The Iraqi crisis last fall seriously eroded American influence in Europe. On November 16, European foreign and defense ministers gathered in Vienna to examine the potential evolution of the Western European Union (WEU) into the full-fledged military arm of the European Union (E.U.), a possibility which would effectively replace NATO in Europe and exclude the United States from the Old Continent.

The idea is not new, especially not in Paris and Bonn. Until recently, however, Britain has resisted it —most notably at the Euro-summit in Amsterdam in 1997. But whereas British Prime Minister Tony Blair staved off a Franco-German call for a stronger military role for the WEU on that and other occasions, in Vienna he announced that Britain would “consider various means by which Europe could respond swiftly and responsively” to certain challenges, even if America is reluctant to commit itself His statement signaled a radical shift in British policy, which had seemed to be firmly founded on Britain’s “special” trans-Atlantic relationship with the United States. Previously, Blair had even proposed the abolition of the WEU, favoring instead a defense link between the European Union and NATO that would include America.

The change of strategy in London is the direct result of the Iraqi crisis, which had reached its climax a week before the meeting in Vienna. The management of that crisis by the Clinton administration contributed to Britain’s growing displeasure with the U.S. leadership, which is now seen in London as erratic, unpredictable, and dangerous. As the dispute over arms inspections escalated, Britain was the only E.U. country to pledge its military forces for attacks against Iraq. Other European nations remained aloof or displayed outright hostility toward the heavy-handed attempt by Clinton, Albright, and Cohen to impose their unilateral interpretation of what constitutes Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions. But when the hawks in Washington lost their nerve and proclaimed a non-existent diplomatic victory, London ended up with egg all over its face. Blair’s cautious support of a European security apparatus independent of NATO reflects the desire of the British government not to be left out on a limb again.

In the meantime, Europe’s most powerful country has expressed its desire for Europe to be able to act independently of Washington. Germany’s defense minister, Rudolf Scharping, called on Europeans to “overcome our weaknesses instead of complaining about the U.S. leadership.” Chancellor Gerhard Schroder is a strong proponent of the WEU defense structure. His junior coalition partner. Green leader Joschka Fischer, declared his opposition to NATO’s current nuclear deterrence strategy, which still allows for first use. In addition, the Germans want to reduce European purchases of American-made weapons systems by promoting intra-European joint ventures that would reduce costs and increase competitiveness abroad.

Last, but by no means least, Germany’s desire to diminish the importance of NATO is seen in Bonn as a means of improving relations with the Russians, who are understandably alarmed at the proposed expansion of NATO. The former Warsaw Pact countries that are seeking military security through membership in NATO also desire membership in the European Union. One wav of simultaneously reducing U.S. influence and decreasing tension with Russia would be to offer those countries an alternative, purely European defense structure, which would not be viewed by Moscow as a threat of the same magnitude. Advocates of the WEU-based defense mechanism see it as the best of all worlds: a regional security apparatus capable of projecting influence eastward —thereby reducing Europe’s reliance on the unpredictable United States—and of making NATO’s role in today’s Europe superfluous.

In light of such developments, some European analysts are beginning to suspect that the Clinton administration is persevering in its interventionist policy in the Balkans in order to secure for itself an exclusive zone of political dominance and military presence in Europe in ease U.S. troops have to leave Germany. Are Bosnia, Macedonia, Albania, and—in the near future—Albanian-controlled “Kosova” all slated to become Uncle Sam’s post-NATO bridgehead? The notion is not as far-fetched as it may have seemed only a year ago.

Those who shape America’s foreign policy suffer from what British atomic scientist P.S.M. Blackett called the “Jupiter complex”—the belief that “the Allies” (a.k.a. “the International Community”) are righteous gods, raining retribution on their wicked enemies. It was only a matter of time before this brand of statesmanship—bomb Sudan and Afghanistan one day, the Serbs and the Iraqis the next, and woe to those who don’t toe the line!—produced the kind of backlash we are witnessing in Europe today.