Skip Navigation
Preparing Europe in the Twenty-first Century: United by Terrorism, Divided by History

Preparing Europe in the Twenty-first Century: United by Terrorism, Divided by History

Michael Naumann, publisher of Die Zeit, discusses European reactions to the war on terrorism.

By Richard Gunde

You can't fight terrorism with an army. . . . It is a multifaceted phenomenon.

Michael Naumann, publisher of Die Zeit (which has been described as "Germany's largest opinion-forming weekly newspaper, with a circulation of 450,000"), and former Minister of Culture and Media (1998-2000) in the government of Gerhard Schroeder, spoke at length about why key governments, and the public, in Europe are opposed to the U.S. war on terrorism as waged by the Bush administration.

In a talk sponsored by the UCLA Center for Globalization and Policy Research of the School of Public Policy and Social Research, and by the Center for European and Eurasian Studies of the International Institute, Naumann framed his presentation in terms of "the role of the opinion of mankind toward the United States today."

We Europeans Understand You

Naumann pointed out that in the 1960s and 1970s, great numbers of Western European youth were educated in the United States. He himself, Naumann mentioned, attended high school in the town of Mexico, Missouri. Today, many of these individuals "occupy decision-making positions."

They do know America. And when they criticize the United States -- as I'm going to -- they refuse to be called "anti-American," because they take for granted what is cherished in this country: that the free expression of opinions may lead you to wrong opinions, silly opinions, but it is not -- if it is critical of the United States -- per se anti-American. . . . What is written in your Declaration of Independence and your Constitution includes respect for the opinion of mankind. How did this respect get to where it is today? A serious rift has developed between the United States and Europe, much deeper than ever before.


The Origins of the War in Iraq

Naumann argued that the origins of the 2004 War in Iraq must be traced back into history, to a point before the George W. Bush administration. Naumann went as far back as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose administration wished to "make sure that the gasoline station of the Western world" was secure. "During the Iran crisis, President Carter pledged that the [Middle Eastern] region will never fall under the dominance of another country."

A decade later, "the consequences of globalization were well known. Terrorism wasn't totally new, except one cannot claim there was an international effort to combat it. There was no war on terrorism because the people who looked into it knew perfectly well you can't fight terrorists with the notion of war." As evidence that terrorism cannot be defeated militarily, Naumann pointed to Northern Ireland. For years the British army battled terrorism by military means, but without success. "Then something happened. Ireland joined the European Union, and the Irish Republic, which was the fountain of terrorism . . . , quickly turned from being an extremely poor county on the periphery of Europe into a wealthy state with a net inflow of 9 billion pounds. . . . In short, it's got it made; and the source of terrorism dried up."

Americans often claim that Europeans do not understand the impact of 9/11 on the people of America. But Naumann countered, "No European who belongs to the TV-watching class underestimates what happened." In Berlin, two days after 9/11, "a spontaneous, cell-phone-organized demonstration took place in front of the American embassy, in commiseration. Over 150,000 people expressed their condolences."

Before 9/11, the United States, Naumann declared, had "already made it clear to its allies through its refusal to accept the Kyoto protocol and its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that it was embarking on a new course, and 'we don't need you as much as we used it.' This was an indicator of things to come." Then, when the United States attacked Iraq, "it scared the hell out of us Europeans." This in fact "improved German-French relations tremendously because suddenly we realized that we have to rely each other."

Preventive War

In a U.S. national security document released in late 2001 "things were spelt out very clearly for the rest of the world." First of all, the document, in Naumann's words, indicated America's "intention to break international law, as flexible as it is, and claiming for the United States the right of preventive war. . . . Actually, preventive war was always an option; politically and militarily it has to be. But don't ever turn it into a doctrine." By making it a doctrine, Naumann argued, the United States has made it possible for "anybody who has a nuclear bomb to acquire international legitimacy by pointing out to the United States that 'we can threaten with nuclear weapons just as well.' . . . The threat alone is sufficient to start a war."

The document states, Naumann continued, that the "United States has reached a state of technological weapons superiority and will never allow any other country to surpass it. . . . If there is another democracy that is just as well armed as the United States, what does this mean? This statement started to grate on European ears."

Naumann claimed that, according to a tabulation by the staff of Die Zeit, President George W. Bush had declared "Either you're with us, or you're against us." This reflected "a dichotomous world view that," in Naumann's words, "is almost scary."

Terrorism is evil. Who would deny it? But what we -- those European that were not convinced to participate in the war [in Iraq] -- do deny is the assumption that by attacking Iraq one was fighting terrorism. . . . Some people in the U.S. government understood perfectly well where terrorism is actually fostered. And some other people must have known perfectly well that in fact there were no weapons of mass destruction, otherwise you would not have sent 220,000 soldiers into that region basically unprepared for nuclear war or chemical war.

These "discrepancies and contradictions in the American position," as Naumann described it led to "famous discussions" between top U.S. officials -- in particular, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Powell -- and their counterparts in Germany and France, "which have added up to a situation . . . which has never existed before. My fear is that this will become more or less institutionalized."

Alternatives

The Europeans do not "seem to have a common idea, notion, or strategy of how to combat terrorism, but [do have a notion] of how to democratize the Middle East." Seventy percent of international development aid, Naumann stated, is provided by the European Union and "very little by the United States. Why? It's so clear. . . . You don't have to be a Marxist or a materialistic interpreter of history, you just have to look at yourself and make a connection between your own state of affairs and the state of your wallet. You're going to be less discontented with life if you can pay your bills."

That, Naumann continued, "is true of general society, of all nations. Unhappiness, class division, illnesses, epidemics in Africa . . . [and all such manifestations of] a dysfunctional social public life are indicators to possible causes for the emergence of terrorism."

The truth is that without a globalized economy things would look much worse. But simultaneously because of globalization you have this strange effect that those who participate in globalization very quickly run through a cycle of economic development which leaves out a lot more people than those who get richer. . . Globalization is much more than the flow of capital. It is indeed the flow of jobs into countries and places that are in dire need of them. But we are simultaneously producing a new class of discontented millions.

In Naumann's analysis, Germany and Japan provide examples of what may be possible -- and impossible -- in the Middle East. They are evidence that you cannot introduce democracy to a country via guns.

First of all, democracy in Germany had existed before. Since 1848 people knew what is was, and they certainly missed it. And then they tried it, and it failed. But the people who came back to run the country [after World War II] were all proven anti-fascists. . . . The leaders of postwar Germany were proven democrats who had risked their lives for democracy [in the Nazi era]. And furthermore Germany was utterly destroyed. It was morally destroyed and economically destroyed. . . . The U.S. army and its allies -- excluding the Soviets -- made sure that the perpetrators of crimes were punished. The Germans tend to forget that over 1,000 people were hanged between 1945 and 1949. Nothing of the sort has happened in Iraq. . . .

Second, Rumsfeld refused to take 20,000 military policemen, who were available, into Iraq, because he wanted a quick war. It was a brilliant war from a military point of view, but where was public order? For three weeks what was left of the moral texture was destroyed by looting and by chaos.

Thus, Europeans concluded, according to Naumann, "that you cannot introduce democracy in one place, let alone in the whole region, by attacking Iraq."

The real issue is a country with public beheading, like Saudi Arabia. With 5,000 princelings and princes, governing the whole country. The real issue is Egypt, which has been living under martial law since Sadat was murdered. The real issue is Pakistan, which is basically a third-world country with nuclear bombs. The real issue is how to support the reform movement in the most secularized nation in the whole region, which is Iran.

Naumann concluded,

It would not behoove me or anyone else in Europe to say, "There you are in the middle of a quagmire. We told you so!" In the end, it is in our mutual interest to pacify the region -- to democratize it -- but don't try it with an army. It doesn't work with an army. It's a long-term project. No army can democratize a nation that doesn't want to be democratized by you, or by anybody who's white and carries a gun and a cross.



Michael Naumann was born 1941 in Koethen/Sachsen. He studied politics, history and philosophy at Marburg and Munich. He became publisher at the Rowohlt-Verlag in 1985 and of its American subsidiary, Metropolitan Books, in 1995. As a journalist he has written for Die Zeit, Muenchner Merkur and Der Spiegel.

In October 1998 Gerhard Schroeder appointed Naumann Minister of State for Culture and Media, a post in which he served until November 2000. In January 2001 he became co-editor-in-chief and co-publisher of the Die Zeit.

Center for European and Eurasian Studies