The Guardian, Comment is free, David Cronin, 8 July 2009. The 10-year term of the EU’s foreign policy chief has been marked by warmongering and lack of principle
Few sights and sounds can be more nauseating than those of politicians paying tribute to each other. I fear, then, that my stomach will not be able to cope this autumn when Javier Solana steps down as the European Union’s foreign policy chief. For it almost certain that his departure will be marked by an orgy of backslapping as dignitaries queue up to praise him for turning the EU into a serious player in international diplomacy.
With his avuncular air and his unerring ability to make people feel sorry for him (God knows how many times I’ve heard remarks about how tired he looks), the Spaniard has brilliantly camouflaged his true record as a warmonger. Before his decade working for the EU began, he had already been comfortably ensconced in Brussels as Nato’s secretary general. There, he literally left his old job with a (distant) bang by overseeing the bombing of Serbia in 1999, which left about 500 civilians dead, according to Human Rights Watch, and the use of cluster bombs by Britain and the US, which caused horrific injuries. By doing this without a UN mandate, he helped to create a precedent whereby a spurious definition of humanitarianism was used to resort to force. Less than four years later, George W Bush invoked the core tenets of the underlying doctrine to attack Iraq.
In a widely quoted interview he gave to the Financial Times in early 2003, Solana appeared to vent his frustration at how the US had turned into a theocracy under Bush and Dick Cheney. Their religious fundamentalism was difficult for Europeans to deal with “because we are secular”, he noted.
By apparently creating some distance between himself and Washington, few noticed the level of support he gave for the US invasion of Iraq soon afterwards. When Colin Powell presented false evidence to the UN security council on Saddam Hussein’s alleged links weapons programme and link to al-Qaida, Solana declared himself completely satisfied with his American buddy. “Its content and also the way it was presented were very solid,” was how Solana lauded Powell’s work of fiction.
The full extent of Solana’s relationship with the arms industry has similarly escaped the spotlight. Occasionally, he has even sounded like the peace activist he once was (as a student, he marched against the Vietnam war). In 2007, he spoke of how western countries spend $1,000bn each year on the military and the arms industry, yet less than $100bn on fighting poverty. “Is there not a margin there for a certain rebalancing?” he asked.
That margin certainly exists but it is becoming increasingly slender thanks to the activities of the European defence agency, which Solana heads (in one of his several overlapping roles). Established following intense campaigning (pdf) by Europe’s three largest defence firms – BAE Systems, Thales and EADS – this official EU body has been given an explicit mandate by the Lisbon treaty to pressurise governments into raising their defence budgets at a time when they are slashing those for health and education. Determined to do its bit for the industry in these difficult economic circumstances, the agency’s website provides arms companies with all the information they need on how to win government contracts; its “long-term vision“, meanwhile, emphasises that if Europe is to sustain a “globally competitive” defence industry it must address how the US is outspending it “six to one” on inventing new weapons.
When he is not accumulating air miles, Solana regularly shoots the breeze with those characters who trade in instruments of death. He is a patron, for example, of Security and Defence Agenda, a thinktank funded by the arms industry with the aim of forging a consensus around the “need” for higher military spending.
Announcing his decision not to seek another term, Solana spoke of how “extraordinary things” had been achieved by his team over the past decade. The evolution of the EU from a purely civilian to a military power is indeed extraordinary. The views of those who have assisted him in this makeover are also repugnant; Robert Cooper, a former adviser to Tony Blair, has been one of the key intellectual figures that Solana has relied on. Cooper has written that the world is desperate for a “new form of imperialism” to sort out its ills (he displays an incomplete grasp of how the old form of imperialism created many of those problems in the first place).
In Solana’s case, the old cliche that if you carry a hammer, everything looks like a nail has rarely seemed more apt. A strategy paper (pdf) that he issued last year on the security implications of climate change recommended that the union should endeavour to safeguard its access to the Arctic. In the process this could remove any obstacles that western oil companies encountered in scooping up the Arctic’s natural resources. No more than lip-service was paid to the region’s ecological vulnerability.
“Make no enemies and never ask a question to which you do not know or like the answer.” That is how Solana has summarised his approach to diplomacy. “Make no enemies” is another way of saying “have no principles”, if the destructive agenda he has followed is anything to go by. Can someone tell me the Spanish for good riddance?