Jerusalem Post


EU arms embargo: Guns and poses

29 March 2005

By: Per Ahlmark, The Jerusalem Post

When European unification was launched, it was thought that "ever closer union" would establish a community that would protect Europeans from political blackmail. Now we see though the lifting of the European Union's arms embargo may now be delayed thanks to US pressure and Chinese aggressiveness that the union has become merely a tool of corruption when France and China draw up joint action plans.

The strategy is simple and ruthless. The world's largest dictatorship is preparing to crush and occupy the first Chinese democracy in history Taiwan. In order to do so, the People's Republic needs much more sophisticated arms than those it possesses today.

The United States naturally does not export such arms to China. Instead, the US is trying to deter China's rulers from launching a military attack on the democrats in Taiwan. But if the EU ever begins to offer China extensive exports of powerful and offensive weapons systems, the military power of the People's Liberation Army will be able to defeat Taiwan's defense forces. Over 600 missiles, already deployed on the mainland, are aimed at cities and military bases on the island.

The threat is more apparent than real for now. Russia currently sells certain arms to China, but avoids exporting its most sophisticated systems since the Kremlin views China as a potential future threat. However, if EU countries start competing for a share of the Chinese market, the Russians could soon be tempted to sell their best arms to the communist regime in Beijing.

China's new armaments, together with the North Korean crisis, will probably force half a dozen countries in the region to renew their armed forces. Thus, by whenever the EU should decide to lift its ban on weapons exports to China, it could help fuel an arms race in East Asia.

How did China and France manage to fool the EU into thinking that it should ever take part in this? When Jacques Chirac's government decided to expound its economic cooperation with China, arms became an important component in the strategy. Just as a ruthless prime minister Chirac sold a nuclear reactor to Saddam Hussein in the 1970s, so today's President Chirac is being lured into doing big business with another aggressive dictatorship.

The rest is a question of economic blackmail. French diplomats have of course informed China about the reluctance of other European countries about lifting the arms embargo, which was imposed after the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989. China then simply threatened to abandon or never to conclude trade deals with these EU members.

To the Germans, the Chinese probably murmur something about Siemens and Volkswagen. To the Dutch their whispers are most likely about Philips. China follows the power game within the EU through its French friends, and therefore knows which governments need to be whipped into line. In Sweden, it has probably been enough to whisper "Ericsson" and "Volvo" to make Primer Minister G ran Persson understand what is at stake for his country commercially.

What European nation, indeed, dares to put at risk a Chinese order for several billion euros?

Typically enough, no EU-country has mentioned Taiwan as a reason not to resume arms exports. Instead, the EU talks of a "code of conduct" (which probably does not mean very much, but sounds nice) and "free trade" (another charming euphemism for arms exports to dictatorships.

This silence gives a hideous signal. For what the EU in practice says to China is this: "Taiwan's cause is not our own." If and when the union lifts the embargo, Europe will be refusing to take responsibility for the catastrophe that may be approaching. As usual, it is up to America to protect a free nation that may otherwise be destroyed.

Compare this situation to the drama 60 years ago. Then it was American troops and arms that liberated Western Europe from Nazism. Now it may be European arms in the hands of the Chinese that will be aimed at American troops protecting a democracy with 23 million inhabitants (as many people as in all the Nordic countries combined).

As Tom Lantos, a Democratic US Congressman from California, put it, the move to lift the ban on arms exports to China clearly shows that the EU has "lost its moral compass." Lantos knows about moral compasses: as a boy, he was rescued by Raoul Wallenberg from being deported to Auschwitz by the Nazis in Budapest.

Wallenberg was a Swede. But now Sweden is revealing that it, too, lacks political morality.

Several friends of mine in the Conservative party's parliamentary group have long been engaged in supporting a free Taiwan. Over the past 10 years, we have held Scandinavian conferences on Taiwan in the parliaments in Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm. But a call from Prime Minister Persson was enough to render Conservative party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt docile. Persson had discovered that he lacked a majority in the Swedish parliament to lift the arms embargo on China. By whispering "Ericsson" into Reinfeldt's ear, it seems, Persson achieved the desired result. Reinfeldt became the first Conservative party leader in Swedish history to encourage arms exports to a communist dictatorship.

But Reinfeldt, like Jacques Chirac, has forgotten something. Liberal-minded people may very well prefer not just to exchange one cynical prime minister for another at the next election. They may prefer a clear choice.

The writer is a former deputy prime minister of Sweden