejection of the idea of the whole collective European project. But should the Lebanon debacle serve to galvanise us into remedial action, maybe that will prove a small silver lining to what has otherwise been a very dark cloud.

The author is editor of EuropaWorld

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