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Reconsidering the Future

01 July 2005

The future of the relations between Europe and America should be redefined, in accordance with substantial evolutions inside NATO and the EU.
With every new team comes a new partnership. This, at least, seems to be the joint stakes on both sides of the Atlantic ever since the re-election of George W. Bush. With the 2003 crisis behind us, the time has come to put the pieces of transatlantic cooperation back together. However, while teams and intents still count, we must not loose sight of the reality before us. The evolution of transatlantic relations depends as much on the respective political will of each side as it does on their realistic constraints.
<i>Beyond Status Quo and Tabula Rasa</i>
It is thus useful to discuss the founding principles of the Euro-American alliance. How, after all, can we build structure without examining its base? This inventory shades light on number of major changes in transatlantic ties over the past sixty years.
Firstly, there was a collective threat that linked together the destinies and strategies of both sides. Now, the very assessments of the threat and of its strategic consequences have become the object of dispute.
American leadership was once a factor of Atlantic consensus. Now this same leadership can become a source of disaccord.
NATO’s primary function has been to forge together the security and destiny of Europe with that of the United States. However the very principle of partnership seems to have become optional in light of the unilateral choices of the United States.
Europe strategic non existence was the corollary of an Atlantic security system directly led by the United States. But today, the European Union is developing a common foreign policy, and numerous crisis management operations are directly headed by the Union.
The future of Euro-American relations should be redefined in accordance with these evolutions. It is therefore necessary to eliminate the following double illusion:
The first illusion (status quo), consists in denying the aforementioned big changes. It is lo longer possible to blindly hope to reconstruct the traditional paradigm of transatlantic relations, such as the primacy of NATO, American leadership, and the European political docility.
Inversely, the second illusion (tabula rasa) lies in exaggerating these big changes to the point of declaring an end to transatlantic relations. In other words, the end of NATO, the institutionalization of political differences and the independence of Europe.
In fact, neither these two temptations is realistic. Both status quo and tabula rasa are in total contradiction with the respective interests and aspirations of America and the European Union.
Rather the reconstruction of transatlantic ties can only take place in between those two extremes.
<i>Clarifying the Premises</i>
The outlook is currently positive. While a trip obviously can’t replace politics, George Bush’s visit to Brussels is nonetheless an occasion for new bridge building, if we manage to clear up past troubles. Here are some conditions:
- The European Union’s international contribution should not be measured solely in terms of Defence spending. <br />-The level of military spending does not assure a successful management of international security. In fact, American decision-makers who criticize weak European military budget may be missing an essential point: the powerful attractiveness of EU soft power.
As far as promoting democracy is concerned, Europe can boast quite an honourable track-record. EU enlargement has consolidated democracy on the old continent, even for regions like the Balkans. Furthermore, the opening of negotiations with Turkey points to the same democratizing objectives as well as to a refusal of an international order dominated by a “clash of civilizations”. With its Ukrainian and Eastern neighbours, the EU will count over 700 million Europeans in its democratic orbit.
Europe’s crisis management track record is also quite impressive. The Europeans contribute nearly 90% of military and police forces in the Balkans. In addition, the EU is the primary Peace keeping actor in Africa, in coordination with the African Union and the UN. Moreover, NATO’s operation in Afghanistan is heavily supported by European troops. As for the fight against nuclear proliferation, European initiatives with regard to Iran have opened new opportunities: risks do exist, of course, but these initiatives are the only way for a lasting political solution.
Iraq is neither the utility test for Europe nor that of a strong Atlantic Alliance. <br />The Iraqi affair has created too many deep divergences and reciprocal bad feelings to be swept aside during the Presidential visit. At the same time, the persistence of difficulties and potential chaos in Iraq make the subject difficult to exclude from a transatlantic agenda.
-Finding a balance between American demand (enormous) and European supply (limited) will certainly be no easy task. The evolution of the situation on the ground has made it difficult for both parties to plan strategies. Indeed, sending troops to Iraq is a “non starter”, since most states involved on the Iraqi ground have announced their intention to withdraw. It is nevertheless crucial to recognize that helping America out of this spiral of violence is well in the interest of the Europeans.
-Terrorism is our common threat, but the international system is not only about terrorist threats.<br />The fight against international terrorism continues to be the most effective and solid point of Euro-American cooperation since 9/11. However, among all the challenges faced by western democracies today, terrorism is not the only complex issue at stake. Indeed, the massive numbers of people excluded from minimal levels of economic development remains an international security hazard. This phenomenon surely does not dissuade the rise of anti-western ideologies. Nor should we ignore the risk that global warming increasingly poses to numerous countries around the planet. It is up to the great powers of the world to join together for an effective prevention of these new kinds of risk.
- NATO and the EU Are Not in Competition: there are not comparable institutions.<br />The EU is hardly a mini-NATO. The EU does not wish to compete with NATO, nor does it consider military might as the base of its existence. Defence policy is to the EU but one of many foreign policy instruments to be negotiated among 25 states. And NATO is hardly a Union-in-formation. It has no intent to form political or economic integration amongst its members. Rather, NATO is first and foremost the expression of military and strategic alliance with the United States.
Just as the EU's future lies in the hands of the Europeans, so does the future of NATO depend primarily on the United States. Indeed, the last mandate of the Bush administration has witnessed some confusion as to the American commitment in this regard.
- A Transatlantic Partnership without European Integration has as litte chance of success, as a European Integration without EU-US solidarity.
This deceptively simple idea is one of the major lessons to be learnt from the Iraqi crisis. The post-conflict stabilization difficulties have demonstrated the limits of U.S. power and of unilateralism as its foreign policy doctrine.
On the other hand, the internal divisions and overall abstention of the EU from the Iraqi crisis have shown that European nations must overcome their individual, national pretences and act as a whole if they ever wish to attain a position of influence together.
Ultimately, this EU political disunity drastically weakened the level of help that the U.S. could expect from its allies. Divided is not conquered. European divergences may well stall or even block the emergence of a political Europe. But its disunity is even more destructive to the power and means of the United States.
<i>Telling the Difference</i>
So, what is to be expected from this new start? There are indeed numerous issues that could be addressed by a joint action between Europe and America.
Firstly, take the Middle East. If there is a single crisis which depends on U.S. involvement, it is hands down the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. We need the United States to take this courageous risk, to force these two sides into peace, without taking the legitimate anti-terrorist priorities as a pretext for a destructive stasis. Indeed, it goes without saying that the EU will be at America’s side in this process towards peace.
In Iran, on the other hand, the Europeans were the ones to initiate the only possible diplomatic solution to the nuclear proliferation threat. The U.S.’s support is necessary, its reserve are counter-productive.
As for Kosovo, our common combat for democratisation of the entire continent should quickly incite us towards a common strategy. Surely, this joint effort would see no sorrier ending than a Euro-American divergence on Kosovo’s final status.
Obviously, these three agendas do not exhaust the wealth of transatlantic issues to come. But they do represent some of the hottest issues at the moment. And it goes without saying that the promotion of democracy will be all the more convincing if the greatest democracies show a good example: this includes both their behaviour internationally and their ability to promote justice and rights for all peoples in the world.