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Thoughts on the Transatlantic Relationship

Women wage the sex war by vindictiveness," said the late Cyril Connolly, "men by indifference.

"Women wage the sex war by vindictiveness," said the late Cyril Connolly, "men by indifference." Whatever the truth of this remark as applied to male-female relationships, it certainly describes the Atlantic relationship between Europe and America-at least in the painful aftermath of the Afghan and Iraq wars.

European vindictiveness has been on display in recent weeks in response to the U.S. request for help in postwar Iraq. France in particular has refused to contribute either troops or significant aid unless the U.S. agrees to a United Nations Security Council resolution on terms that would amount to an American humiliation: namely a dominant UN political role in Iraq leading to a handover to a new Iraqi authority on a transparently unrealistic time-scale. It has successfully encouraged European (and other) nations, notably Germany and Russia, to withhold any such assistance. And the European Union under Franco-German influence has offered an insultingly small sum in Iraqi reconstruction aid.

The result of this Euro-obstructionism so far is a characteristic triumph of French foreign policy: the U.S. has been somewhat disadvantaged without France and its confederates advancing their interests in any positive way. No UN resolution has been agreed to--the third proposed resolution, currently under discussion, offers the modest concession of setting a December 15th deadline for constitutional reform proposals but otherwise retains U.S. political control.  The UN is reducing rather than expanding its role in Iraq. Only Turkey at present is likely to send additional troops to join the U.S. and its Anglo-Polish-Spanish allies in Iraq. The U.S. will therefore continue to shape the political future of Iraq, and perhaps of the entire Middle East, with little or no French or "European" input. And the U.S. State Department has been diplomatically wrong-footed both in the UN and within the administration. 

None of this can be justified as an expression of French or Euro-national interests, however long-term or convoluted. What therefore underlies this apparent vindictiveness? At two recent conferences here, Europeans tried to explain it in part as a response to American indifference at an earlier phase of the war on terror.

At a conference on "Re-launching the Transatlantic Relationship," held jointly by the New Atlantic Initiative and Italy's Aspen Institute, several speakers of indisputably Atlanticist sympathies maintained that the U.S. had ignored NATO's invocation of Article Five (that formally committed the NATO allies to joining the U.S. in the war on terror) after September 11th and spurned Europe's help in the campaign in Afghanistan. They felt that the U.S. had not shared its thinking with Europe both on Iraq itself and also on its long-term policy of re-configuring the Middle East along democratic lines. They wanted earlier, closer and more influential Atlantic collaboration in future. And they mounted the now familiar attacks on U.S. "unilateralism."


There is something in this critique. As this column pointed out at the time, the U.S. was both shortsighted and ungenerous in scarcely acknowledging the help of other countries in Afghanistan and in giving the impression that it did neither needed nor valued allies. But America's "indifference" is only one contributory factor in Europe's "vindictiveness"-to which other developments also contribute significantly.

The most important, of course, is the notion of "Europe" itself. Several European nations-most significantly, Britain, Spain, Italy and the new democracies of eastern Europe-supported and assisted the U.S. in both Afghanistan and Iraq. NATO itself currently runs the liberation forces in Afghanistan, but it is France and Germany, as the dominant powerhouse of the European Union, that have seized the name of "Europe" and routinely claim its authority for their policies. 

They have been assisted in this imposture by two forces normally found opposing each other: namely, EU bureaucrats and U.S. neoconservatives.

Brussels bureaucrats are committed to forging a common European defense and foreign policy. They are the vanguard of Euro-nationalism. And they have come to believe that this future common policy will and should be shaped by a Franco-German political culture that differs from U.S. policy in being more committed to diplomacy, less willing to use force, more respectful of international law and institutions and more trusting of arms control (including nuclear arms control.) They assume that over time Britain, Italy and other dissenters will be compelled to go along with it. And so, they anticipate European unity by, in effect, treating the foreign policies of France and Germany as the forerunner of a common policy.

Neoconservatives have "indifferently" swallowed this analysis and cavalierly dismiss "the Europeans" as weak and appeasement-minded, overlooking both the divisions within Europe and the support for the U.S. given by Spain, Poland, Britain, etc. Indeed, because some neo-conservatives join the U.S. liberal foreign policy establishment in endorsing the further political integration of Europe on the grounds of its inevitability, they actually strengthen the forces working to build anti-American European superpower. Hence, James C. Bennett's term for this neoconservative position: "capitulationism."

In addition to Euro-nationalism and capitulationism, there is third factor working to undermine Atlanticism-namely, the lack of a commonly perceived threat to the NATO allies since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This has freed the Europeans to be vindictive (i.e., to go to extremes in opposing U.S. policy as France did in threatening to use its UN veto before the Iraq war) and the U.S. to be relatively "indifferent" (i.e., to ignore or treat as marginal Franco-German plans to build a separate Euro-defense force that inevitably undermines NATO). In alliance politics, no threat is a serious threat.

Let me offer, then, some lukewarm comfort: there is a new threat at hand. After years of dismissing U.S. warnings that Iran was on its way to acquiring nuclear weapons, the Europeans have finally realized that this is a clear and present danger. It is a danger, moreover, that threatens Berlin and Paris more immediately than Washington since they are (or shortly will be) within range of Iranian missiles. At the Rome conference on re-launching Atlanticism, a topic that kept forcing itself onto the agenda was whether and how the NATO allies might forge a common policy to disarm Iran of nuclear weapons.

That will take some doing. Iran will resist diplomacy and the Europeans are constitutionally nervous of going beyond diplomacy to use force. They will probably go along with the Bush Administration's Proliferation Security Initiative designed to prevent the sea or air transport of nuclear contraband to rogue states like Iran, but they will be reluctant to do more. If so, Europe and America may soon have to live side by side with Iranian nukes.  Hence, the significance of the second Rome conference held by the Berlin branch of the Aspen Institute on building a common Euro-American missile defense system grows ever clearer.

Only recently, most European countries, let alone "Europe," were hotly opposed to U.S. plans for missile defense. However, this is changing rapidly. In addition to the newly-perceived threat from Iran, Europe also sees that there is money in missiles.

Not only was the Aspen-Berlin conference addressed by the defense ministers of Italy and Poland-both of whom gave prudent support to a NATO missile defense system-but it was also attended by representatives of Europe's major defense corporations. Both business and government in Europe now see missile defense as a source of technology transfer and employment. No longer will the U.S. political Left be able to count on automatic European support in its opposition to "Star Wars."

Indeed, a NATO missile defense system is just what the Atlantic alliance needs politically, as well as militarily-a common task devised to meet a serious common threat. If the allies go down that road, they will find that both European vindictiveness and American indifference tend to evaporate in the joint struggle to achieve common solutions. Missile defense is becoming a source of transatlantic unity rather than of division as heretofore.

Alas, every solution creates its own problem. The first obstacle to a major NATO project like missile defense will be the Franco-German project for a separate European defense. Military resources are already in short supply on a continent which spends on average 1.5 per cent of its gross domestic product on defense. If a missile defense system is to be built, not just Washington will wonder why some of these scarce resources are going to fund a needless and redundant military structure that is more about anti-American politics than about serious European defense.

In short, once the U.S. overcomes its indifference, it will defend its interests and inevitably provoke a new vindictiveness-from the Franco-German-Brussels bloc if not from the Europeans.

Original article here.