Europe’s dilemma

Issue 23 - Jan 2009
Richard Gowan

 Given the parallels between terrorist attacks in Europe and India, New Delhi might seem the obvious partner. That isn’t always the case.

This is because Europe and India are at very different points in the arcs of their wars on terror—and take very different views on threats emerging from Pakistan as a result.

The majority of European governments, having experimented with war as a policy tool to handle terrorist-sponsoring states at the start of this decade, are now wary of it. Their preference is for stability and quiet diplomacy. They feel India’s pain after atrocities on its territory, but fear any escalation to war with Pakistan could not only do immense harm (especially if it goes nuclear) but indirectly destabilise the European home front.

The equation of international stability in South Asia with domestic stability in Europe partially explains interventions such as David Miliband’s ill-received comments favouring talks on Kashmir’s future to help reduce terrorism. The very fact that Europe and India are both vulnerable to terrorism can blind both sides to the differences in their interests.

By contrast, European leaders know relatively little about China’s interests in Pakistan—but are attracted to the idea that Beijing might quietly help change Islamabad’s behaviour. Rightly or wrongly (European pundits are apt to attribute quasi-mystical powers to Chinese diplomacy), many EU members perceive China’s low-key stance as a force for regional stability in contrast to the apparent bellicosity of India-Pakistan relations.

This contrast raises the possibility of European governments tilting towards China and accepting damage to their ties with India as the price for a solution or stasis in Pakistan. That scenario will grow more likely if NATO’s Afghan campaign continues to go awry. Nonetheless, there are still many voices in Europe in favour of deepening ties with India.

In a highly original forthcoming study for the Paris-based EU Institute for Strategic Studies, British scholar James Rogers argues that the EU should focus more on sea power—and argues that India is an essential partner for any such strategy. Mr Rogers is still some way from mainstream European policy thinking, but he is one of a new generation of EU experts who see security in Realist, far-reaching terms rather than focusing on terrorism.

For the time being, however, the decisive factor in European choices over Pakistan is likely to remain American decision-making. If the new administration can devise a regional solution to the Pakistani crisis, Europe will cheer it lustily on from the sidelines.

But on the sidelines is where Europe will remain as far as Pakistan is concerned. In retrospect, this may be marked down as an important episode in European efforts to become a post-Cold War global power. Unlike many places where the EU has intervened, from Chad to Aceh, Pakistan presents a real security problem for Europe. But it is a problem that requires an Asian answer—proof of Europe’s very limited reach

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