In War's Aftermath: The Transatlantic Relationship

Now, that the United States has won the war, it has turned to its current and former friends, again confronting them with a simple question: what about our partnership?   For the time being, a somewhat irritating formula appears to be guiding America

Now, that the United States has won the war, it has turned to its current and former friends, again confronting them with a simple question: what about our partnership?   For the time being, a somewhat irritating formula appears to be guiding American actions: punish France, ignore Germany, and forgive Russia. It is only too understandable that the United States is now reviewing the strength of its relations with its erstwhile allies.  After all, the same questions are being asked in Berlin or Paris.

It is not particularly surprising that France is at the center of American dissatisfaction.  It was the French president who brusquely rejected Chancellor Schroeder's antiwar rhetoric just last September.  Jacques Chirac's turnaround at the end of the year was therefore not an indication of sudden concern over the legitimacy of war, but an expression of France's typical divisive policy toward the  United States, the unipolar power against which Paris tries to counterbalance.   What infuriated many in Washington was Chirac's transition from passive opposition to an active policy of forging an entente directed against the United States.   When partners in an alliance disagree, the problem must be solved within the alliance instead of working to set up new alliances.

This logic is ice-cold, but it is justified.  The German government must also face the question of whether it can maintain an alliance with the United States when it wants to pursue a different policy.  It is typical of Washington to pose this question straight out, while Germany and France prefer a degree of fuzziness.   The announcement of the United States that it seeks to "punish" France needs to be understood for the time being as a diplomatic preemptive strike, as a warning.   The message is: should Paris continue to stand in contravention of the alliance and  U.S. interests, it will be treated as an opponent.

However, these U.S. threats are also somewhat foolish.  Such public pestering does little more than make people's blood boil.  The threat is also dangerous, for the intention at its basis is divisive.  France is to be isolated from its European partners, while Germany is forced to take sides.   The EU and, in particular,  Germany must refuse to bow to such pressure.   As far as Germany is concerned, by the way, it was led into dangerous insignificance by Chancellor Schroeder.   If, from Washington's perspective, it can be ignored, than this reflects a worrying lack of influence on Germany's part.  Berlin has no institutional power and no veto right, and its traditional foreign policy strength -- the role of an honest broker between Paris and Washington -- was lost when Schroeder made himself dependent on Chirac.   Worse still: France's policy toward the United States only became possible after Germany had changed its traditional position. 

The best symbol of this self-imposed impotence came to be the meeting between  Germany, France, and, those military dwarves, Belgium and Luxembourg on April 29.  Mocked as the "chocolate summit," this meeting was designed to facilitate the creation of a new core for a separate European defense.   Someone in Berlin must have forgotten that such action puts in jeopardy the laboriously initiated EU defense policy with Britain and all the others.  Germany has not yet said clearly enough what objectives it really has in the new alliance game.   Does it want Europe to be independent of the United States or does it adhere to its alliance with  Washington?   Signals, such as abstention with regard to the Oil For Food resolution and timid contacts with Washington, indicate slow withdrawal from the political divisionism of the French; and its love of Russia in a menage a trois has rather been something like a weekend flirt.

The same indecision over the future of the transatlantic alliance and policy towards Europe also exists in the United States.  Will Washington continue to support the process of European integration?  The signals are confusing.

It is not clear whether the United States knows what purpose the transatlantic alliance serves. The United States is strong enough to pursue its interests on its own--at least, this is what it believes.  It thinks it can do this without the cloak of legitimacy that the alliance can provide.

In contrast, the Europeans do not have such an alternative--Europeans are prone to act collectively within the framework of the Western alliance.  This is why, for the moment, those who depart from the alliance only harm themselves.  Germany has more to lose when it dispenses with the alliance.   In terms of security, business, and policy -- Berlin and Paris are now being taught a tough political lesson on power and its limitations.  But under such conditions, it is difficult for real friendship with the United States to flourish.

 

Stefan Kornelius is the editorial page editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung.