Does the United States Have a European Policy?

Does the United States Have a European Policy?

Mini Teaser: Is the United States becoming more skeptical of the EU, or just more confused?

by Author(s): Gerard Baker

Nonetheless, when confronted with the opportunity to reject a key part of Europe's ambitions at the start of his administration, Bush chose not to. At his Camp David summit in February 2001 with Tony Blair, Bush agreed to drop U.S. objections to European defense plans (now called esdp). On the understanding that esdp was fully compatible with NATO's existing structures, President Bush showed himself to be more Euro-friendly than the Clinton Administration in this regard.

Four months later, on his first presidential trip to Europe, Bush again struck a conciliatory tone. Though his early months in office had been marked by tensions with the Europeans over missile defense and the Kyoto global warming treaty, Bush seemed willing to reaffirm America's commitment to the virtues of pan-European policies and cooperation. In a June 2001 speech in Warsaw, Bush repeated his father's pledge to help build a Europe "whole and free:"

"My nation welcomes the consolidation of European unity, and the stability it brings. We welcome a greater role for the EU in European security, properly integrated with NATO. We welcome the incentive for reform that the hope of EU membership creates. We welcome a Europe that is truly united, truly democratic and truly diverse--a collection of peoples and nations bound together in purpose and respect, and faithful to their own roots."

Administration-watchers assumed from these early pronouncements that the administration's Atlanticists, led by Colin Powell at the State Department, had won an important round in their continuous battle with the more unilateralist Pentagon.

But this assumption proved false. In those first six months of the administration, it was already apparent that U.S. policy toward Brussels was shifting. In fact, the deal with Blair at Camp David demonstrated that European policy had already been downgraded by the administration. Bush was essentially prepared to treat his concerns about European defense cooperation as a bargaining chip to be exchanged for Britain's support of America's much greater goal: creating a missile defense system to protect the United States from threats emerging outside Europe.

In the destinations for that first trip, there was an intriguing sign of the already shifting priorities in the Bush team's approach to Europe. Bush chose not to go to France or Germany, the pillars of what would soon be derided as "Old Europe", but to Spain, Sweden, Poland and Slovenia (with merely a day trip to Brussels for a NATO summit). This was the "New Europe" the administration would soon demonstrate it was eager to encourage. In short, long before the Iraq crisis and even before the September 11 attacks, there were clear signs that the U.S. commitment to a united Europe was already attenuated. In part, this stemmed from the Bush team's ideological lack of sympathy for the reality of a single European political approach. Mainly, however, it was because, again, a united Europe had ceased to have the salience it held in the Cold War.

Iraq crystallized these trends. First, America's determination to deal with global threats as it perceived them after the terrorist attacks of 2001 meant it would seek allies where it could find them. The United States, under assault from terrorists and under potential assault from rogue states, was not likely to allow European unity to become a constraint on its actions.

William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a leading neo-conservative close to the Bush Administration, puts it as follows:

"Any serious policymaker cannot simply say 'Well, as a matter of theology, we believe in a united Europe . . . and therefore that's going to drive our policy. It would be irresponsible."

This can be thought of as a kind of passive opposition to European integration. Insofar as the Europeans want to unite around a policy that supports us, it says, then we are happy to assist in the creation of a united Europe. But if the Europeans are divided, of course we will extend support to those who side with us and withhold it from those who do not.

But this gives rise to a critical question: In addition to this passive opposition to European unity, does the United States now favor an active opposition? Does the United States now believe, after the experience of the last year, that a united Europe could actually not only cease to be a reliable source of assistance but might actually try to block the United States from achieving its goals? This was, after all, the more or less stated view of the Chirac government in France--to build an alternative source of global power. If that is how the United States sees the prospect of a united Europe, then the administration is likely to adopt a much more aggressive stance against European integration.

There are clearly those within the Bush Administration--John Bolton at the State Department, others at the Pentagon--for whom the events of the last year have confirmed all their suspicions that a unifying Europe is a menace to U.S. strategic objectives and should be blocked. But the drift of Bush Administration policy does not yet seem to be moving fully in this direction. Other senior policymakers at the fulcrum of the administration's evolving debate insist that the Iraq experience does not necessarily suggest those who opposed the United States will prevail in an internal European debate and dictate the direction of a single European policy, should one ever emerge. These officials pin their faith in European virtue on a belief that a united Europe will adopt an approach to the United States that is closer to Tony Blair's vision than Jacques Chirac's. "It is no longer obvious that European policy is being driven by the historic engine of France and Germany", a senior administration official told me in November. "Look at Britain, look at Spain, look at Italy, look at Poland, look at Denmark. France and Germany are not necessarily the future." This same administration official adds that, in any case, America's options are rather limited: "What am I going to do about [European integration] if I don't like it? Scream and yell? That would have absolutely no effect. The chances are that efforts to undermine European unity would have the opposite effect."

Neither of these assumptions seem watertight. Basing policy towards Europe on the hope that its steadily evolving foreign policy will be driven by a coalition of U.S.-friendly countries such as the UK, Poland and Spain looks like ahistorical, wishful thinking. The pattern of EU integration is that it is driven by the Franco-German alliance at its heart, aided and abetted by bureaucrats in Brussels. Nothing that has happened recently suggests this is changing.

Nor is it true that Washington lacks options--it need not passively stand by and watch this process unfold. After all, most ordinary Europeans are aghast at the sovereignty that has already been handed over to Brussels. European integration is being driven by political elites rather than popular pressure, and there is growing evidence pointing to the uneasiness among the general public.

So, what can the United States do?

First, it should temper its enthusiasm for the development of stronger European military capabilities. Americans may laugh at recently announced plans for a Franco-German-Belgian-Luxembourg core EU military alliance, but the United States should continue to oppose a separate European identity within NATO. This also means that the United States should strengthen its political and military ties with the new NATO members from central and eastern Europe, to offset any such developments.

Second, it should oppose any plans to permit a "single Europe" from taking the seats currently held in multilateral institutions by separate European countries. There should be no support for a UN Security Council seat for "Europe" or the creation of a United States-Japan-Europe Group of Three to replace the G-8.

Finally, Washington should refrain from doing anything that might help push Britain into the euro. Nothing would represent a more fateful step for European integration than Britain's joining this ill-starred project.

It seems that passive disengagement from the cause of European integration is now firmly established as the United States looks beyond Europe to the challenges of a dangerous world. In the absence of a pressing security threat in Europe, and in the presence of much more pressing security threats outside Europe, the United States will regard the possibility of a unified European policy distinctly on the merits of what it offers the United States. Is this anything new? Probably not. It is hard to imagine any administration shifting from its conception of its vital national security interests in an effort to assist in building unity in Europe.

What is different in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world is that disagreements between the United States and Europe and among Europeans seems much more likely. So far, the United States does not seem to have concluded that European integration is inherently threatening to its interests. Despite the concerted efforts of some of its senior officials, the Bush Administration is not yet committed to destabilizing actively the process of European unification, in part because it believes the EU can still head in a broad direction beneficial to America's national interests. But at the very least the last year should mean that we will hear far fewer encomiums from U.S. officials about the virtues of a United States of Europe.

Essay Types: Essay