The Bush-Blair Summit: Iraq, the U.N., and the Future of Europe

Report Middle East

The Bush-Blair Summit: Iraq, the U.N., and the Future of Europe

March 26, 2003 5 min read

Authors: Nile Gardiner and John Hulsman

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will meet today with President George W. Bush at Camp David. They will undoubtedly discuss the progress made by coalition forces in the war for Iraq, and the impending battle for Baghdad. The main purpose of the meeting though will be to shape the future of a post-war Iraq, and possibly even the future of Europe.

There will be some disagreements between the two leaders, particularly over the extent of United Nations involvement in a post-war administration, and the need for a U.N. Security Council mandate. However, it is imperative that the White House and Downing Street remain united in their determination to liberate the Iraqi people, and that the Anglo-US special relationship remain the cornerstone of long-term strategic thinking in Washington and London.

British Role in Post-War Security Force
President Bush is likely to ask Britain to play a lead role in post-war security operations in Iraq. Britain has deployed 45,000 combat troops to the Gulf, thousands of whom are at the forefront of military action against the Iraqi regime. Downing Street has already discussed the possibility of 15,000 British troops remaining in Iraq after the downfall of the Baathist regime. They would join up to 40,000 other coalition forces (mainly American), and would be charged with the securing of large cities, the defence of borders, and the protection of Kurdish areas. Other key roles would include the protection of Iraq' s energy infrastructure and the hunt for weapons of mass destruction and terrorist cells.

There is a strong case to be made for Britain taking the command of the security element of a post-war force, under the overall command of General Tommy Franks. The British have a broad and highly successful record of non-combat operations in a number of theatres across the globe, including Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Northern Ireland, and would be ideally suited to running the highly complex post-war Iraq security operation. The British have an in-depth knowledge of Iraq and the region, and have close diplomatic and historical ties with much of the Arab world. A British-led military operation would be less likely to inflame tensions and complicate Bush Administration plans for democratization in the Middle East. In addition, it would allow the United States to free up much-needed resources to other parts of the world for the wider war against terrorism.

U.N. and Post-War Iraq
The key issue of contention between the British and American leaders will be over the role of the United Nations in the future of Iraq. Blair has already signalled his support for seeking a U.N. mandate for a transitional U.S. and British-led Iraqi administration. The White House has so far demonstrated no enthusiasm for such a course of action.

It is imperative that there is no public spat between Washington and London over this issue. There must be no open divide which would aid the cause of opponents of the coalition's military action against Iraq. The Bush Administration must privately put across the view that it would be a grave error to return to the U.N. to seek yet another resolution on the Iraq question. If Britain and America were to do so, the two powers could become mired in endless negotiations at the Security Council, debating nations that would happily have kept Saddam Hussein in power. The ultimate losers would be the Iraqi people themselves.

President Bush should make it clear that there is no need for further discussions at the U.N. Indeed, the role of the United Nations in a post-war Iraq should be limited to purely humanitarian involvement. The U.N. should play a subordinate role on the Iraq issue, with the United States and Great Britain taking the lead in administering a post-war Iraqi transition government. U.N. intervention in a post-Saddam Iraq would merely strengthen the hand of those nations who have opposed even the principle of regime change in Baghdad, and which have appeased the Iraqi dictatorship for decades: notably France, Germany and Russia. It is important for the future of the Iraqi people that Paris, Moscow and Berlin play no significant part in the creation of the new Iraqi state.

U.S.-European Relations
Blair has emphasized that U.S.-European relations will be high on the agenda of today' s summit. Britain is seen as the natural leader of the New Europe' , working in alliance with Italy and Spain, at the head of a group of 18 pro-American nations across the continent. The fact that leaders from Vilnius to Prague are backing President Bush' s stance on Iraq owes everything to Britain' s leadership in Europe in recent months. It is the British Prime Minister, with the help of Jose Maria Aznar, who has crafted the broad-based international coalition now lining up to confront the Iraqi regime.

For the first time in the past half-century, Franco-German hegemony in continental Europe is being eroded. France and Germany now represent the minority view in Europe, and President Chirac' s astonishing outburst against EU applicant nations was borne of resentment and frustration at Paris' s new-found impotence.

There is a striking correlation between the pro-federalist voices in Europe and those who oppose American power on the world stage. It is vital that the European Union does not become a rallying point for global anti-Americanism. As such, it will be in the interests of the United States to seek to weaken the federalist instincts of Berlin and Paris, and strengthen the hand of those European governments opposed to the concept of a highly centralized Europe.

In the years ahead there will be increasing calls in Washington for a Europe of independent nation states, held together not by an artificial constitution and undemocratic government, but by the principles of free trade, individual liberty and national identity. Britain, by virtue of Tony Blair' s farsighted diplomatic support for America, has assured itself of the primary role in driving this new vision of Europe, which in the end will best suit the many diverse citizens of the continent.

As a consequence of Prime Minister Blair' s standing shoulder to shoulder with President Bush since September 11, British prestige and power on the world stage has been immeasurably enhanced. Great Britain is viewed unquestionably by Washington as its most important ally, politically, strategically and militarily and is seen as the keystone of the coalition of the willing formed to unseat Saddam Hussein. The British Prime Minister is able to wield more influence in Washington than the leaders of France, Germany and Russia combined.

The current division in Europe offers London and Washington a rare opportunity to shape the destiny of the continent. The debate over Iraq is as much about the future of Europe as it is about the future of the Middle East. What we are witnessing today is a battle for the heart and soul of the European continent.

With the support of the Spaniards, Poles and other nations of Eastern and Central Europe about to enter the European Union, America and Britain must present a new vision for Europe. The grandiose dream of a united federal Europe, so beloved of French and German strategists, must be firmly rejected. In its place, Washington and London must call for a flexible Europe, united by a common heritage and culture, but which maintains the principle of national sovereignty at its core.

Nile Gardiner is Visiting Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy, and John Hulsman is Research Fellow in European Affairs, at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.


Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

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

John Hulsman

Former Senior Research Fellow