The Meaning of Friendship

It seems that the only thing worse than being an enemy of the US is being a close friend and ally

They say that the first casualty of war is the truth. No doubt the second is democracy. The run-up to war in Iraq is a case in point, and demonstrates clearly that aside from brutal dictators with weapons of mass destruction, what really angers US policy makers are countries that adhere to democratic norms. For those with little economic might or political influence, not to mention weak democratic institutions and traditions, the latest scuffle between the US and Europe within the security council has left its mark. In particular, for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe it has had an averse effect.

Most governments, against the will of their people, pledged their support for US policy in Iraq. Yet in some countries, public pressure has been too strong. In Turkey, for instance, over 90% of the population are against US military action against Iraq. Thus, despite bribes of several billions of dollars, the parliament had refused to give permission to the American military to use its territory for an attack.

Despite this, the US nevertheless transported arms and munitions to the country "for its defense". Not only this, it has moved this hardware to points close to the Iraq border for obvious use in a military strike, even though the Turkish government had not given official permission. No doubt when the shooting starts, the US will take advantage of its position within the country regardless of what Turks may feel. In other words, Turkey has no say in the matter; it would be nice to get official co-operation, but if there isn't any, so be it.

This self-serving attitude, which has played out in the UN, has also been applied to other so-called friends and allies in the area. Hungary is another prime example of how the US will do what it wants when it wants, whether the country agrees or not.

At the end of February, when the US began moving supplies to Turkey for its war against Iraq, the various countries of Central and Eastern Europe were given a request under the auspices of NATO to allow the shipments to transit their countries. This included the use of their air space as well.

All countries without hesitation agreed -- except for Hungary. Although the government also acquiesced to US demands, the opposition held up giving official permission. Since parliamentary approval is necessary, and that the government was in need of opposition support to grant such permission, approval of the US request was delayed.

It's hard to say for certain what the ulterior motive was behind the opposition's delay. It's interesting to note, however, that the same party now in opposition was the governing party during the Kosovo war of 2000. Then, the party didn't see eye to eye with American strategists who wanted to use Hungary as a launching pad against Serbia. As a result, American officials have been skeptical of certain parties and politicians within Hungary, and welcomed with open arms its former cold war rivals when they assumed power in 2002.

The governments of Central and Eastern Europe are subservient to the White House

Still, in a democracy it's not enough that your man (or woman) is sitting in the driver's seat -- especially if their level of control isn't absolute. So as the political parties bickered over the US request, the Americans decided to take matters into its own hands.

The US violated Hungarian air space by flying over six helicopters and a c-136 refueling plane. Earlier the US claimed that the helicopters and plane were part of a contingent bound for Afghanistan, but it later turned out that they ended up at the Romanian port of Constance, where the US is further stockpiling munitions and equipment in its war against Iraq. When confronted with the incident, the Americans made an offhand apology and the Hungarian government gave a so-called "strong reprimand" to the Americans, but then the incident was duly forgotten.

It's no exaggeration to say that the governments of Central and Eastern Europe are subservient to the White House, ready and willing to dance toWashington's tune. The Hungarian defense minister summed up this role when responding to the issue of unauthorised US flights over Hungary: "opposition parties can monitor governments, but not NATO." Not surprisingly, in wake of the Hungarian air space incident, the government considered the matter closed and that there was no need for an independent inquiry. In fact, as far as the government is concerned, Hungarian sovereignty wasn't infringed when the US used the country's air space without permission.

There is no need for Hungary and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe to follow uncritically the US line on world affairs and to realign their own foreign policies to this extent. Greece provides a good example of a NATO member able to assert its own view. As with the Kosovo conflict, Greece is staying out of a US-led military adventure for obvious reasons. In the case of Iraq, it will only lend its support if it has the full backing of the UN.

Likewise, Austria also refused to dance to Washington's tune, looking to the UN as the sole authority for any military action. Unfortunately, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe missed a glorious opportunity of becoming like Austria, that is, neutral and outside of NATO. The entire region could have then acted as a ballast to US hegemony.

Sadly, the situation is otherwise, and it's clear that the US will do what it wants, whether an ally agrees or not. And most politicians, aware of their cowardice, find it more convenient to cave into American demands. This can only mean troubling times ahead for the European Union, as other countries with a longer tradition of democracy and a stronger sense of independence come into conflict with the lackeys of the US. Although it may not be enough to break the Union as it stands, the EU will indubitably become a two-tier political establishment, effectively negating its original purpose as set out in the Treaty of Rome some fifty years ago. (John Horvath)