A Smokescreen Summit (03 Mar 2009)

“We must avoid constructing a new Iron Curtain in Europe”, so addressed the Hungarian prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany his twentysix EU-partners last weekend in Brussels. Attached to this appeal was a request for a recovery plan for banks in Eastern Europe worth between 160 en 190 billion Euros. The Hungarian government chief implied that if such a plan did not materialize, Europe would be divided once more, which would blow up the European Union.
The Iron Curtain hyperbole was of course nonsensical and failed to impress Gyurcsany’s negotiating partners, but it did reflect the general atmosphere created by rather panicky leaks from Brussels, and the more widespread speculation that Europe’s current problems, and the seeming inability to come up with credible measures to cope with those, has caused the Union to drift into a danger zone.

On Nuclear Collision And Disarmament (23 Feb 2009)

The terrorist with a nuclear bomb is the spectre that has now haunted us for some years. It has kept security agencies more than busy. The legal position of free citizens has been sacrificed in the process, and it has justified massive defense expenditures.
And then, suddenly, we hear about the collision of two nuclear submarines in oceanic depths, the British HMS Vanguard and the French Le Triomphant. Both were carrying nuclear ballistic warheads. Their names by themselves are suggestive of the military fairy-tale that has produced these vessels. As if we are still living in the time of Napoleon and Lord Nelson, the navies of these NATO allies and European Union partners are keeping their navigation details hidden from each other. With a near catastrophe as the result. It took several weeks before the world heard snippets of information about it.

Does Biden’s Speech Portend Bush Era Foreign Policy? (10 Feb 2009)

Both the speech of vice-president Joe Biden of the United States before the annual security conference in Munich and the reactions it triggered were very disappointing. The speech had been anticipated with more than normal eagerness, and the euphoria of Biden’s European audience was palpable. But just at this time at which they had an opportunity to present the United States with a European approach to the deadlocks that have emerged in the world these past eight years, they remained remarkably passsive. By allowing the opportunity to slip by unused they have remained the vassals that George W. Bush has made of them.
Even the Russian vice-premier Sergei Ivanov spoke of a “very strong signal” for the restoration of the dialogue between the United States and Russia. But that can stand on its own. After all, there can be no doubt about the independent position of the Kremlin and its influence on what is happening in the world.

Can the Dutch Come to Terms with the Past (02 Feb 2009)

Vergangenheitsbewaltigung – the German for “struggle to come to terms with the past” is the name of the game today. It originates in the German moral awakening concerning the Holocaust in the years immediately after World War II. But it is applicable to the manner in which the youngest history is dealt with, whether it be the credit crisis, the war on terror, or more specifically the invasion of Iraq. Many, rich or poor, leftwing or rightleaning, religious or secular, are engaged in this struggle. As the philosopher George Santayana remarked about those who forget the past: they “are condemned to repeat it”. A warning that has been a forceful spur to reviewing our lessons learned.
This week it was the Netherlanders’ turn to, once again, wrestle with their past. They may gradually have become used to this exercise. ‘Srebrenica’ is carved in the collective memory here as a military disgrace, and as a shocking example of how good intentions may be derailed in a nation which tells itself that, not quite like the others, it pursues nothing but the good.

Feeble European Mediation For Wobbly Peace (01 Feb 2009)

A sharper contrast is hard to imagine: The images of Gaza inhabitants, shell-shocked and bivouacking on the rubble of what once were their homes, and under which their loved ones are buried, and the images produced by the wave of enthusiasm flooding Washington this week. They were produced on Sunday, January 18th, a few days before the inauguration of the first non-white president of the United States, and at the beginning of a wobbly truce between the state of Israel and the Islamitic Hamas movement.
It was also the day on which the Israeli army allowed American and British journalists to enter the Gaza strip for the first time. To quote the International Herald Tribune: “It was a day of digging and bitter discovery. Houses had lost walls, and the dead, after three weeks of war, had lost their faces. Families identified them by their clothes. Families clawed at rubble and concrete, trying to dislodge relatives who had died weeks before”.

Europe, Russia And Collective Defense (29 Jan 2009)

Is Europe missing a great opportunity to position itself, finally, on the world’s stage? Is its euphoria brought about by Obama’s outstretched hand over the Atlantic so overwhelming that it smothers, once again, any critical thought? If so, this means that the bad spirits of the just departed George W. Bush regime continue to linger and continue to encumber Europe-United States relations. It means that yet another opportunity to overcome European infantilism will be allowed to pass by. “Without America nothing works” is the inherited slogan that reveals the often panicky separation anxiety among European politicians and pundits. This anxiety has for decades made them blind and deaf for new chances, for a needed fundamental change that puts in the shade what the new American president appears to have in mind.