Europe's Weaknesses, America's Opportunities: The Future of the Transatlantic Alliance
Rhetoric should not replace reality as to Europe's capabilities to emerge as a major power. While the desire to successfully compete with America may be ensconced in many European chanceries, the ability to do so appears to be well beyond Europe's collective means. Militarily, despite a collective market that is slightly larger than that of the United States, Europe presently spends only two-thirds of what the U.S. does on defense and produces less than one quarter of America's deployable fighting strength. German defense spending has dropped from 1.5 percent to a laughable 1.1 percent. Other than the United Kingdom and France, all other European countries are presently incapable of mounting an expeditionary force of any size anywhere in the world without resorting to borrowing American lift capabilities.
Economically, the latter part of the 1990s has not led Europe into the "promised land" so confidently predicted by many. Rather, massive and largely ignored, structural problems - labor rigidities, a demographic/pensions time-bomb, a safety net that precludes significant cuts in unemployment, too large a state role in the economy stifling growth - have led Europe into a cul-de-sac. Staggeringly, according to the OECD, since 1970, the euro-zone area has not created any net private sector jobs.
Europe, therefore, is not a collective "equal partner" with the United States in the Atlantic Alliance. At best, the United States can expect a multi-tiered NATO, where, beyond the British and the French, individual European member states will, optimally, fill niche roles in the overall American strategic conception. American decision-makers used to positive spins on the Alliance must acknowledge that not all the allies are equal - that real differences exist between European capitals over how often to militarily side with the United States, and how much capability individual countries can bring to bear. Bruno Tertrais, writing in last week's In the National Interest, is correct to draw the distinction between alignment and solidarity (http://www.inthenationalinterest.com/Articles/vol2issue7/vol2issue7tertrais.html). He must also recognize, however, that the principal disagreements are not simply between Washington and "Europe", but among Europeans themselves, as Geoff Kemp pointed out in his essay, "Colin Powell and the Gangs of Europe." (http://www.inthenationalinterest.com/Articles/vol2issue6/vol2issue6kemp.html)
This is extremely apparent in the political realm. Contrary to any number of soothing and misleading commission communiqués, the Europeans are light years away from developing a common foreign and security policy (CFSP). One has only to look at the seminal issue of war and peace today - what to do about Saddam Hussein's Iraq - to see a complete lack of coordination at the European level. Presently, the UK stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S., Germany's militant pacifists are against any type of military involvement, be it sanctioned by the UN or not; with France holding a wary middle position, stressing that any military force must emanate from UN Security Council deliberations. It is hard to imagine starker and more disparate foreign policy positions being staked out by the three major powers of Europe.
Given these realities, "Europe" simply does not exist. Yet, the very lack of European unity that hamstrings European Gaullist efforts to challenge the United States presents America with a unique opportunity. If Europe is more about diversity than uniformity, if the concept of a unified "Europe" has yet to really come into being, then a general American transatlantic foreign policy based on cherry-picking - engaging coalitions of willing European allies on a case-by-case basis - becomes entirely possible. This strategy works both politically and economically (for example, in the creation of a Global Free Trade Association) as well as militarily. Such a stance is palpably in America's interests, as it provides a method of managing transatlantic drift while remaining engaged with a continent that will rarely be wholly for, or wholly against, specific, American, foreign policy initiatives.
Ironically, the success of such a policy requires the United States to abandon the notion of dealing with "Europe" as a single, concrete entity in favor of re-engaging Europe's nation-states. Brussels needs to be taken less seriously as the voice of a "united" continent. America has to be constantly engaged in noting differences within Europe in order to be able to exploit them, bringing along a coalition of the willing on any given policy initiative. Europe, such as it presently exists, suits general American interests - its member states are capable of assisting the U.S. when their interests coincide with America, yet it is feeble enough that it cannot easily block America over fundamental issues of national security. Cherry-picking as a general strategy ensures the endurance of this favorable status quo.