EU-US divide: bitter divorce or grumpy reconciliation?
By Martin Walker
‘Europe is simply becoming less and less important to an America that has global concerns in Central Asia and the Pacific Rim. Here, the Europeans have little to contribute’
A bitter divorce, a friendly separation or a grumpy reconciliation; these were the three prospects for the future of US-European relations according to this year’s annual Transatlantic Scholars’ conference at La Balze in Florence. And their views were pretty evenly divided among the three options.
“I have never seen this group of scholars quite so clearly divided, with such a spread of opinion,” commented John Ikenberry, a professor of international relations at Georgetown University, one of the conference organizers and a former official in the US State Department.
But Ikenberry, who reckons that the rows over Iraq were “a blip in a fundamentally strong Atlantic alliance,” acknowledged that the crisis had strengthened the arguments of those who argued that the United States and Europe were drifting inevitably apart. But he noted that Americans and Europeans were to be found on all sides of the various arguments.
“There is no single American view and no common European view. It’s like a row inside a family,” he noted.
For Munich University Professor Fritz Katochwil, the disputes over Iraq were “essentially an inter-European conflict more than an Atlantic conflict, with a majority of the governments of NATO and the European Union opposed to the position of France and Germany.” At the same time, he conceded, there was a broad consensus of European public opinion that was highly critical of the war.
There was broad agreement on two central issues thrown up by the rows over the Iraq war. First, the Europeans were in no economic position to build a counterweight to American dominance, even if they could summon the political will and consensus to do so. And second, that American diplomacy before the war had been crude and incompetent.
“I think it is fair to say that had Bill Clinton still been President, the US would have got far more support and far less opposition from the Europeans. A lot of what we call anti-Americanism is in fact anti-Bushism,” suggested Professor Mike Cox of the London School of Economics.”
“I think it is also likely that if the first Bush administration had been handling this crisis, they would also have got far more European support,” Cox added. “The personal diplomacy of the first George Bush was far more assiduous and consultative than that of his son. And where the then-Secretary of State James Baker made three trips to Turkey in 1990-91 to win their backing, Colin Powell did not go to Turkey until it was too late.”
The biggest gap was on the implications of the crisis for the future of NATO and the traditional US leadership role in an enlarged and ever more integrated Europe.
“America is no longer willing to be Europe’s protector and Europe is less willing to be strategically subordinate. Anti-Americanism is now a dominant part of the European discourse,” said Professor Charles Kupchan of Georgetown, a former official in the Clinton White House. “The pro-Atlanticist Europeans will lose because the US is leaving Europe for good.”
Europe was simply becoming less and less important to an America that had global concerns in Central Asia and Latin America and the Pacific Rim where the Europeans had little to contribute, suggested Max Boot of New York’s Council for Foreign Relations.
“The US-European relationship in the future will simply not be very important. The threats are in North Korea, China. South Asia and the Middle East. Europe cannot give us enough help to more than a marginal part of the solution, and does not have the political weight or unity to become a problem for the United States. There will be no anti-American coalition because we simply do not pose a threat to other democracies,” said Boot. “Europe, shrinking demographically and stalled economically, is increasingly irrelevant.”
“No,” countered Professor Marco Cesa of Italy’s Siena University. “The Transatlantic economic ties and mutual investments are too important. Americans clearly want to remain in Europe, with an enlarged NATO and more responsive NATO as their chosen vehicle.”
No longer is NATO stuck in the old debates about whether or not the Atlantic alliance can operate outside the European theater. NATO is already taking over the security role in Afghanistan, and now the prospect of NATO taking over part of the security role in Iraq is under discussion, with French support. If and when that happens, current arguments about the future of American commitment to Europe, and European readiness to follow American leadership, could look very outdated very soon. —UPI