European Affairs

Letter to the Editor: We Should Not Have Hidden the Truth About Kyoto     Print Email

Bret Stephens’s article from Brussels in the last issue of European Affairs (“Why Bush’s No to Kyoto Vexed Europe”) expressed in more detail exactly what a well-informed European observer in Washington told me while the controversy was raging in parliaments and ministries, and on editorial pages and TV screens, throughout Europe.

President Bush, it appears, did the unforgivable. He “committed truth,” and he did so without providing political “cover” to his European colleagues.


The one political fact that had become clear while the Clinton Administration was still in office was that Kyoto had been rejected 95-0 in the United States Senate before the document was even initialed. Every Third Secretary in every European embassy in Washington knew this, and every journalist in every European press bureau in Washington also knew it.

Yet nobody said it. When a senior European delegation, including Ambassadors of leading EU member states, called on senior Republican and Democratic members of the House International Relations Committee, it fell to one of the Congressmen to remind his distinguished visitors that U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol had been effectively killed by the Senate’s stunning 95-0 vote in Washington before the Protocol was presented for signature in Japan.

Then why such an outcry?  A few words from my European friend, and a few more from Mr. Stephens, may have solved the mystery.  “As often as not,” wrote Mr. Stephens, “the political purposes of European leaders are better served in the espousal of a policy than in its implementation.”  Faced with the memory of  “last September’s remarkably vehement fuel-tax protest in Britain, France and Belgium, the center-left is unlikely to look with enthusiasm on the idea of raising gas taxes by another 25 percent as may be required to meet Kyoto Protocol targets,” he wrote.

The way out for these center-left European politicians, again according to Bret Stephens, may have been “to champion Kyoto in the knowledge that it is a dead letter, then loudly denounce the United States when it furnishes the perfect alibi for abandoning the treaty.”

My European friend put it rather more gently, explaining - again I borrow from Mr. Stephens’s similar but quotable words - that “European politicians also have to address the interests of their Green Party coalition members, for whom the Kyoto Protocol is of paramount ideological importance.” But, I asked my friend, exactly what was it that President Bush did so wrong when he said the United States could not support Kyoto in the face of a 95-0 vote in the U.S. Senate?”  

“What he did wrong,” my friend explained, “was that he said it.” In other words, he committed truth.

But if not to their own authorities, to whom could Europeans have turned for the political facts of life in both the Clinton and the Bush Administrations? Apparently not to the European media, who knew the facts but who may have had their own reasons for not writing or speaking about them. Perhaps for the reasons given by Bret Stephens, European governing and opinion circles apparently couldn’t “give away the game.”

As it so often does, the Economist (July 28-August 3, 2001) went to the heart of the matter. It quoted the EU’s Environmental Commissioner after the recent Bonn conference: “We have rescued the Kyoto Protocol…we can go home, look our children in the eye and feel proud of what we have done.” But ever the Grinch about to steal Christmas, the Economist observed in the next paragraph that “the Kyoto framework still fails to offer America anything approaching a sensible balance of cost and benefit.”

Your correspondent is a strong admirer of Europe, knows several lands rather well, and is proud that the blood of three European nations flows in his veins. For several years he lived in a delightful Brussels neighborhood, literally on the dividing line between Latin and Teutonic Europe. But he also is U.S. citizen proud of his country’s many contributions to Europe, and of his own naval service in the North Sea and the Sixth Fleet during the Cold War.

He is less proud of his silence as the Kyoto matter built into an artificial crisis, while he and others did little to help their European friends understand the political reality on this shore of the Atlantic, and to deal with that reality as well as with political pressures faced by their own authorities at home.

Terence Murphy, O.B.E.
Member of the Board of Advisors of The European Institute
Washington, D.C.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number II, Issue number IV in the Fall of 2001.