Big powers back more muscular foreign policy
By Judy Dempsey in Thessaloniki
Published: June 21 2003 5:00 | Last Updated: June 21 2003 5:00


Britain, France and Ger-many threw their weight behind the European Union's first security doctrine yesterday, ahead of an EU-US summit next week in Washington.

Support for the doctrine, drawn up by Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, reflects the need for a more muscular foreign policy to deal with weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and the conflicts of the post-cold war era.

Despite the differences between London, Berlin and Paris over the US-led war in Iraq, their leaders at the Thessaloniki summit agreed that Europe could exert influence to prevent conflict or take "pre-emptive engagement" through "effective" multilateral institutions.

"What it means is that Europe is facing up to the real world in which weapons of mass destruction and terrorism are the new threats," said a spokesman for Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister. "The way to deal with them is not through the conventional ways of the cold war. We have to be proactive."

Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, embraced the doctrine because of Berlin's strong support for multilateral institutions; President Jacques Chirac of France did so because it spelt out how countries, including the US, could not act alone and expect to be effective.

The 10 candidate countries, the majority of which are former communist countries and are more pro-Atlanticist than some of the 15 member states, openly welcomed the doctrine because of the explicit support for the US and Nato. "We are very enthusiastic," said a Czech diplomat.

US officials too said Washington was taking the doctrine, which will be discussed at the EU-US summit, seriously. "The analysis is good. It will be meaningful when it is applied," said a US diplomat.

The practical aspects of implementation will be thrashed out between now and the December Rome summit. Diplomats said it would be beefed up with stronger language that could specify the need for regime change, even pre-emptive strikes. Indeed, it already calls for "pre-emptive engagement that can avoid more serious problems" in the future.

"That is what effective multilateralism is about," said a German diplomat. "It means being prepared to take action when states, or people, break the rules."

The doctrine, however, goes beyond working through multilateral organisations. It spells out how the EU must put teeth on its traditional "soft power" tools of political, diplomatic and economic pressure. The EU, for example, should be much more prepared to use the carrots of assistance and the stick of sanctions to encourage better governance.

But it should also focus on spending more on defence, reducing the duplication of military assets such as tanks and helicopters, and increase civilian planning during and after crises. "The doctrine implicitly shows Europe trying to create 'hard power' tools to back up its soft power ones," said a Dutch diplomat.

Some steps in this direction were made yesterday when leaders agreed to create an intergovernmental agency for developing defence capabilities, research, acquisition and armaments. They also agreed to strengthen Europe's defence and technological base, anticipating the signing of the EU treaty expected early next year.

But the agency's success will depend on how much cash-strapped governments are prepared to increase defence expenditure. "That is the part we did not like," said a German official.

Diplomats said Iran could be one of the test cases for the security doctrine.

Yesterday, in their final conclusions, EU leaders again called on Iran to sign and ratify an additional protocol to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Diplomats said the EU was prepared to stop trade negotiations if Iran refused to do so but was determined to use all its diplomatic and political pressure.

Leaders were even tougher with North Korea, calling on it to "visibly, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear programme" and start complying with its international non-proliferation obligations.

As for Iraq, the arguments that paralysed the EU's common foreign and security policy over the past few months have subsided. The leaders agreed to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq.