Talk is growing of a change in US defense doctrine to allow for pre-emptive strikes on states that harbor weapons of mass destruction. That talk is sending shudders across Europe, where many people connect it with America's oft-stated desire to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
Ever since the Gulf war, Iraq has been a source of friction among the western permanent members of the UN Security Council. By the end of 1999, divergence was complete: the United States and Britain were employing their air power to enforce the no-fly zones while France joined Russia and China in abstaining on resolution 1284. As this UK-sponsored resolution was meant to bring the Iraq issue back to the Security Council after the withdrawal of the UN weapons inspectors and subsequent American air strikes of December 1998, hope for progress on Iraq within the Security Council was scant.
This rapidly changed after last September 11th. On May 14, 2002, the Security Council gave the tottering sanctions regime a new lease on life by unanimously adopting a simplified screening procedure. Even Iraq showed signs of being prepared to consider a possible return of the UN weapons inspectors.
At first sight this seems to bode well for the transatlantic relationship. In reality, the current relaxation is more likely a lull before the storm. Most Europeans take it for granted that the US will attack Iraq, and that this act of unilateralism, coming in the wake of all the other irritants such as the ABM Treaty, the Kyoto Agreement, the steel tariffs and the International Criminal Court, will have a devastating effect on transatlantic relations.