WASHINGTON, May 24 (UPI) -- Mohandas Gandhi was reputed to have said, "First they ignore us. Then they fight us. Then we win." The Anglosphere idea, now beginning to emerge on the political radarscope, appears to be moving from the first to the second stage of Gandhi's schema. Although it is obvious that many more ideas advance from the first stage to the second, than from the second to the third, still this is a sign of progress.
The emerging debate over Britain's ratification of the proposed European constitution is likely to see the Anglosphere idea become a part of the political discourse created thereby. Three references, direct or oblique, recently surfaced in political commentary this part week, and invite comment.
Former Tory Prime Minister John Major, in an otherwise well-stated article announcing his opposition to the European Constitution draft, dashed a glass of warm beer in the direction of the Anglosphere idea by stating that a "transatlantic link" could not take the place of Britain's European involvement.
This is disingenuous. It is not a question of Anglosphere ties (far more than "transatlantic, by the way) replacing the European Union for Britain. A perfect European partnership with a problem-free European economy would obviously be a great thing for Britain. In the imperfect real world, Britain does not have that choice. It is rather a matter of how to extricate Britain from dependence on an increasingly troubled Continental European economy that does not seem to have the political will to reform itself.
Placing institutional circuit breakers between Britain and the Continent (for example, to preserve the integrity of British private pensions) is one need; the other is for improved economic partnerships to supplement faltering European ones. The Anglosphere is the only real, practical option for such -- but even the current European ties prevent Britain from taking advantage of its inherent ability to fully exploit that option. Australia is wasting no time taking up Bush's willingness to extend a free trade agreement. The same -- up to and including NAFTA affiliation -- would be there for Britain for the asking.
Noted Europhile Chris Huhne, responding the former U.S. presidential adviser Dick Morris's remarkably Anglospherist column in London's Telegraph, made a particularly silly objection by noting that "a standard container costs £450 to ship from Canterbury to Calais, the nearest port on the mainland of Europe, but £1,540 to ship to Boston, the nearest port in North America."
Leaving aside the point that it is Halifax that is in fact the nearest major mainland port in North America (O Canada, you have become invisible to Europhiles -- so much for Vimy and Dieppe) this factoid overlooks the reality that transportation costs do not seem to deter Toyota from shipping cars profitably from Nagoya to Baltimore or Southampton, nor for that matter American mines from selling coal in Britain. Going further, it's not clear why, if transport costs were such a barrier to trade, there is ever any need for tariffs for trade protection. If American goods are cheap enough to be a threat to European protectionists, transatlantic trade can hardly be too expensive to be an opportunity to free traders.
Disposing of such lesser objections, we must turn to a remarkable piece by the intelligent but deeply misguided Mike Gonzalez of the Wall Street Journal Europe. In it, he trots out the argument that has been the mainstay of U.S. State Department-received wisdom for the past half-century: that Britain must immerse itself fully in the rapidly-congealing European superstate in order to reform it into a free-market entity, and to carry America's water in the councils of Europe.
This policy makes European membership Britain's new "White Man's Burden" -- carrying enlightenment to the "Lesser Breeds Without the Law." Well, some scholars have always held that Kipling intended that description to mean the Germans anyway, so perhaps there is a poetic justice in that theory.
The problem is that Britain, even with the presumed votes of New Europe (assuming Poland and others approve EU membership), is unlikely to prevail over the Franco-German axis and their allies so long as the fight is on their terms and under their rules. Gonzalez holds out the example of Blair's leadership during the Iraq war. He posits that had the Tories been in office, they would neither have wanted nor been able to line up the Eastern European leaders in support of the Anglo-American policy, because of a supposed Tory Euroskeptic desire to make all of Europe tainted in American eyes.
This is truly disingenuous. For one thing, the Eastern European leaders so influenced were not in fact members of the European Union. If Britain had been outside of, or in a looser relationship to the European Union, it is hard to see why Poland or the Czech Republic would have been any less committed to solidarity with the United States. Conversely, if the EU had already been operating under the proposed Constitution, Britain would have been unable to render its very substantial participation in Iraq. The major threat to Polish cooperation was French pressure, crudely wielded by President Jacques Chirac.
Gonzalez maintains that Britain under Blair will not agree to subordinate its foreign and defense policy to the EU, but Blair has not said what he would do if the final draft failed to reverse itself upon that point. The fact is that the only way Britain can prevent having to ratify an unacceptable European Constitution is to have a credible alternative course of action available.
Going further on that point, the only real way Continental Europe can hope to make critical reforms in its own internal structure is through the presence of competition. Britain is the only major member that is both economically healthy and not in need of fundamental structural reform. It is also one with an economically meaningful alternative course of action -- close alignment with the North American economy. Engaging in internal politics on the European Council is not going to permit Britain to force any meaningful reform through, with or without Eastern European votes.
Britain must make a credible threat to leave the European Union rather than submit to the proposed Constitution. Continental Europe enjoys a positive trade balance with Britain, and in an era of growing unemployment and domestic stagnation cannot afford to cut off free trade across the Channel. Britain would then be in a perfect position to propose a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area including itself, North America, and Europe.
Such a TAFTA is Europe's best bet for economic renovation, and the key to avoid forcing Britain to choose between American and Europe. Either by leaving and concluding American free trade, or by demanding a TAFTA as the price of remaining within a looser EU, Britain has the opportunity to serve as the catalyst for such a trade deal emerging before the end of the decade.
A British veto of the new Constitution, and a credible threat to leave the EU if not reformed and turned outward-looking, would not leave Chirac "straddling Europe like a colossus," in Gonzalez's vivid image (rather bringing to mind Gulliver extinguishing the palace fire in Lilliput). Rather, it is the most likely course of action -- almost the only action -- that would avoid an eventual locking into place of a Franco-German core ruling through an un-reformable and distant bureaucracy in Brussels, one that sees its mission as frustrating America at all costs.
The alternative of an Anglosphere-led initiative to spur free trade and reform across the Atlantic does not require a discrediting of Europe in America's eyes. Rather, it is the best way to bring America, Britain and Ireland, and Continental Europe back on a path to mutual and beneficial cooperation.