Analysis: Europe shows solidarity
By European Political Editor Robin Oakley
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Europe's leaders have reacted to the biggest-ever attack on the U.S. mainland first in human terms, expressing their shock, outrage and horror at the callous destruction of thousands of innocent lives by the terrorists.
But as they have begun to articulate their political response, the key word has been "solidarity."
The NATO meeting on the day of the attack was called essentially for America's allies to demonstrate that solidarity, said NATO Secretary-General George Robertson.
The word was used both by President Jacques Chirac of France and by Guy Verhofstadt, who as Belgium's prime minister is the current holder of the EU presidency. Gerhard Schroeder, the German chancellor, talked similarly of Germany's commitment to the people of the United States.
While there might have been some misgivings at street level, nowhere in the political community was there any sense of holding back for fear that close association with America could make a country the terrorists' next target.
Perhaps the strongest and most emotional response came from the prime minister of America's traditional military ally, the United Kingdom.
Pledging that Britain stood "shoulder to shoulder with our American friends," Tony Blair declared that it was not a war between the U.S. and terrorism but between terrorism and the free and democratic world.
The outrage went wider than America's traditional allies. Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon using civilian airliners were "an impudent challenge thrown down to all humanity."
But as leading Europeans vowed to help the United States counter the terrorists, the question was how?
As they tightened security around their own airports and military installations, Europe's politicians were conceding privately that it was a great deal easier fighting old-fashioned wars than it is countering terrorism by individuals or groups who place no value on human lives, including their own.
Countering terrorism has been a theme of G8 summits and similar meetings as far back as most modern prime ministers can remember. But once again the leaders may find themselves inhibited by not wanting to hand the terrorists a victory by changing the essential style of life in democratic societies.
They all want to give practical help to the United States and are agreed that there must be strong pressure on regimes which harbour terrorists. But while there is understanding in Europe of the desire by the American people for retribution, Europeans hope that nothing will be done too hastily to make a show of force just for the sake of it. They want the right targets clearly established.
Some deeper thoughts too were beginning to emerge. In the immediate aftermath of America's worst disaster since Pearl Harbor, some European politicians -- noting what had been achieved by a few hijackers armed only, it seems, with knives -- were privately querying the value of President George W. Bush's missile defence strategy.
There are worries too about the quality of American intelligence, especially where the Arab world is concerned. And there is some questioning of whether America might have been wiser to be more active in the Middle East, rather than allowing itself to be demonised as an ally of the hard-line strategy of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
But for the moment the concern of almost everyone in Europe is with the unfolding human tragedies of the many thousands of families whose lives have so suddenly and cruelly been blighted by the world's worst act of terrorism so far.
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