January 2016        

Terrorist attacks are an excuse for war

Terrorist attacks on Western soil will inevitably spark hyperbolic responses from the European establishment, and these very human tragedies are often manipulated, for a number of reasons.
    They are frequently used as a pretext for targeting and undermining our rights to privacy and personal freedom, or for justifying confused or downright aggressive plans for intervention in foreign countries. So far we have witnessed both these responses in the wake of last November’s attacks in Paris. But another agency of reactionary politics has also been reinforced in the aftermath of the attacks.
    On 17 November, France made use of an obscure mechanism of the Lisbon Treaty (2007), calling on other EU member-countries to assist in its military operation in Syria. A politically united EU, with its own foreign policy and interventionist military objectives, was strengthened, impinging on the sovereignty and independence of peoples throughout Europe.
    The mechanism used—clause 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty—states: “If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power.”
    In other words, any country deemed to have suffered an armed attack can call on other EU states to apply their military power, away from accountability and with little democratic scrutiny.
    Any claim that French territory is under attack is particularly spurious and is of a deeply arbitrary nature. No matter how tragic the events, by no stretch of the imagination can it be claimed that France has been the victim of a sustained armed aggression.
    And why is it that the only seemingly acceptable response to such an “aggression” should be that Britain and other EU member-states call up their army and air force in order to “assist” France? Why should this “assistance” take place not in France but some three thousand miles away in Syria?
    Strict boundaries regulating what might be considered “armed aggression” against a member-state, and the appropriate responses, have not been thought out. It is doubtful whether they will be considered in future instances either. And the implications of this particular clause go beyond such issues as legal definitions or parameters: at stake is the entire future direction that the EU will take.
    The application of clause 42.7 does not merely function as a joint EU strategy for combating a common enemy. The application of this mechanism also confirms long-held fears that the EU has marked out a path that leads towards a political and military United States of Europe.
    Under this clause of the Lisbon Treaty, imperialist powers such as France, Germany, Spain and Britain can ask other member-countries to join in their military ventures with little or no consultation, consolidating the military and political union of the EU.
    At the heart of this issue also is a lack of respect for democratic accountability and the sovereignty of European peoples. While most European democracies are flawed in some respect—look no further than England’s hereditary House of Lords—at the very least the electorate has a limited voice and is free to elect representatives who in turn can present, draft and change laws.
    The most important decision our governments make—whether or not to go to war—should be decided uniquely and exclusively by our own representatives.
    The case for war and—lest we forget—the potential for deaths of Irish soldiers resulting from such a decision should not be made by François Hollande, EU commissioners, or any other foreign heads of state.
    Of course France’s decision to invoke the clause did not immediately bind any government to go to war, but it is one of the reasons that has precipitated David Cameron’s rush to push through a vote in Parliament. Next time, under different circumstances and a different set of pressures, Cameron might not even seek a vote in Parliament. He is not strictly obliged to.
    On the very same day as the invocation of clause 42.7, the EU Commission decided to exempt France from its economic restraints in order to pursue its military objectives. This decision, which went hand in hand with clause 42.7, showed that the EU is prepared to forgo all its economic posturing in order to back up its new-found military zeal.
    Under normal circumstances the European Fiscal Compact dictates that no country can have a level of debt higher than 3 per cent of its GDP, placing strict limits on public expenditure. Here, the very clear message is that a country with education, health or policing shortfalls is bound to austerity out of necessity. When it comes to highly draining military spending, however, the EU and its institutions will permit a healthy dose of free-spending Keynesianism.
    Does not a crisis in the public health service, like the one in Greece, deserve to be taken as seriously as a terrorist attack? Why the exemption for bellicose military projects and not for other crucial matters?
    What all this entails is that a country that doesn’t want to set aside a large amount of its annual expenditure for military expenditure, or doesn’t agree with a quite arbitrary conclusion that an EU member-country is under attack, or refuses to comply with clause 42.7, could be at risk of legal or political penalties imposed by the EU.
    These recent measures underline the fact that while much of the left agrees about the dangers of NATO membership pushing countries into war despite the opinions of its populace, EU treaties including similar conditions are roundly ignored.
    So what does this mean for those of us who would like to escape the prospect of more foreign interventions, which have undoubtedly made our world a scarier place for all?
    The simple answer is that reclaiming democratic control and sovereignty over foreign policy from the EU must be a priority for any anti-war campaigner.
    We have enough to contend with in trying to stop our own politicians, of whichever hue, from engaging in interventions abroad without having to stop any one of a multitude of European or international leaders dragging the country kicking and screaming into further wars too.

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