EU Defense (Doctrine)EU diplomacyInterview

[Interview] The time when a country could solve crises alone is over (Javier Solana)

Javier Solana at the informal council of defense ministers in Gothenburg (© NGV /B2)
Javier Solana at the informal council of defense ministers in Gothenburg (© NGV /B2)

(B2) The High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana was kind enough to confide his thoughts on current international developments to a few journalists gathered for a training seminar. Impressions…

• France officially announced its decision to rejoin NATO commands. Its president Nicolas Sarkozy justifies it as a step forward for European Defense? Do you share this point of view?

Javier Solana – Yes. This will create a climate of trust between all member states of the EU and NATO. Doubts about a possible “hidden agenda” of France will be erased. I think this opens up relations with NATO member states which are not members of the Union. This will also make it possible to move forward on European defense issues. Especially since, at the same time, we have another positive element on the American side. An American Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) who spends 3 days in Brussels to meet all the interlocutors is new. All this creates another atmosphere for acting at the international level. In Afghanistan, in the Balkans, in the Middle East, on climate change, energy…. We are in a global crisis situation, it is fundamental to find a global solution with the United States, China, Russia.

• If there was only one point to remember for 2009, on which you would like progress, what would it be?

JS – I would like to see the situation progress in the Middle East. It is not easy. There are still intra-Palestinian, inter-Arab problems. And on the Israeli side, we have to wait for the government to be formed. But I have some hopes. There was this important meeting in Riyadh, with Syria, Egypt (March 11). And at the end of the month, the Arab League meets. It is important. For peace, Israeli-Arab reconciliation is essential. But so is an Arab initiative. In the Middle East, peace is not a matter of days. We must therefore persevere, make every effort to push for this solution.

• In Afghanistan, Europe is engaged with the Americans. What more can she bring? Military forces, another solution?

JS – Afghanistan is a great responsibility for everyone. We must act constructively. Americans are realistic. They know perfectly well that the Europeans will not be able to double the military forces that we have already sent to the field. But there are other issues on which we can work, in a more coordinated way, to achieve a more real change in the situation. The question of police reform, the construction of a judicial system, the reconstruction of the country... Here are some of the tasks where Europe has a role to play.

• We cannot stay indefinitely. What could be the exit door?

JS – We need to set goals more realistically than creating a Swiss Afghanistan. We must stick to reality: make Afghanistan a stable country, capable of living with its neighbors, with sufficient elements of democracy. And we must then let the Afghans choose the way they want to live their future. The important thing is to have this stability and free elections. For this, we must involve the entire region. We all meet again in The Hague at the end of March for a first meeting.

• Is this meeting in The Hague a first at all levels for that matter?

JS – Yes. This is the first time where all the regional and international players will be there. Not only the countries of the European Union and NATO, but all the countries of the region: those of Central Asia, India and Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China. This meeting will review the problems: security, drug trafficking, the question of borders, the central government. We must prepare for the elections, and for the post-election period. We must encourage all countries that have historical relations with Afghanistan towards the future. Without stability in Pakistan, there will be no stability in Afghanistan.

• Isn't there a risk of being dragged into Pakistan?

JS – We need to add countries to the solution. Not the problem. The situation in Pakistan cannot be confused with that in Afghanistan. Pakistan is a structured state. But do you really think that the problems between Pakistan and India are not as important as the Taliban issue? The discussion around Afghanistan, of a regional nature, could also be an opportunity for India and Pakistan to resolve, or attempt to resolve, historical problems in a constructive manner... We today have two possibilities: either the leave them alone, or try to see together what the possibilities are to find a solution. I only see one solution: get involved. If India and Pakistan move forward, even a little, it will be a major step for the stability of the region. If China gets involved, we will have more possibilities to act. This is the issue…

• Russia, China, you don't stop crossing borders…

JS – Yes because we have problems of a horizontal nature. For example, on the climate or the economic crisis – where we need China; disarmament and nuclear agreements – we need Russia. This year 2009 will be important for the question of armaments. The Start agreements are renewed by the end of the year. Negotiations must begin as quickly as possible. We must make every effort to move this issue forward. The problems we have today are global in nature, the solutions are global in nature. One country cannot solve all the world's problems. The time when a single country could solve global problems is over.

• Does this imply a new era of international relations?

JS – We need to change mentalities, better share our decisions with emerging countries with whom until now, it must be admitted, we have had relations of lower quality. At the G20 meeting at the beginning of April (in London), there will be no possible solution to the economic crisis if the other countries do not commit. The world has changed in many ways. Starting with an objective fact: the Western world today represents barely a sixth of the world's population. And, in twenty years, this proportion will be even lower. The world will change and we must adapt.

• Another subject, Sudan. In retaliation for his indictment by the International Criminal Court, Sudanese President Bechir expelled NGOs from Darfur. As a result, people find themselves without help. And the president strengthened. Are we not going against our objective? Is the international community not disarmed?

JS – Our position is clear, we strongly condemn the expulsion of NGOs. And we support the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC). We (the European Union) are a group of countries that initiated the ICC. We think and continue to think that this is good news, even if several countries, for example on the other side of the Atlantic, do not share this view. We should be proud to have worked for this. Now we must make legal decisions taking into account the political consequences of these decisions.

• That is to say ?

JS – We must ensure that the citizens of Sudan do not suffer. We must succeed in making law and politics compatible. We work in conjunction with the United Nations. Some organizations remain on site as well as UN agencies.

• The African Union and China, however, have requested the postponement of the decision? Will this decision, should it be reviewed?

JS – He is the first head of state in office to be indicted by the International Court, it is not easy, it is logical. But we must not turn back. The Court’s decision must be upheld. In any case, according to the Court's statutes, only a unanimous Security Council resolution can force the Court to suspend proceedings. And currently there is not this unanimity…. At the same time, it is difficult to enforce it by force. We must therefore maintain the pressure. The president of the African Union goes to Khartoum to put all the African pressure on. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, very important countries, will also act.

• Let's return to “small” European affairs. The Lisbon Treaty is still not ratified? And yet Europe is moving forward? How will this new Treaty really change things? Is it still as necessary?

JS – Of course. If we had waited for the Lisbon Treaty, we would have done nothing. But with the Lisbon Treaty, we would be in a much more advantageous situation. For foreign policy, this new Treaty brings two essential advances: a stable presidency of the Council of Foreign Ministers and a common External Action service. Between yesterday and tomorrow, it's day and night. Imagine an American or Russian politician who has to change contacts every six months. How many European interlocutors will George W. Bush have had during his eight years in power? With this Treaty, the EU will be more credible and better represented externally. This is why I say: ratify, ratify….

• Are you hopeful for this Irish referendum to which everyone is hanging?

JS – Yes. In all likelihood, the referendum in Ireland could take place in October, mid-October. And I have confidence in the Irish. If all goes well, we could therefore count on entry into force on 1er January 2010.

• Are you an optimist by nature?

JS – I am realistic. It's life.

(Comments collected by Nicolas Gros-Verheyde in March 2009)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).