Under pressure of the Arab-led oil-exporting Cartel, OPEC, which had deployed the ‘Oil Weapon,’ European leaders meeting at Venice unilaterally changed their foreign policy. They acted out of fear that the oil, their drug of predilection, would again be withdrawn.
Even today some books like to rewrite the Venice Declaration of 1980 as the start of European diplomacy. It was a humiliation! If it is an example, then it shows what principles the new European diplomatic service should NOT follow. With hindsight, everyone can judge this disgraceful episode. Europe appeared like a bag of fighting cats. The leaders were noted for their selfish opportunism to grab the last drop of oil, the devil take the hindmost.
The first casualty of this encounter was truth. That was the price extracted for blackmail. If Europe’s diplomatic service is to act as a reflection of Europe and its values, it should not propagate untruth and encourage and support other, foreign States’ distortions and crookedness. Europe should not bend the truth to the will of others. That is moral cowardice. Yielding to blackmail leads to moral bankruptcy and decline.
The leaders of the European Union as the world’s largest economic power cannot afford to act like a bunch of scared school kids in a haunted house. The real answer is to think smart. The whole point of a Community foreign policy is to avoid single States of Europe being attacked and blackmailed. Solidarity around European values brings strength, respect and good judgment. The Community system is a way to unite based on common European values. Truth should be foremost, even at the cost of temporary problems. It has major long-term benefits. The European Community created a system that made ‘war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.‘
Member States should forge the truth together by discussion among themselves. Among a democratic Community there should be at least one courageous Statesman who values truth. Another could supply shrewdness. A third could help with experience and infrastructure. Europeans have the means and resources not only to solve problems but to give a lead in world politics.
It is no longer the case of the old adage that a diplomat is a person sent to lie for his country. Those days should be over. We have learned that lies, like those of Hitler and Stalin, brought about Europe’s disasters, slavery and mega-deaths. We are faced with major global problems that need honest solutions.
Europe needs to set a firm goal: energy independence by 2020. It is a realistic goal according to some of Europe’s top industrialists. Oil will only increase in price as it runs out. Europe must help save the planet from ecological disaster, fueled by petroleum
In the early 1970s European States behaved like a bunch of scared mice who had been found eating someone’s cheese. In this case it was Europe’s addiction to oil. Individually the European States were easily intimidated by the drug-masters.
Tension was rising between Arab States and Israel. In summer 1972 the Saudi King Faisal warned his fellow-Arabs that ‘it is dangerous even to think of the idea’ of using oil supply as a weapon to force European States and USA to change their democratic foreign policy. The USA could survive without Arab oil, he said. The Arabs were also dependent on the West for military support, goods and services. ‘You can’t drink oil,’ other oil-exporting States affirmed.
Alternative plans were afoot, reversing that position. In Oct 1973 on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year when Jews were fasting and praying, Egypt and Syria, heavily armed with Soviet weapons and with the collusion of other States, launched a massive attack against Israel. Israel was taken unawares.
This was clearly a genocidal attack on Jews living in Israel. General Shazli gave this order to the Egyptian troops a few months before battle was joined:
‘The Jews have gone beyond all limits in arrogance. We, the sons of Egypt, are determined to throw them back, to sweep through their positions, killing and destroying them, to cleanse the shame of the defeat of 1967, and to regain our honour and pride.
Kill them wherever you find them. Beware lest they deceive you, for they are a treacherous people. They pretend to surrender to you so that they can overcome and kill you in a foul manner. Kill them. Do not pity them. Show them no mercy.’
(In 1967, in the Six day War, Israelis had defeated Nasser’s blockade and overthrew the Arab forces that outnumbered Israel three to one.)
President Sadat said he was ‘willing to pay one million men as the price of this battle.‘ More than Egypt was involved. The 1973 Yom Kippur war was planned and launched by a coalition of forces extending far beyond Egypt and Syria. Yet only a few days later Israel had beaten back this vicious, cowardly attack. Instead of being wiped out, Israeli forces even crossed the Suez Canal where the road to Cairo lay open.
That heroic reversal of open aggression was the signal for Saudi Arabia to act. On 18 October 1973 the Saudis deployed its Oil Weapon against the West. Yes, ‘weapon’ is another word for war against Europe and USA. In effect the Saudis and others were attacking the most vital interests of USA and certain European States. They threatened a total embargo. Abu Dhabi and other oil-exporters followed the next day. Arab States as far away as Libya and Algeria continued this embargo well into mid 1974. They ordered immediate cuts of oil deliveries to US and European States. Industry and transport ground to a halt.
The supply side war was followed with economic war. The oil cartel OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) doubled the price and then doubled it again. This had a devastating effect on the balance of payments. It hit the developing countries as much or more as the industrialized world.
The Developing countries paid 150 percent more: $12 billion dollars for oil in 1973 and $30 billion in 1974. In Africa the result was a long sequence of debts, aid, corruption and wars.
Who were the Saudis and its coalition mad at? Any nation that they deemed friendly to Israel.
A joint Arab committee of OPEC divided its customers into three categories: States “friendly,” “hostile” or “neutral.”
What if America and the West reacted in unison at the blackmail, indirectly amounting to a declaration of war? If the United States, Europe or Japan took any countermeasures, Saudi Arabia then threatened, it would cut its output by 80 per cent. The Saudis calculated that it would paralyze not only the West but probably the world economy. It was like emptying the petrol tank of the planet. Or igniting a flame as it lay spilled. Most of the world’s petroleum came from this area. Japan, heavily dependent on imported oil, later issued a humiliating communiqué about its change in Middle East policy.
France and Britain had already trimmed their foreign policy to be more Arab-friendly. In 1972 France was 77 percent dependent on Arab oil; Britain around two-thirds. Italy imported nearly 80 percent of its oil from Arab sources: Germany three-quarters. (The USA imported only 12 percent its oil from the Middle East.)
Among their dire enemies, guess who was considered top of the Arab list? Holland and Denmark! Were they enemies of the Arab countries? Hardly. They were not known for their massive arms exports to Israel. It was the USA that supplied Israel with arms. Did they have massive Jewish populations that supported Israel? No, they had citizens of all persuasions who could tell right from wrong. The countries mainly re-imported their fuel from other States. That let them be more impartial in their judgements.
Impartiality was Europe’s foreign policy mistake according to OPEC. The Arab oil-exporters demanded that Europe should unilaterally change its policy towards Israel. The oil bullies did not want anyone big or small to stand up for the victim. The biggest enemy was not Holland but TRUTH.
In a democracy, foreign policy is not imposed by outside forces but the citizens themselves decide what their policy should be. A subservient government can be thrown out at the polls. The people have to decide how and when and with what sacrifices they wish to preserve their basic freedoms. It also depends on leaders acting wisely.
Unfortunately, Charles de Gaulle who had seized power in 1958 blocked the means for a common European decision. Previously Gaullists acting in conjunction with the large communist vote in the National Assembly had made sure that the agreement for a common foreign and defence policy on supranational, democratic basis — the European Political Community — was stopped.
Experienced parliamentarians had worked out the plan for the Political Community at the Council of Europe. The Gaullists and the Communists (aided by the Soviet Union) made sure it was the subject of one of the most passionate public debates of modern times. The Community plan had been agreed by all governments of the Six. All the leaders of the European Community and their Allies supported it. It had been confirmed in all their parliaments, except France’s.
In the National Assembly the large bloc votes of Gaullists and Communists were opposed to it. It was not even voted down in the French Parliament. The Gaullists merely supported a motion that the question of this Defence and Community ‘be not put.’ Europe’s foreign policy system was frozen. A procedural motion had left Europe open to blackmail and war.
Around this time in the 1950s, the European Community’s Wise Men issued a report. It warned of dangers of Europe relying on external energy suppliers. More than just the economy was at stake.
The report, An Objective for Euratom, was clear. The Wise Men, Louis Armand, Franz Eztel and Francesco Giordani, said that unless Europe developed a policy of Energy independence, that also provided cheap energy then Europe would be condemned to a victim of ever-increasing energy costs. That would render Europe economically at risk against its main competitors. Recovery was highly vulnerable. At that time the problem lay not so much in the powerful undemocratic forces of energy suppliers but in the ever-increasing need for energy in a modern economy. Alternative energy sources inside Europe were urgently needed.
A quarter of century later, after de Gaulle was dead, his egotism and obstinacy still had lasting effects. His veto and his policy incoherence had stopped a Community diplomacy in its tracks.
It practically broke the European economy.