Executive Summary: British and European Responses to the Proposed U.S. Military Action Against Iraq

Report Middle East

Executive Summary: British and European Responses to the Proposed U.S. Military Action Against Iraq

April 1, 2002 4 min read Download Report
Nile Gardiner
Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow
Nile Gardiner is Director of The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow.

As the Bush Administration contemplates taking military action against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, the United States is looking to the British government for military, strategic, and diplomatic support. President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are due to hold a summit meeting in Crawford, Texas, on April 5-7 to discuss possible joint action against Iraq in what will be one of the most important tests of the Anglo-U.S. "special relationship" since World War II. The White House should be fully aware of the dominant factors that bear upon a British commitment of military, strategic, and diplomatic support for such a war. For example:

  • To support the U.S. position on fighting a war with Iraq, Blair must be convinced that such a war is winnable, that Saddam can be ousted, and that a viable opposition can then take power. Tony Blair faces strong opposition from members of his own Cabinet and the Labour Party, the military chiefs, and much of the British media with respect to British participation in a U.S. war against Iraq.
  • Blair faces extreme pressure from the European Commission and other European Union (EU) member states to stay out of such a war. European leaders have expressed unease at Britain's support for the United States, a reflection of the fact that the European Union resents the Bush-Blair friendship and the immense power wielded by the U.S.-British alliance. In the war against terrorism, the EU (like the United Nations) has been sidelined. The EU may try to act as a peace broker in the lead-up to a war, applying pressure on London and Washington to seek a negotiated settlement with Iraq through the U.N. It will seek to pressure Blair into acting as a moderating influence on Washington in order to weaken what it perceives as a purely English-speaking alliance.

Blair's Support.
Downing Street has indicated that Tony Blair is strongly considering not only full support for a war against Saddam Hussein, but also British involvement in such a war. Officials at the Ministry of Defence are reportedly studying feasibility plans for the deployment of up to 25,000 military personnel to take part in a possible ground offensive against Baghdad. Blair understands that Britain's position as a leading global power (as opposed to a superpower), greatly enhanced since September 11, rests heavily on its role as a partner with the United States in the "special relationship."

Opposition in Parliament.
The United States should be under no illusions that the New Labour party led by Tony Blair fully shares his pro-American stance. For much of its history, Labour has been a socialist party hostile to many aspects of U.S. foreign policy, ranging from the bombing of Libya in 1986 to the deployment of nuclear weapons on British soil.

While the Labour Party has undergone a dramatic metamorphosis since Blair took over as leader, it has retained a hard rump of left-wingers on its back benches who are fundamentally opposed to the ideas of the Bush Administration. The vast majority of Labour Members of Parliament have no instinctive sympathy for U.S. foreign policy goals, particularly those of the current U.S. government. National missile defense, foreign aid, global warming, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and the International Criminal Court are all areas of contention between New Labour and the current Republican Administration. Several Cabinet ministers have shared the concerns of left-wing Labour MPs and have been highly critical of aspects of recent U.S. policy. Over 130 MPs (most of them Labour), including four Labour ex-Ministers, have signed a House of Commons motion expressing "deep unease" at Blair's support for America over Iraq.

The European Reaction.
Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, also has expressed concern about U.S. military action against Iraq and has indicated that the EU is likely to oppose a U.S.-led attack. Tony Blair has found himself increasingly isolated within Europe over his support for America. At the Barcelona EU summit in March 2002, he failed to drum up support for possible U.S. action against Iraq and encountered strong opposition in some quarters. Speaking at the summit, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder announced that Germany had abandoned its policy of "unlimited solidarity" with Washington, which had been implemented following the events of September 11. France's opposition to proposed U.S.-U.K. military action is even more hostile than Germany's, with President Bush's use of the term "axis of evil" drawing fierce condemnation from Paris.

It is highly likely that Britain will join the United States in taking military action against Iraq should Saddam Hussein continue to pursue programs to acquire weapons of mass destruction, but its support is by no means certain. The Prime Minister must be convinced that a war with Iraq can be won, that Saddam can be successfully removed from power, and that a stable opposition government can take his place. Blair realizes that a flawed campaign that fails to oust Saddam and results in large numbers of civilian casualties would lead to his own downfall within the Labour Party. He faces strong opposition within his own government and party. He is staking his reputation on supporting the United States in an expanded war against terrorism, and backing off that support would be seen as a major display of weakness.

Tony Blair also will come under increasing pressure from the European Commission and from EU member states, particularly France and Germany, to refrain from taking military action against Iraq. The EU may well attempt to use its opposition to an Iraq conflict as a vehicle for projecting its influence on the global stage. Opposition to an Iraq war could also serve as a convenient rallying cry for anti-Americans in the EU who resent the United States for its position on a range of issues, from the Kyoto Protocol to missile defense. Thus, for the Bush Administration, Tony Blair's continuing support for the U.S. plan is growing in importance.

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is a Visiting Fellow at The Heritage Foundation


Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow