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David Miller: The Real Winner On Bush’s Euro Visit

The Real Success from Dubya’s Euro Visit


David Miller Online

US President George W. Bush’s first trip to Europe was always going to be mission difficult. There were differences of opinion over the controversial National Missile Defence System, the Kyoto Treaty on gas omission from industrialised countries and the death penalty in the US. Nevertheless Mr. Bush is claiming success. He believes he is now better acquainted with European leaders, the critics are being swayed towards his policies and his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin was rewarding. However, having followed Mr. Bush’s European tour and the events and issues on the agenda, I am inclined to agree with Sludge for once. The real result of this summit and trip was not a lot and the spoils actually go to Mr. Putin.

The divisions between Europe and the US over key issues remain as wide as they did prior to Mr. Bush’s trip. The agreement that was reached was the agreement to differ. Europe will ratify the Kyoto Treaty while the US will not and although the US will keep its forces deployed in the Balkans, Mr. Bush is not offering to take any leadership in trying to resolve the conflict in Macedonia. Nor does he appear willing to scale down plans for a missile defence shield to protect the U.S. against rogue states who may acquire the capacity to attack the US. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, possibly Bush’s closest ally in Europe, is one leader who has welcomed the news that Mr. Bush will consult with Europe over his plans, but he has not endorsed the proposal itself. The sceptics, led by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder view the missile shield plan as opening the door to a new round of nuclear proliferation, especially as Mr. Bush plans to scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. They see the treaty as essential to maintaining the nuclear balance.

This puts Mr. Bush in a difficult position. If he backs down from the system or declares its infeasibility, then he is dropping a core item on his foreign policy agenda. One of criticisms levelled at Mr. Bush during the presidential campaign and that still haunts him was that foreign policy was his Achilles Heel. If he backs down from the missile system it will reiterate the view of his opponents in the US and abroad that he is soft when it comes to international affairs. On the other hand, if he pushes too hard and goes ahead with the plan at all costs, he risks being labelled as a unilateralist and isolating not only European states, but also Russia and China even further. This is not likely to precipitate a new Cold War, as I'm sure many protesting outside the EU summit in Sweden last week predict, but it will further damage already fragile relations, and no doubt push China and Russia closer together.

The problem Mr. Bush faces in his dealings with Europe is that Russia still casts a shadow and the US cannot avoid coming into contact with it. Mr. Bush is eager to see NATO expand further eastward, however European leaders must be mindful of their future relations with Russia when expressing their opinion, and this strengthens the hand of Mr. Putin.

When Mr. Bush emerged from the weekend’s summit meeting with Mr. Putin, it was smiles all round. Following a two hour meeting, the two leaders shook hands, flashed warm smiles, swapped anecdotes and told the world how they had agreed to consult each other on key issues and hold more face to face meetings. The meeting was described as very warm, straightforward and the beginning of a new US-Russian dialogue, but as Sludge pointed out so eloquently in Report #88, not a lot actually resulted. Once again Mr. Bush was keen to use any opportunity presented to sell his planned National Missile Defence System, while Mr. Putin, never an admirer of the plan, to say the least, has made it clear that while he will contemplate a deal over the status of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, he does not wish to see any unilateral action taken by the US in this area.

Suddenly Mr. Putin is back centre stage. Little has been seen of him since his reputation and fortunes took a knock following the sinking of the submarine Kursk last year. However he has now embarked upon a European trip of his own, reasserting Russian influence in the Balkans, warning NATO against future expansion eastward, and demonstrating that despite a decline in fortunes over the past two decades, Russia is still a force to be reckoned with. In relations with the US, it is Mr. Putin who holds the upper hand. He has been in power much longer than Mr. Bush, and undoubtedly has a better understanding of how the international political system works. As this is the week when I am in agreement with Sludge, I believe Mr. Putin’s hand is strengthened by the natural resources located in Russia and its neighbours in the Caucasus. The Caspian Sea oil pipeline is not only important to the economies of Europe but also the United States, especially as the US oil reserves dwindle and it further becomes a net importer of oil. However, there is one issue that really tips the balance in Mr. Putin’s favour, and that is his relations with China, which have developed and strengthened in recent years and which could further ostracise the US.

Russian-Chinese relations soured dramatically after the split in the late 1960’s and remained strained for over two decades. However, the end of the Cold War and the end of Soviet power, saw a warming of ties between Beijing and Moscow simply because the two need what the other can supply, and there remains a deep suspicion of the US. Beijing needs weapons and military technology if it is to realise its ambitions and become a global military superpower, and Russia can provide such material. Despite a dramatic decline in military fortunes over the past decade, Russia still maintains a large modern military technological base and is ready to export it to anyone or any state that has the money to buy. The symbiotic relationship has thus developed

Mr. Bush is claiming success after his European trip, however it is Mr. Putin who can return home feeling it was a job well done. The expansion in numbers and role of the EU is not a welcome sight to a US led NATO, and while Mr. Bush seeks to hide behind his missile shield, Mr. Putin reminds everyone that Russia still has a presence and cannot be taken for granted. Mr. Bush may have made new friends on his trip, and while he won few converts to his policies at least they listened. Mr. Bush is claiming success.

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