European Topics

THOSE WHO BELIEVE in a federal Europe press for common policies for Defence and Foreign Affairs...Some, such as the British, consider this can be best achieved within the NATO structure, for this will keep the United States directly involved in our security...Others, such as the French, prefer to see the involvement of the United States diminished substantially, and thus seek to advance the status of the Western European Union (WEU) as the defence organisation of the European Union...Amid sincere protestations of undying friendship the deadly enmity of the opposing views deadlocks progress.

William Forbes, a longtime resident in the Benelux area, contributes occasional comments on some of the problems of Europe's unification as seen from an historical perspective...

A View from Maastricht

Towards a United Defence and Foreign Policy

A HARSH WIND blew across the city from the northwest, squeezing through the narrow streets and around the cathedral to push chilled customers into cafés for hot coffee and fine cognac...We found a table by the window as a group prepared to leave, Tirlemont standing with his arms spread wide, ushering us into seats while keeping strangers away, smiling his refusals and shaking his head...He is a bureaucrat from Brussels and knows the form...Adam sat next to the glass, propped his attaché case against a bowl of flowers on the sill, and grinned up at him...Adam is a soldier and understands manoeuvre...The rest of us slid into the tightly packed chairs, Gordinne and I last, for we were sunk in discussion of Kosovo.

Of course, he said as we took our places, it's easier in the snow...They have only the survivors to kill...It saves ammunition...(He was thinking of the scenes on television the previous night, of the half-frozen women, babies in their arms, staggering up mountain tracks, faces etched with haunting terror.)

What's that you said? asked de Sapinmont.

Milosevic, I answered...He got his "final warning" from the British Foreign Secretary last June, and now, nine months later, his ethnic cleansing continues...Gordinne says that the Western powers must, by their inaction ~ our inaction, that is ~ bear the guilt.

We'll need a chair for Rumigny, said Tirlemont, the administrator...(Rumigny is always late.)

He's a clown, said Adam, who'd never met Rumigny and couldn't have meant Milosovic.

The coffee and cognac arrived, accompanied by spicy biscuits and Maastrichter bonbons, large chocolates with ingenious centres.

They're all clowns, continued Adam...We have a government of no military experience...The prime minister relies on the leader of an opposition party to brief him on military matters and then ignores what he's told because it doesn't fit his prejudices.

There's nothing new in that, said van Amstel...You had a minister in your previous government, in a BBC interview, reject a piece of American intelligence...Four sentences later it was obvious that he rejected the intelligence because it didn't fit his preconception...I kept it on tape...Later it was proven correct...I don't hold it against the man because his preconception was wrong...I hold it against him because he was arrogant and stupid.

But they all are, said von Tennenberg...Over and over again they told us that air power could achieve nothing in Bosnia, that air power could achieve nothing alone...Yet it was air power that defeated our U-boats in the Atlantic...Half were sunk by aircraft, but it was aircraft that found most of them; it was aircraft that restricted their movement and reduced their effectiveness...And it was aircraft, when the Americans at last insisted, that stopped the killing in Bosnia.

And the British were most guilty in this, admitted Adam...Between the great wars we had twenty years of "colonial policing" in the Middle East...It was done from the air, very cheaply and very successfully...Of course, in major conflicts, in the "all-arms" battle, we need forces on the ground, but those are totally different scenarios...Our politicians either did not understand the difference, or they did and deliberately tried to deceive their listeners...That was the old government...The new government continues the deception.

So how would you tackle the Kosovo problem? asked de Sapinmont.

Adam chewed his lip...First, he said, I'd define our moral aim...I think that's clear...We want to stop the slaughter...We know this will continue so long as Milosovic tries to control Kosovo with Serbs that form only a small proportion of the total population, that his men have committed too many atrocities for them ever to be trusted again, that the memories and the hatred will continue...So we must either tell him that his attitude to human rights, his crimes against humanity, have forfeited his right to sovereignty over Kosovo and that he must now pull out of Kosovo completely and give it independence, or ....... or we must ignore the situation and let him continue his ethnic cleansing.

Then you mean war, said van Amstel.

Yes, said Adam.

Against the fourth largest military force in the old Communist bloc, said Tirlemont.

Yes, said Adam.

The western governments will not agree, said Gordinne...They fear another "Viet Nam", that huge ground forces will be tied down for years at great economic cost.

I know the British won't want to agree, said Adam...Not to large ground forces that might actually have to fight...Two months ago government ministers admitted that if we had an influenza epidemic, the hospitals would not cope...They are all full...Now they have closed all the military hospitals, our soldiers go to war knowing that if they are wounded they will lie in hospital corridors for forty-eight hours before they can be treated...But, you see, as we have a government with no military experience, no one in power understands the crucial importance of military morale...And that, of course, is why we have no military hospitals.

There must be another way, said von Tennenberg.

We could make it an air war entirely, said Gordinne...We could tell Milosovic that we are going to destroy his ground-based air defences with cruise missiles, and then his aircraft with our superior fighters, and then with air supremacy clearly established we shall destroy all his tanks and artillery...If we then arm the Kosovo liberation army, they can fight on equal terms.

But that, said van Amstel, does not solve the moral problem...Tens of thousands of women and children would be killed.

And, said Tirlemont, the western nations are not united...We need a common defence and foreign policy for that...Then we speak with one voice and the world listens.

Gordinne coughed...NATO is united, he said.

In this sense, said van Amstel, NATO has never been united...When the French pulled their forces out of NATO, they stayed in politically and never ceased to cause problems at every level...In the front line the Belgians kept only half the troops they were supposed to keep there...We, the Dutch, kept only twenty per cent...If the Russians were to invade, our soldiers would catch trains to go to their positions ~ I don't think!

That, paradoxically, was our strength, said Adam, grinning broadly.

What do you mean? I asked.

I mean, said Adam, his grin even broader, that this was why NATO won the cold war.

Expound, I said.

Soviet military doctrine, he began, insists that in the medium term a war will be won by the side with the stronger economic resources...Thus any war fought against the West had to be over very quickly...And thus the concept of the "four day war" was developed, at the end of which both sides would admit a terrible mistake had been made and everyone would stop where they were, with the Soviets on the bank of the Rhine.

They must have had a Plan B, said Tirlemont.

Yes ~ the alternative was the idea Stalin floated of the total nuclear obliteration of Western Europe in a single night...Europe is very small, he explained parenthetically, compared with the Soviet Empire...But, fortunately, they feared "the lunatic response" of an enraged America triggering massive retaliation against every Soviet conurbation...Mutually Assured Destruction - MAD - saved us from that, just as Star Wars saved us later...It forced the Soviets to calculate what they could and could not tolerate.

Did Star Wars save us? asked von Tennenberg.

Yes, said van Amstel...It forced the Soviets to calculate accurately the full economic cost of equalling its introduction, and that they could not afford.

So why didn't they take the four-day option? asked de Sapinmont.

Because it would have to be fought with massed armour, said Adam, and it would have to be a surprise...The forces would engage along the whole front, but the main action would be the insertion of Operational Manoeuvre Groups - the OMGs - into the Dutch-Belgian sector, the weakest point...These would race for the Rhine, while the NATO defences would be pulling back, trying to prevent their flanks being turned.

If they caught us by surprise, they wouldn't have a large force, said de Sapinmont.

They would have caught us by surprise, said van Amstel, because NATO countries would not have done anything to prepare for the surprise in case the preparations provoked them.

That's exactly right, said Adam, and if anything was to be done, the NATO members would not agree in time...Look at what happened in Bosnia...Look at Kosovo now...The monitors are pulled out yesterday, but nothing can happen for a few days to protect the civilians there in case it upsets the Russians...But, to answer your question about the size of the force ~ if it was a "come-as-you-are" party, and it would certainly have been, then we would have been facing six thousand tanks, six thousand armoured infantry fighting vehicles and about four hundred attack helicopters.

But it didn't happen, said Tirlemont...Because they knew NATO was united.

No, said Adam...That wasn't it at all...It was because the OMGs attack with massed armour, and massed armour can be knocked out with neutron bombs...It was the one weapon their generals really feared...That's why they ran such a huge propaganda campaign against it in the West...Don't you remember?

It was "the bomb that kills people without destroying property", said van Amstel, and the campaign was a huge success, supported by the people the Soviets called "useful idiots".

Well, continued Adam, if they dispersed the tanks to reduce the effectiveness of neutron bombs, the speed of advance would be slowed drastically, the four days would quickly become forty days, the advantage of surprise is then lost, and there is time for politicians to authorise a nuclear response at the strategic level, which means at the Russian homeland.

You're not making sense, said Tirlemont...If they thought it would take forty days for the politicians to authorise nuclear release, they wouldn't have feared the neutron bombs.

There is a critical difference, said Adam...It's the difference that won this phase of the cold war... The Soviets understood that the politicians would shuffle and hedge, and that no real decisions would emerge...And they knew the NATO generals appreciated that as well as they did...So they believed that the NATO generals, totally disillusioned by their pathetically ineffective political masters, would pre-empt the situation and use the neutron bombs on the first day...The OMGs would then grind to a halt...Tactical nuclear weapons would be in use all along the front and deep into the support areas, and the speed of advance would be down to a crawl...That is why political ineffectiveness saved us.

Okay, I can follow that, said de Sapinmont...But where's its relevance now with Kosovo?

There is none, said Adam...There is nothing to prompt the generals to take the right decisions...Only the mass destruction of a major NATO country would do that...No, we are now faced with the eternal problem of weak politicians afraid to take action and unable to cooperate in anything but gestures...And that's why we shall never have an effective single defence and foreign policy within the European Union.

But we shall, said Tirlemont.

Never, said van Amstel...Britain and France can cooperate in the arrangements for signing a treaty on a British warship in a French port, but the last time they understood each other on a battlefield was in 1815 at Waterloo...Do you think they could agree on Africa?..Look at the Anglo-French conflict over the Rwanda-Burundi-Congo area...A European Union policy on that would have to be French...The French would insist...And the British would disagree totally...They would veto it...If it was for a majority decision, the British would walk out...And can you really imagine a British army going to war because a French politician orders it?

We've been on the same side before, I said.

God willed it ~ I remember that well, said Rumigny...He had approached us silently and now stood behind my chair...I turned to look at him...He had aged terribly...Tirlemont waved him to the empty seat and clicked his fingers for the waiter.

Dieu lo vult!..Deus vult!..Dieu le veult!..God wills it, Rumigny muttered...Yes, we were all on the same side ~ French and English, Flemish and Scots, Normans and Germans, Provençals and Spaniards...Europe was united...We rode off to drive the infidels from Jerusalem...Some of us rode through here and stopped to pray at the Church of Saint Servaas...There, one hundred metres from where we sit...But we had only reached Worms when Count Emich of Leisingen reversed direction, marching along the Rhine towards the North Sea, killing and looting the Jewish communities in every city and township...He murdered thousands...At Cologne he stopped and turned south again, but his followers continued seawards, slaughtering still.

Yes, said Tirlemont, but that sort of behaviour is not the norm today.

Really?..Rumigny's voice was soft...Does Srebrnica mean so little to you?..And Viscount William of Melun, called "the Carpenter", for the speed of his axe splitting Jewish heads was as a hammer hitting nails ~ he it was who demonstrated unity by deserting at Antioch...Yes, we were all on the same side, so when the Norman Tancred took Tarsus, the Fleming Baldwin seized it from him because Baldwin's men outnumbered Tancred's...We all had the same aim, we were all on the same side, but Count Raymond of Toulouse turned away from Jerusalem to strike eastwards, and lost all but three hundred of his crusaders...Our leaders?...The Pope, Urban II, called for the crusade...After that and until the legends were created in later centuries there was no leader...We had powerful knights who led private armies and quarrelled among themselves, trying to win a war by consensus.

His voice trailed away and we were silent...He was trying to tell us something, perhaps that we would repeat the mistakes of the past...I gazed out of the window across the Vrijthof and towards the altar of Saint Servaas...The wind was stronger, tearing at the flags on their staffs around the square.

Rumigny spoke again...You will be told to forget your history, that the French must love the English, the Greek the Turk, the Pole the German...But you cannot forget what your history has taught you, nor should your children forget.


(c) 1999 William Forbes

"The legends have obscured the memory ....... One thing is clear...No single man led the crusade or aided it to final victory...It was the spirit of ....... the unnamed men of lesser rank that brought the crusaders through and captured Jerusalem."...

Harold Lamb in The Crusades: Iron Men and Saints (Thornton Butterworth Ltd, 1950)

An Earlier View from Maastricht

Another Earlier View from Maastricht

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