Britain's US Ambassador Defends London's Hard-Line Stance on EC
Diplomat says his government is not prepared to surrender control over foreign policy to a majority vote in the European Community. INTERVIEW
SIR Robin Renwick, the new British ambassador to the United States, visited the Monitor's offices recently to talk with editors about the European Community summit in Maastricht, Netherlands; security in the post-cold-war world; changes in the Soviet Union; efforts to restore peace to Yugoslavia; and prospects for a worldwide trade agreement. Excerpts follow.Could you give us a sense of what the British government's proposals are for Maastricht? We have two propositions before us. One is that we should all commit ourselves in the European Community to having a single currency in five or six years' time. We insist that we cannot make the decision now whether to join that system. Most of the essentials remain to be worked out. We do not know, for instance, what sort of central bank would be operating this system. In my opinion, what will happen in the second half of this decade is that some countries will try to achieve a single currency. And countries which are likely to do that include France and Germany and the Benelux. The other side of [the Maastricht summit] is political union. [One suggestion] is that foreign policy should be decided, in part at least, by majority voting in Brussels. We are not, frankly, prepared to surrender control over core aspects of our foreign policy. What is your government's view of German and French military cooperation? The French and German scheme we think is imperfect. We think that the real deficiency in European defense is the inability of the Europeans to act together outside the NATO area. The Franco-German plan appears to bear on defense within the NATO area, where we believe that should be the responsibility of NATO. We do defend the primacy of NATO. On the British role during the failed Soviet coup: We'd always known that something of this kind was likely to happen. We tried to make clear that we weren't going to deal with the leaders of the coup. It was a high-risk strategy, and with a good deal of luck and a considerable display of courage by a lot of people in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the coup collapsed. We then immediately started working on emergency assistance for the Soviet Union to help people through the winter. And because he's chairman of the G-7 [Group of Seven leading industrial nations], Prime Minister [John] Major had a particular role to play in trying to coordinate the Western response. [But] it's rather illusory to think that we're going to be able to do some massive classical restructuring, because we are talking about a ... disintegration of the union. Do you deal with Yeltsin? Do you deal with Gorbachev? Or Shevardnadze? We deal with everyone. We have to deal with the center and the republics, which is exactly what we've been trying to do. What do you make of Shevardnadze's coming back into the Cabinet? An extraordinary development. But it's actually a welcome one, because we've always had extremely good relations. Why did he come back? I think that since the coup, Gorbachev has been wanting to try to get him back, and a man of that quality can play a very important role - not the least in these negotiations with the republics. On a Western response to the Yugoslav crisis: We have a problem in Yugoslavia, because the only way we can stop [fighting there] at the moment would be by launching another Desert Storm. But we can't do that every few months. Therefore, people have been pursuing the other option, which is a peacekeeping force. [But] under no circumstances can you ask a bunch of 18-year-olds to go and risk their lives until you've negotiated [a cease-fire] agreement which you think has a chance of sticking. It appears that the US is not really even discussing a posture toward Yugoslavia. I think this reflects the fact that we live in a world which has changed very dramatically. Five years ago, a Yugoslav crisis like this would have had everybody in Washington on edge. How do you see Central Europe fitting into the security picture? They seem to have been rebuffed by NATO. No, I don't think that's true. At the NATO summit, we set up a whole new system of consultative arrangements with the East European countries. You can't extend a formal security guarantee to the whole of Eastern Europe, unless the US is thinking of substantially increasing its forces in Western Europe. You mustn't ever give a security guarantee unless you can fully honor it. What are the prospects for GATT [the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade]? They're better than they were. Six or eight weeks ago, GATT was dead in the water, with a complete deadlock in agriculture, and not much progress on anything else. While we had been suggesting for some time that although we're not [happy] with the lack of movement in the EC position on agriculture, we also felt that the US position was extreme, and you were asking for cuts between 90 percent and 75 percent in agriculture. I believe that it would be extremely difficult to get that done in Iowa or Kansas. Now people are talking more realistically on both sides about 35 or 30 percent cuts. Britain is strongly on the side of free traders, but there are sectors where everybody has had difficulties. The US has very high tariffs on, for instance, textiles and ceramics, and highly protected onshore shipping industry. All of these are political problems, as well as practical problems. But there is a chance now. We haven't got a lot of time, because the deeper you run into an election year the harder it becomes to deal with.