Will Europe ever shake off the American puppeteers who pull its foreign policy strings?
And so, once more, the West has risen up in a fit of moral outrage after the deaths of Western tourists in Indonesia. Once more, the world's most powerful leaders have declared war on the 'evil' that threatens its hegemony. George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard (Prime Minister of Australia) spoke as one in their desire to remove these dark sections of humanity from our planet.
As the steamroller of American international policy continues on its way, eagerly helped along by Mr Blair, it is hard to ignore a growing sense of powerlessness about the future of global society. Bush announces that he 'assumes' the bombing was committed by Al Quaeda and, within 24 hours, much of the world's media and political mandarins are repeating the statement almost as fact. And, if it was the work of Al Quaeda, this naturally is just yet more evidence that the war on 'terror' must continue unabated or even more ferociously. Clearly (if you stand in the Bush/Blair camp) this means increased military action, not only in Iraq (although the connection with Al Quaeda is, at best, tenable) but across the globe. Bush vowed yesterday to fight his war on all fronts - despite the fact that even when his war was being fought on only one front (Afghanistan) it failed in its aim to track down Bin Laden. Bush, however, is confident that this approach, unilaterally if necessary, will work to stamp out terrorism.
And amid all this hyperbole and aggression, what of Europe? Where do we stand or, more pertinently, where do our leaders stand? What of the great European idea of unity on big issues? One would have to admit that, currently, these questions can only be answered with more questions. Separately European countries in the 21st century count as little more than minnows in the global hierarchy. Their economies are too small for them too wield any significant political power. Great Britain would argue that it still plays a role on the global stage but this argument can hardly be taken seriously as Blair puffs and blows in his efforts to stay on Bush's heels. No, most European's have faced the fact that their time of national hegemony as seen in earlier centuries has passed and passed for good.
Why then is it taking so long for our countries to combine and use this united power to good effect? In the same week that more people were needlessly killed, plans for a European rapid reaction military force were pushed even further back thanks to Nato's decision to create one of its own. This in itself is no bad thing - America bemoans the fact that Europeans do not spend enough on the military and that European governments are unwilling to commit enough of their overall budgets to fire power and weapons improvement. But, perhaps Europe's focus should not be trying to compete with the military might of the USA. Europe is looking for a role, a position in the world of the new century. So why not as an alternative to the macho, military prowess of the USA? The European Union has already showed in Israel its willingness to pursue diplomatic solutions rather than those forced through with military muscle. A European military force could be introduced along the lines of the UN Peacekeeping forces. Let NATO (dominated by America and Britain) pursue an aggressive foreign policy. The EU can herald a less confrontational alternative. Germany's unequivocal declaration that it would not support military action in Iraq is a good start but why does Europe not shout its case a bit louder?
The bombings in Bali are the latest in a line of protests (albeit illegal and morally unacceptable ones) against the world we live in, and particularly, the way this world is governed. It is easy for Blair to say that these people are 'evil' - easy and far too simplistic. Is he really suggesting that the hundreds, maybe thousands, of radical Islamists in Indonesia, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere are all evil? Quite probably their leaders are, at the very least, megalomaniacs trying to exploit the passion that lies within the local people. But to suggest that the players in this murderous game are all evil is worrying in itself. If a person or thing is 'evil', the justification for doing away with him is that much more straightforward.
No wonder Blair and Bush are so keen to demonise these people - doing so removes public sympathy for their cause, it removes the necessity to understand why they are doing what they are doing, why their numbers are increasing and what fundamental changes in policy need to be taken. This line of thought, harder though it may be, is the one that needs to be taken. Bush is unwilling to do so (and with him one can include much of the rest of the world who are too frightened of the consequences of opposing America to object) so why does Europe not stand up and ask these questions?
Much of American dominance lies in the problems of world trade. Becoming off side with the US would mean a huge loss of trade and a disastrous economic future for many countries. However, as much as Europe needs American markets, America needs ours. The pendulum is, perhaps, still more in their favour. But the fact remains that America would be very unwilling to lose the European market. This gives our leaders the power to question American policy. Who knows, if Europe started openly questioning American policy, as France has done to a certain extent within the confines of the UN, and, importantly, offering other solutions to these problems, perhaps other countries would be more willing to stand behind us.
Currently, Europe whispers that she is not in total agreement with American foreign policy but, when push comes to shove, gets back in line again like a naughty school boy. Voices of protest are rising up again and again against the Americanised world that we inhabit. After September 11th a few (very few) Americans asked seriously why the world hated them so much. Even fewer called for their country to alter its outlook as a consequence. Bush's response of military action against all those who dared to question his 'freedom' loving nation has been embraced by all but a few political analysts. One year later and the West as a whole must ask itself why so many feel so much anger towards our societies?
Many European leaders are fearful of American wrath if they chose to take an independent line - accusations of anti-Semitism and a lack of gratitude for all America did for our continent during the last world war immediately rain down on us from sections of the American media. What Europe should be trying to understand is that the world has changed immensely since that time. The common interests that tied America and Europe together in the last century no longer tie us together today. European countries hold a tradition of the welfare state; America promotes first past the post capitalism. Europe sees the role of armies in terms of their potential peacekeeping capabilities; America views its army as an expression of military might able squash potential enemies.
If European and American policies are so diverse, why should Europe continue to ignore the voices of its people who, through peaceful protest, are calling for action? If Europe were to voice a clear and alternative opinion on the international situation the extremists who currently feel the only way to bring their cause to international attention is to blow up innocent victims, may feel that they have an ally in Europe who was capable of standing up to America and forcing it to accept that the world is not theirs to own and manipulate but ours to develop together.
One of the saddest consequences of the bombings in Bali is that many of those who lost their lives were young people, mostly travellers, who had gone to Asia to experience another side to life. They were very probably the sort of people who did question Western (read American) values and who were searching for something different. These abhorrent terrorists killed the very people who were most likely to be sympathetic to their frustrations.
It took the British government 30 years of killing before it accepted that it had to sit down and listen to the issues underlying the terrorist activity in Northern Ireland. The same pattern seems to be unfolding in the Middle East where young Palestinians believe that the only way they can influence events is to blow themselves and innocent victims up because noone is listening to them. As European citizens and not American puppets, we should only hope that it does not take so long for Europe to shake off the shame of its past that has kept it so quiet for so long and stand up and be counted on the global stage. America does not need yet another 'yes man' when the world is filled with plenty of countries willing to cower behind its shadow. What America, and the world, desperately needs is someone to put forward an alternative point of view who has the necessary influence to make that view count in diplomatic and political circles. Terrorism will never achieve this. A strong, united European voice, on the other hand, could well be the solution that the world craves.