25 May 2004

Bigger and better?

On 1 May the European Union increased from 15 countries to 25, its surface area by a quarter and its population by one fifth, to 450 million. The new kids on the block are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

It's now the world's biggest single market, in population terms, though the North American Free Trade Agreement (surprise surprise) will have greater economic might.

Supporters of enlargement say this is 'an historic opportunity to unite Europe peacefully after generations of division and conflict'.

They would say that wouldn't they, but the last Euro-generated conflict killed millions worldwide and it was post-war progressive economic union that began to heal long-festering wounds. If tabloid coverage is to be believed EU members fight like cats and dogs but these quarrels hardly show up on the Richter scale compared with the violent antagonisms of yesteryear.

So what about us, the more seasoned members? The experts are wary of predictions.

Northern Ireland has done very well thank you from EU funding – the Republic even better ­– but attention will shift to the new members who will enjoy a net gain of an estimated 67 billion euros over the next 6 years.

Will there be an influx of immigrant workers? That's the big emotional question.

Tony Blair has acted with break-neck speed (at the eleventh hour) to reduce numbers heading for the UK but nobody really knows how the migration of workers will develop Europe-wide – ironically, migration is one of the high-minded aims behind the whole community idea.

Will there be any more expansion?

Norway is not enthusiastic. Switzerland not interested. But the lesser economies are screaming to join. I wonder why!

Bulgaria and Romania are on course for 2007. Turkey's case will be assessed next year.

Croatia and Macedonia have officially applied while the other Balkan countries have all been promised membership if and when they fulfil the political and economic conditions.
Ukraine or Moldova and further east will seek inclusion.

One gigantic happy family?

At what point will the EU become too big? Even with 25 members round the table and 735 seats in the Euro parliament the infamous bureaucracy of Brussels may soon hit gridlock.

Mind you, for sheer density of non-functional elected members per head of population, nobody, but nobody, will get within an ass's roar of Stormont.

18 May 2004

What if . . . ?

The decision to invade Iraq was based on the expectation that the military phase would be over within a few days – ‘shock and awe’ was the experts’ resonant phrase. That was the first thing to go slightly wrong.

But what if the strategists had looked into the future – that’s what they are actually paid to do ­– ­ and had concluded that, 14 months on, the fighting would have settled into a vicious shambles and that casualties would steadily rise?

What if they had known that, apart from ‘collateral damage’, thousands of Iraqi civilians would be killed – not that anybody is bothering to produce accurate data?

(We know it’s very unhelpful – and allegedly unpatriotic – to publish pictures of all those flag-draped coffins – but grieving families are entitled to have a different view, are they not?)

What if the strategists had reckoned that the ‘liberators’ would be seen more as occupiers?

What if they had known that no weapons of mass destruction actually existed?

What if they had understood that the danger of international terrorist attack would actually increase?

What if they had prophesied that senior uniformed Iraqi Army officers would be called in to solve serious law-and-order problems beyond the capabilities of the Coalition generals?

What if they had admitted that the Coalition had no exit strategy?

What if they had reckoned that there would be an increase in internal religious discord and an emergence of new demagogues?

What if they had known that troops would mistreat their prisoners and that appallingly graphic evidence would have world-wide circulation?

What if they had calculated that hatred towards the US and UK would intensify world-wide – the latest excesses having generated probably the greatest anti-American passions of all time?

What if they had foreseen that senior US Army officers would hint to the media that they did not understand the reason for the war?

Well Mr Bush and Mr Rumsfeld and our own Mr Blair . . . a lot of tiresome, softy, lefty, crypto-liberal, peace-loving, strangely sensible people did warn of these outcomes, but some events have taken even them by surprise.

So gentlemen, the big question is, had you known of even half of these possibilities, would you have sent the troops in?

Please don’t try to persuade us that the answer would still be YES.

11 May 2004

Once all the facts are out

When the SARS epidemic broke out the Chinese government's first priority was to protect its own position by suppressing the facts. The result was that the epidemic spread. It was only when the truth came out and when cooperation developed on an impressive scale, that the problem was contained. That, and a fair measure of luck.

The problem of international terrorism is infinitely worse and there is growing evidence that the White House discounted warnings from experts. Richard Clarke, a former National Security Adviser, has given evidence to the Independent Commission on Terrorist Attacks alleging that warnings about al-Qaeda were ignored. One has to be a little wary of whistle blowers – his book will sell well and there are reports of a film deal. But his words to the families of the 9/11 victims are impressive:

'Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you and I failed you. For that failure, I would ask, once all the facts are out, for your understanding and for your forgiveness.'

Compare that with Dr Condoleeza Rice. Her main point was that there was a lot of useless intelligence 'chatter' and she gave some rather whimsical examples. She did not refer to receiving Clarke's memo of 25 January 2001, proposing measures to deal with al-Qaeda and to her telling him to take his concerns elsewhere.

Those concerns reached Cabinet level just 5 days before 9/11. He then sent Dr Rice a letter urging policy-makers 'to imagine a day after hundreds of Americans lay dead at home and abroad after a terrorist attack and ask themselves what else they could have done'.

Since the assault on Afghanistan, al-Qaeda has scattered worldwide and become more elusive and potentially more effective. It has been reconstructed as a franchise operation – 'al-qaeda' simply means 'base'. The Coalition's response was to attack Iraq on the thinnest of evidence that there was an al-Qaeda link. That action delivered a short-lived political feel-good result but its actual effect has been to swell al-Qaeda's depleted ranks with new recruits and offshoot organisations.

So the facts have yet to come out, coalition governments (Spain the notable exception) remain in a self-protecting frame of mind. International cooperation has yet to be developed. We shall all need a slice of luck.

No successful terrorist strike has been made against Britain so far but it will not be for al-Qaeda's want of trying.