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Steady as she goes

James Dobbins, US assistant secretary for European affairs, tells Review editor Christopher Bennett that he sees continuity in transatlantic relations.

CHRISTOPHER BENNETT: Every time there is a change in US administration, analysts on both sides of the Atlantic debate its significance for the transatlantic relationship. How much continuity and how much change should US Allies expect in coming years?

JAMES DOBBINS: Every time the administration changes in Washington there is indeed debate about the exact balance of continuity and change. As far as the Atlantic Alliance is concerned, the new administration is going to be unequivocally and strongly supportive. That is evident in everything that President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others have said on the subject. In terms of the Balkans, there will be a continued effort to review the scale of forces necessary to carry out NATO's tasks. However, the review will take place within a NATO context. It is important to review commitments periodically and ensure that they are in line with developing circumstances. The commitment to work together in the Balkans is evident. Secretary of State Powell made that clear when he visited NATO in February and President Bush has similarly made it clear in the meetings he has had in Washington with NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson and other NATO leaders.

CB: As a result of comments made during the US electoral campaign, media have speculated that the new US administration is keen to explore the possibilities of a "new division of labour" with its Allies. In such a scenario, Europeans would likely concentrate on stabilising Europe and its periphery, leaving the United States to focus its energies on more strategic threats. How prevalent is such thinking in the new US administration and what considerations are likely to govern relations with Allies?

JD: The administration recognises that the task that we have taken on jointly in the Balkans is a task to which both Europe and the United States are and should remain committed. I can't rule out longer-term policy planning discussions of the type that you have suggested, although I haven't seen any proposals to that effect as yet.

CB: The peace processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia) and Kosovo have seen a number of break-throughs and conditions on the ground are improving. It is increasingly clear, however, that the international community will have to invest many years, massive resources and considerable political capital if it is to rebuild functioning societies in the Balkans. Given your experience of the region, what opportunities do you see for creating a self-sustaining peace? And how will the new US administration seek to re-energise the process?

JD: The most important developments of the past year and the most hopeful developments are the changes that have taken place in Zagreb and Belgrade. In the 1990s, much of the tension in the region, particularly as regards Bosnia, came from the centrifugal pressure that these two capitals put on Bosnian society, effectively tearing it apart. We now have an opportunity to see both Yugoslavia and Croatia playing a constructive role in helping to sustain and build a viable Bosnian state on a multi-ethnic basis in line with the Dayton Accords. The kind of cooperation which Zagreb has explicitly committed itself to and which we can look to and demand from Belgrade is the best hope for stability in Bosnia and the region as a whole. Clearly, southern Serbia remains volatile, but NATO is working effectively and interacting constructively with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1), with Serbia, and with moderate Albanian leaders in Kosovo to defuse the situation. Otherwise, the basic elements for building stability in the region are already in place. These are the Stability Pact, UN Security Council Resolution 1244 concerning Kosovo, which lays out a path towards substantial autonomy but postpones a decision on the province's final status, and the Dayton Accords, their gradual implementation and the building of multi-ethnic structures in Bosnia that do not rely on the nationalist parties that were in power during the war. It's less a question of new initiatives, than of continued commitment in all of these areas. The administration has indicated that it intends to continue to work on the Stability Pact, on the NATO-led peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo, and on the issue of NATO enlargement, which over the longer term offers a way of stabilising and integrating the Balkans as well as northeastern Europe. Here, Europe has an even more daunting task, as it moves towards integrating these societies in the European Union. We recognise that the European contribution is, in many ways, the most important one and we appreciate the efforts that the European Union and its members are making in this regard.

CB: Many Allies and Partners have made it clear that they have reservations about the new administration's plans for building a National Missile Defense. How does the new administration intend to take this project forward? And how will it reassure Allies and Partners that NMD is both in their interests and will help make the world a safer place?

JD: The administration has already begun the process of consulting its Allies on issues of missile defence and how missile defence fits into a policy of deterrence, which also integrates other aspects of defence as well as arms control and non-proliferation. Secretary of State Powell got a very good response from Allies on these issues when he visited NATO in February and he committed the United States to consult early and often on these issues, indeed, to consult before we make basic decisions about the architecture of a missile defence system. We have also made it clear that we want to work with the Allies on missile defence arrangements that protect them as well as the United States. And we have also made clear that we want to consult closely with others, including the Russians and the Chinese. Indeed, Secretary of State Powell has already discussed this subject, among other issues, with the Russian foreign minister.

CB: For a variety of reasons, the United States has failed to endorse several international agreements in recent years. These include the Land Mine Treaty, the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In addition, plans for NMD risk undermining the ABM Treaty. What approach will the new administration adopt towards these treaties?

JD: The United States has global responsibilities which are in some ways unique, reflecting our defence commitments in Korea, in the Gulf, in Europe and elsewhere. In addressing some of these issues, the United States has had concerns which some of our Allies have not felt or have not felt as keenly. We will continue to consult our Allies and work with them as regards the ABM treaty, which will also, obviously, be a major element of the discussions we have with Russia. Concerning the International Criminal Court, it's important to recognise that President Clinton's signature of the treaty was essentially a technical step, rather than an expression of an intent to submit the treaty to ratification. The Clinton administration indicated that it had problems with the treaty and that it did not believe that it would be able to bring it into force. Clinton's signature was not intended to reverse his administration's position on that point. It was intended rather as a technical step to include the United States in continued consideration of some aspects of the treaty's administration. Even before coming into office, the new administration expressed concerns about this agreement which paralleled and were, if anything, even stronger than those of the Clinton administration. I expect therefore that it will continue to express such reservations and concerns in the future.

CB: Russia is an important Partner of the Alliance, but one that has at times in recent years been disgruntled. How does the new administration intend to engage Russia? How much potential does it see in the Permanent Joint Council? And how might that institution be developed?

JD: The administration intends to have a good working relationship with Russia. Already, Secretary of State Powell has had a preliminary meeting with the Russian foreign minister and President Bush has had a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the relationship will be developed through the normal pattern of bilateral and multilateral meetings over the NATO review 10 Spring 2001 coming months. There are a number of issues to address in the relationship, but there are a number of points where cooperation can be reasonably anticipated. We certainly support NATO's engagement with Russia as a complement to these bilateral consultations, including the Permanent Joint Council, and look forward to developing it further during the coming months.

CB: Successive US administrations have urged their European Allies to increase defence expenditure. As the European Union builds a crisis management capability, Europeans appear finally to be taking on a greater share of the burden for their own security. Despite this, many Americans now appear suspicious of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), even fearing that it might undermine NATO. What concerns does the new US administration have about this project and what must the Europeans do to overcome them?

JD: The administration has made clear that it supports the development of a European security and defence policy that strengthens the Alliance, that contributes to overall capabilities and avoids duplicating existing Alliance planning structures. This is how ESDP is developing and the way in which we hope and expect that it will continue to develop. There are still unresolved issues, however, which have to be worked through in the coming months in the ongoing talks between NATO and the European Union. These unresolved issues include the mechanism by which force planning is carried out in the European Union and NATO. The relationship between the force-planning processes of the two organisations is therefore under discussion, as are arrangements for operational planning and the issue of whether NATO can assure the European Union access to NATO planning in all circumstances. Further discussion is also necessary to identify processes by which NATO assets could be made available to the European Union. And finally, the issue of the participation of non-EU Allies in EU activities and operations still has to be resolved.

CB: The nine countries taking part in NATO's Membership Action Plan are all hoping to be invited to join the Alliance at its summit at the end of next year. Although Washington does not make unilateral decisions on NATO enlargement, the new US administration will have a large say on who is and who isn't invited, or whether anybody is invited to join the Alliance. What factors will be taken into consideration in making this decision and how can aspiring members maximise their chances of admission?

JD: The key to future Alliance membership is the Membership Action Plan. All aspiring members have established Membership Action Plans, are currently working on implementing them and will be judged according to them, when the time comes. Countries' readiness and the degree of effort that they have put into preparing themselves for NATO membership are certainly major criteria for decisions on future members.

Otherwise, the degree to which countries have irreversibly established democratic institutions and the prospects for democratic stability are also important considerations.

1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.

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