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  European Viewpoint



Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security adviser to U.S. President Jimmy Carter. His latest book is "The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership" (2004). He spoke with European Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on Tuesday, June 14.

By Zbigniew Brzezinski

Nathan Gardels: How detrimental to Europe's role in the world were the recent votes in France and the Netherlands against the proposed European Union Constitution?

Zbigniew Brzezinski: It is detrimental in the short run. But the long-run significance should not be overestimated.

Because the draft constitution read like the contract for a credit card, few Europeans actually looked at it. It was ridiculous to call it a constitution. In reality, it was a treaty between 25 different states dealing with a lot of minute technicalities.

Had the constitution been presented as a statement of the basic rights and privileges of citizens living in a free community, and defining who the overall authorities are and how they are chosen, it would have had a much better chance of passing.

I'm afraid the technocratic bent of European leaders ended up hoisting them on their own petard. They were politically insensitive, but also sloppy in their approach.

The result is detrimental to Europe because it brings to the surface the reality that there is no single Europe politically — yet. But that reality has been operative for the last several years, ever since the Germans and French adopted their own position opposing the Iraq war while the British chose to support the U.S. publicly, uncritically and in total, often whispering advice that was totally ignored by the Bush administration.

But in the long run, the structure of Europe is still there. The process goes on.

In sum, we shouldn't over-interpret the "no" vote. At the same time, we need to be realistic: A politically united Europe is sometime off. Neither the British nor the Germans nor the French public are willing to coalesce to a degree that would permit Europe to speak with a weighty voice about global issues.

Gardels: Now that public confidence in the European project is shaken, won't that also have a detrimental impact in the long run by slowing down, if not ending altogether, the chance of accession of countries like Ukraine and Turkey?

Brzezinski: That could be the case, but here I think we need some perspective. Neither Turkey nor the Ukraine was likely to be a member of the European Union before sometime in the next decade. A lot will change in that decade. So, there is no point at this stage either excluding Turkey or Ukraine permanently or making premature binding promises when both countries have to do a lot to qualify for membership.

If Turkey and Ukraine want to join, they must keep doing what they are doing to qualify. The Europeans should not prejudge issues that won't be decided for years to come. They should focus on their more immediate problems, perhaps adopting a less ambitious, symbolic constitution that reflects the degree of consensus that actually exists.

Gardels: As Europe stalls politically, China is rising fast. How will that affect Europe's relative role in the world?

Brzezinski: China is preeminent regionally. But it, too, has a long way to go to be a global power. It has a retarded infrastructure; by 2020 it will have 400 million people over 65 years old. Among the other enormous domestic problems is the uncertainty over how its political system will adapt to increasing social pluralism and the emergence of a large middle class.

It is certainly counterproductive for the U.S. to point a finger at China as a rival. It is not justified and runs the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Because of interest in energy, China will become a significant player in the Middle East. It already affects U.S. calculations on Iran. We can't act without taking into account the Chinese reaction.

By contrast, the absence of a unified political direction in Europe means that its voice on issues quite germane to its own interest — for example Iran — is not likely to be heard as loudly and clearly as it could be, and should be.

Gardels: Might Europe attain a greater voice by Germany getting a seat on the U.N. Security Council?

Brzezinski: It would give Germany a voice, but adding a German voice to the French and British ones on the Security Council wouldn't be any more of a European voice unless there is more consensus among those powers than there is today.

It is strange for the U.S. to be supporting Japan for the Security Council, but not Germany. After all, the logic is the same. We should either support both or neither.

Certainly, there needs to be more symmetry in the Council that would reflect power realities — in this case the importance of Japan or Germany or India, just to name those three. But you can be damn sure that those who are in the Council today will do everything they can to keep those who are out, out.

(c) 2004, EUROPEAN Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services INC.
For immediate release (Distributed 6/14/05)