One Europe, Two Europe, Old Europe, New Europe
The Polish-led multinational division expected to be deployed in southern Iraq by the end of September demonstrates both the benefits-and the limits-of American cooperation with our "New Europe" allies.
Close relationships with "New Europe"-predominantly former Soviet-bloc countries themselves eager to establish a strong connection to the United States-can clearly be valuable to America in a variety of ways. They can help to strengthen transatlantic ties at a time when relations with traditional allies are evolving and uncertain. Though the support of "New Europe" should not be taken for granted, it is also useful in strengthening the American constituency within NATO and European institutions. And our "New Europe" allies can also make practical contributions, ranging from international diplomatic support and less expensive bases for U.S. troops to the multinational division to be sent to Iraq (which, of course, also includes Spanish as well as non-European components).
However, "New Europe" is not yet a substitute for "Old Europe." This reality is most recently evident in the fact that the United States has taken responsibility for $30 to $40 million in transportation costs to airlift the Polish-led division to Iraq and some $200 million in support costs once the force arrives. As difficult as they may be, our "Old Europe" allies could generally be counted upon to pay their own way, at least in particular military operations. (Whether they are prepared to pay what is necessary to maintain NATO appropriately is another matter, of course.) Our "Old Europe" partners are also able to make available substantially larger numbers of soldiers than Poland's 2,400, not to mention the 150 contributed to the Iraq operation by Latvia.
The United States should welcome the multinational division; after all, its upkeep is a modest expense in comparison with the benefit of reducing the strain on the overstretched American military-both immediately, by allowing Washington to shift some attention to other pressing matters, and over the long term, by limiting long deployments that weaken morale (and reduce retention rates) among regular military units, reservists and national guard formations. But the illusion that "New Europe" can be an effective replacement for "Old Europe" in pursuing American foreign policy objectives is a dangerous one.
There are several reasons behind the enthusiasm for American leadership in "New Europe"-some noble, some less so. The most noble, and most cited, reason is that having been components of the totalitarian Soviet empire, most Central and East European countries genuinely value their new freedoms and see the United States as a benefactor, protector and model. But the reality of the matter is that Poland, Hungary, Romania and other "New Europe" allies are also substantially more dependent on American benevolence than the core of "Old Europe," France and Germany. Similarly, by virtue of their historical experiences, many "New Europe" governments are experienced at, and do not shy away from, currying favor with their "elder brother"-previously in Berlin or Moscow but now in Washington.
These latter two reasons derive from the fact that Central and Eastern Europe's component nations are not (at least not yet) as wealthy, capable or influential as their neighbors to the west. Accordingly, while they are desirable allies that should be welcomed and rewarded with appropriate gratitude, they are not in a position to assume the burdens borne by "Old Europe."
Thus, despite current frustrations-and perhaps even increasingly diverging perspectives on some key international issues-America's "Old Europe" allies remain useful and should be courted at least as assiduously as our newer friends. In particular cases, this may mean displaying greater flexibility vis-à-vis Paris or Berlin to win their support. Needless to say, the United States should always be willing to act alone when truly vital interests are at stake; our ability to do so encourages others to join us. But America should also be prepared to accommodate others' concerns when the benefits of doing so clearly outweigh the costs.
The United States should also pursue closer cooperation with Russia, an often difficult partner that has not yet been accepted in either Europe and should think carefully about how U.S. actions in Europe may affect relations with Moscow. Though Russia's financial resources are far behind those of America's "Old Europe" allies, its other capabilities-in intelligence, for example-can contribute very importantly to the war on terrorism. Thus, while the case for moving some U.S. bases from "Old" to "New" Europe is a strong one, the Bush Administration should discuss American plans thoroughly and transparently with the Kremlin to manage Russian sensitivities and avoid unnecessary misunderstandings and tension.
The world of the twenty-first century is complex and dangerous and the United States needs all the allies we can find, old or new, in addressing its challenges.
Paul Saunders is Director of the Nixon Center.