Europeans and the War

Gaither Stewart

Rome: Political considerations apart, there are fundamental differences in the perceptions of the probable war in Iraq between Americans and Europeans which have hardly been taken into consideration by war planners on either side of the Atlantic.
       In the short range, the risks of war with Iraq are much greater for Europe than for the United States. In a war of longer than six months, the cost of oil would soar to $50 a barrel, which would bring the Old World to its knees. Today in relative peace, Europeans already pay 3 - 4 times as much for fuel than do Americans. Especially countries that have rejected nuclear power like Italy would suffer even greater hardships.
       Moreover, in an extended conflict Europe would be a much easier target for fundamentalist retaliation than the USA, as the recent day-long paralysis of the London airport because of a terrorist threat demonstrated.
       It is in the long range, however, that the differences of perception of war between the USA and Europe become more palpable and the reasons for Europe's hesitancy about the war option more acute. First, the demographic differences between the two worlds - Europe is increasingly less the "Old World" so rich in history, tradition and culture than it is an ageing continent. Demographers foresee the population of Europe of 2050 decreasing from today's 393 million to 373 million people.
       Europe is a continent of increasingly fewer children and more aged, soon to be 30% of the total. It is a sociological reality that older people want to live out their life in peace and security. That means a population more concerned with retirement, health care, internal security, and aversion to risk.
       This graying Europe contrasts with the younger population of the USA whose population is to jump from 290 to 420 million in the same period, thanks to immigration and a higher fertility rate. A young population is quite naturally more inclined to risk and investment in the future.
       Terrorism has been part of Europe's history since the early 1900s-from anarchists to regicides to the terrorist brigades of the 1970s, especially powerful in France and Germany, Italy and Spain. Europe has lived with terrorism for a century while the USA has only recently had its first experience with foreign terrorism on American soil.
       Finally, there is a great difference in news coverage in Europe. For as Paul Krugman pointed out in an article in the New York Times, news on the Iraqi crisis in the USA is hawkish while Europeans see a vast gamut of opinions, much of which is geared toward peace and the role of the UN. Therefore Europeans tend to doubt Iraq al Qaeda connections, wonder what war against Iraq has to do with the war against terrorism, and suspect America's interest is chiefly oil.

© 2003 Gaither Stewart

Gaither Stewart is a journalist who currently makes his home in Italy. A regular contributor of both essays and fiction to Southern Cross Review, Gaither has also authored several novels published by SCR E-Books.