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A wider Atlantic?

Jamie Shea examines and summarises policy recommendations for improving transatlantic relations contained in recent think-tank publications.

Renewing the Transatlantic Partnership, Henry A. Kissinger, Lawrence H. Summers

and Charles A. Kupchan, Council on Foreign Relations, New York, 2004.

America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, Ivo H. Daalder and

James M. Lindsay, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, 2004.

Empires in Conflict: The Growing Rift Between Europe and the United States,

Christopher Coker, Whitehall Paper Number 58, Royal United Services Institute, London, 2003.

Are Europe and the United States still Allies and Partners? This question, which might have seemed absurdly academic 20 years ago, has been very real of late. Indeed, it has been the focus of hundreds of conferences held since 11 September 2001 as well as tens of books, reports and pamphlets. Some analysts, like Robert Kagan, attribute this contemporary sense of a transatlantic rift to different values: Americans being from Mars, Europeans from Venus. One side is wedded to the sovereign state and to the use of military power to transform an unacceptable status quo. The other has embraced a new form of political organisation that stresses diplomacy, negotiation and accommodation. Here religion plays a major role in politics; there almost none.

Other commentators are less pessimistic. They see the transatlantic disconnect more as a result of the policies of the Bush administration than of fundamental changes in American or European societies. In their view, it is a different reading of interests that has pulled Europe and the United States apart. A change at the White House in November or even a course back towards multilateralism in a second Bush administration would be enough to fix the problem.

What unites both camps is a belief that the transatlantic divide must not be allowed to widen. According to whether commentators emphasise values or interests, they are more pessimistic or optimistic as to the chances of reconciliation happening any time soon. All the authors of the books and studies listed above conclude, nonetheless, that Americans and Europeans still share enough interests and values to make continued cooperation possible, and not merely desirable.

Both sides of the Atlantic desire to see the preservation of open and dynamic market economies, geo-political stability, and harmonious relations with major world powers, such as China and Russia, that are not members of the Atlantic Alliance. They share the same threat from international terrorism, even if the United States has to date suffered a much more serious attack than Europe and feels a greater sense of urgency and vulnerability as a result. Europe and the United States also share a desire to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And they both believe that to allow the world's poorest and least-stable regions to sink further into state failure, cross-border crime, environmental collapse and the spread of diseases like Aids would be bad for their security, and not just an affront to their consciences.

The values are also not as divergent as is often claimed. Both sides of the Atlantic believe in democracy, the rule of law and human rights. The massive reaction when these principles are violated on both sides of the Atlantic shows how seriously such rights are taken by governments and peoples alike. In addition to a shared history and culture, they are bound by treaties and membership of international organisations that both sides would not dream of repudiating, even if from time to time they inevitably call for those organisations to be reformed and adapted to the modern world.

In short, the central question that runs through all of these analyses is: if the fundamentals of a healthy transatlantic relationship are still very much in place, why are those relations in such difficulty? And why is there a creeping sense of pessimism about the future on both sides of the Atlantic?

By now the explanations are reasonably well known and are eloquently stated in all these studies which, written by both American and European authors, show a welcome degree of commonality in the prognosis, even if the prescriptions are inevitably different. There are different perceptions of present threats; different attitudes to the centrality of multilateral diplomacy and multilateral institutions in dealing with the new challenges; disagreements as to whether war is necessary as a means of solving security problems and under which conditions of legality modern wars may be launched, particularly when it comes to pre-emptive or preventive conflicts. Finally, the history of the last few years has also left its mark.

The books acknowledge that it is not going to be easy either for America or for Europe to solve these differences. Everything is possible, from the restoration of a shared purpose to slowly drifting apart and more cooperation à la carte. But nothing is inevitable. The authors call upon political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to make more of an effort to understand the other's point of view and try to mend fences. None of them believes that the transatlantic relationship can be returned to the halcyon days of the Cold War, knowing full well that those days were never as good at the time as they may appear in retrospect. Even a strong transatlantic relationship will have to be based on new realities; namely the primacy of American power, the greater unity and aspiration of Europe to be an actor on the world stage; and the broader and more confusing spectrum of security challenges. But rather than simply analyse the difficulties and throw up their hands in despair, the authors highlight a number of specific things that America and Europe can undertake to reach out constructively to each other.

The Report of the Independent Task Force sponsored by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, Renewing the Transatlantic Partnership, was co-chaired by Henry A. Kissinger and Lawrence H. Summers and directed by Charles A. Kupchan. It lists a number of recommendations to the Bush administration to make its foreign policy more palatable to Europeans. Leaders after all have to have followers. The first oft-repeated recommendation is to stop talking about a war on global terrorism or a crusade to extend freedom to the whole world. Such infinite and open-ended ventures are rarely achievable and it is difficult to measure success. It is, therefore, better to break this quest down into more comprehensible and manageable packages, such as dismantling al Qaida, capturing Osama Bin Laden or building democracy in one particular country. The more concrete and precisely defined the challenge, the easier it will be to rally international support behind it.

A second recommendation concerns the use of rhetoric in foreign policy. The same policy coming from one member of the Bush administration but expressed in a different tone and language can make that policy more palatable to European public opinion. Former Spanish Prime Minister José-Maria Aznar famously said in this connection that: "Europe needs more Powell, and less Rumsfeld", at least in PR terms.

The third recommendation is that the United States devote as much attention to the implementation of its goals as to proclaiming them. Even the best ideas do not implement themselves. It may be true that "no good act ever goes unpunished", but it is essential for the global super-power to demonstrate that it has sound plans and policies to spread democracy and fight terrorism, and that it follows these plans and policies in a consistent manner. Showing that the United States is not only right but is also competent is another way to rally international support behind it. Finally, the Council on Foreign Relations' report stresses that an alliance like NATO needs a common transatlantic security strategy to function effectively. This may be difficult at the present time, given differences over Iraq, how to fight terrorism and new doctrines such as pre-emption. But the new EU security strategy and that of the Bush administration are not so far apart. It may be possible and useful for NATO to try to knit the two together.

The most insistent recommendation from America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, (Brookings Institution Press, 2004) by Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay is that the United States can no longer tolerate double standards in its foreign policy. The more a foreign policy is based on noble, abstract ideals such as democracy, human rights and freedom, the more essential it becomes to ensure that specific US actions are as unsullied as Lot's wife. For instance, how does the United States square its desire to spread democracy in the Greater Middle East with tolerance of dictators or undemocratic security forces that may be useful sources of intelligence in the war against terrorism? It may not be an easy choice to make, but consistency of purpose in supporting democratic forces may well provide greater long-term stability than short-term accommodation with dictators. Another interesting insight is that the United States would have more success selling its policies if it presented them as good for the world and not just good for America. When last year, for instance, President George W. Bush announced his initiative to support democracy in the Greater Middle East as the long-term answer to fundamentalist terrorism, his speech was welcomed in Europe. It was seen as tackling the root causes of the problem and not just as a means of protecting the United States.

The authors also stress the need for more US public diplomacy and larger budgets for the State Department to convince the wider world that the United States is a benign power with good intentions that prefers to advance its interests by working with others, wherever possible. The fact that the United States no longer has an Information Agency and that the current State Department budget represents just a couple of days of the annual Pentagon budget says a lot as to where current priorities lie. The paradox, as constantly pointed out by Joseph Nye and Zbigniew Brzezinski is that the United States has never enjoyed greater power than it does today but rarely has it possessed so little influence.

The second area of discussion, which Christopher Coker takes up in his Whitehall Paper, Empires in Conflict: The Growing Rift Between Europe and the United States, is how to make the United States more committed to multilateralism and how to keep it as a central player in today's international pluralistic society. It is indeed a paradox that only the United States discusses multilateralism as an option rather than a necessity of international politics. Coker points out in this respect that Europeans cannot expect Americans to participate in multilateral institutions if those institutions do not serve US interests. Before handing an important security issue over to an international institution, such as NATO, the United States is bound to ask itself if this will make a satisfactory solution to the problem easier. The US view of multilateralism is therefore pragmatic rather than value driven. Does it help? Or does it place unnecessary burdens on us? For Europeans, the process of multilateralism is often what counts. By contrast, the United States is more interested in outcomes than process and has coined the phrase "effective multilateralism" to define its goal. Consequently, the focus of Coker's study is very much on what has happened in the United States over the past few years and how to get the United States back on a multilateralist track.

Coker argues that Europeans need to recognise that multilateral institutions do not work without clear leadership, which often the United States provides. Moreover, as in the case of UNESCO recently, multilateral institutions struggle to work at all without US participation. Europeans should also recognise that multilateralism has its weaknesses. International organisations are plagued by an uneven distribution of responsibilities and their decisions are frequently unevenly implemented. They often find it easier to designate norms than to find effective ways of applying them and there is a lot of free riding and blaming the institution rather than the member states when things go wrong. Frequently, too, the institutions are slow and ill-equipped to address new issues, such as judicial cooperation in confronting terrorism, fighting organised crime and state building. It is not, therefore, enough for Europeans simply to call on the United States to re-engage in multilateral institutions. Europeans also have to make those institutions more effective so that the United States will be encouraged to make greater use of them. In this respect the current debate on the reform of the United Nations to deal with the new cross-border threats, the expanded role for the World Trade Organization and NATO's transformation to handle operations beyond Europe and modernise its military capabilities are all the right way to go. The more these institutions engage the United States, the more chance they will have to harness and channel American power towards shared, multilateral goals. If the only function of international institutions is to "contain" or frustrate US power, they will fail.

As all the authors of these studies point out, Europe may like to put the emphasis on the word "multilateralism" and the United States more on the word "effective". If, however, the two do not permanently go together, then we are likely to end up with the worst of all worlds: a unilateral United States failing in its quest to go it alone and sinking back into isolationism and a Europe stuck with a hollow multilateralism with few capabilities. Such a scenario will hardly make the world a nicer place than it was in the last century. It is worth trying to avoid.

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