Goodbye To Berlin?

Goodbye To Berlin?

Mini Teaser: A declining Germany gets no respect from Red State America--yet it wants a veto over U.S. policy. Surrendering this conceit is the first step back toward influence.

by Author(s): Walter Russell Mead

Most Americans are less sanguine about Europe's prospects, and for Red State analysts, the outlook is very different. They point to slow progress at overcoming structural barriers to growth, projected demographic declines, evident lack of public support for adequate defense spending, the failure to assimilate immigrants in most European countries, and they do not think that they are looking at the emergence of a superpower. They see continuing crises of governance in European institutions. Meanwhile, they look at demographic and economic projections from European and global sources that predict continuing declines in Europe's shares both of world population and world economic activity through at least 2050 and they conclude that further consolidation will at best slow Europe's historic decline. From this perspective, European integration looks more like a group of passengers huddling ever more closely together on the deck of a sinking ship than like an emerging superpower.

It is, obviously, impossible today to say who is right--only time will tell whether the ship of Europe is rising or sinking. But the conviction in Washington that European integration at best can slow the long decline of Europe in world affairs shapes Washington's approach to a great many world issues--just as Europe's faith in its recovery and emancipation informs the expectations that Europe brings to negotiations with Washington.

These different perceptions lead the two sides to very different assessments of what is due to the other. While European observers attribute the Bush Administration's diminished appetite for consultation and shared decision making with Europe to a perverse moral preference for unilateralism, the Administration's record in Asia and with Russia suggests an even more unsettling explanation. American relations with both China and Japan have rarely been better; the Bush Administration has managed its relationship with Russia with some care. The delicate balancing act required to manage simultaneously relations with Pakistan and India has been carried out reasonably well. The conclusion seems sadly evident that the Bush Administration is pragmatic rather than doctrinal when it comes to multilateral and unilateral options. It has proceeded without closer consultation with Germany and France because it has simply concluded that Germany and France demand more attention and consultation than their support is worth.

Not everyone in the United States shares this harsh perception in the full, undiluted form in which it is proclaimed in the Pentagon. However, the Bush Administration is not alone in the perception that Europe (or at least the Franco-German axis) asks too much and offers too little. "Europe" wants real political control over vital matters of American foreign policy in exchange for kind words at the UN, mostly symbolic military support and limited financial aid. For Bush, the price is simply too high. He chooses not to pay.

Here it is important to elucidate another factor guiding this thinking. While these Americans do understand that Europe could provide a great deal of help for American goals in the Middle East, they do not think that it realistically will. A combination of different interests, a certain sterility which Americans think is inherent in the Franco-German partnership, and a lack of assets will combine to ensure that, even if America and Europe had a better consensus on the Middle East, Europe's help would not be great enough to justify the high political price that Europe demands in exchange. It is even likely that many Red State Americans are quietly thankful that there is no significant French presence in Iraq.

From the American perspective, Europeans seem to demand a veto over American actions abroad, but Europe does not offer the United States a reciprocal veto over Europe's policy agenda. That is, either alone or together, France or Germany must be able to block a U.S. action like the invasion of Iraq, but the United States has no business blocking a European initiative like the Kyoto Protocol or the ICC. Indeed, to judge by what Europeans often say, the United States not only has no right to veto the establishment by Europeans of such institutions: it has no legitimate right of abstention from institutions which Europe in its wisdom has decreed for the world.

If the price of a good relationship with Europe is the acceptance of a non-reciprocal European veto over American actions, no American president will ever accept it. France and Germany would have to defeat the United States in a war to impose a veto--and even then, the United States would not rest until it had freed itself from this unequal relationship. Europeans must either drop their demand for the non-reciprocal veto, change the way Americans perceive the nature of this proposed basis for the relationship, or accept a basic, permanent frustration and unhappiness resulting from America's unshakeable refusal to engage on these terms.

Germans often do not appreciate that Europe's stance on these issues has changed over the decades. Following Woodrow Wilson's failure to get the Treaty of Versailles ratified in the U.S. Senate, Europeans developed great sensitivity to the need to shape international institutions and treaties in ways that would take the views of Red State solons into account. NATO's founding treaties are a classic example. It became clear that the Senate would reject any version of these treaties that created an automatic guarantee that the United States would fight if any power invaded the territory of the NATO allies. The U.S. Constitution reserves the right to declare war to the Congress; the Senate refused to give up this power. Europe was eager enough to form the alliance that a compromise was found; NATO allies are now merely bound to follow their constitutional procedures to determine their response in case of attack. Breathtaking in theory, this concession has had little impact on NATO security; one of the main reasons for stationing American troops on the Cold War front line was to ensure that Americans would be among the first casualties of any invasion. An attack on U.S. troops would essentially guarantee that Congress would declare war. A similar ingenuity would have developed a version of the ICC which would have achieved virtually all that its supporters might have wished in practical terms--and in a form that the American Senate could have ratified. In the 1950s, Europe was willing to make these compromises. Today, it is not. I am not sure whether Europeans have fully thought this matter through or whether they have stumbled into their current position through sheer inattention.

If Europeans do not appreciate how unrealistic the non-reciprocal veto approach to the relationship appears from the Red State perspective, they probably also do not realize how this position affects their reputation for clear reasoning and straight thinking among many Americans. The non-reciprocal European veto appears somewhat deranged from the American side, suggesting either that Europeans have a completely swollen and disproportionate idea of their power and importance or that their approach to international politics is careless, unsophisticated and based on illusions and wishful thinking. It powerfully reinforces what is already too strong a view in the United States--that Europeans are children playing in the post-historical sandbox that Europe has become under American security guarantees. They must sometimes be humored but must never be mistaken for responsible, thoughtful adult partners when matters of life and death must be decided.

In calm times, as in the Clinton years, Washington could afford for the sake of a quiet life to palm Europe off with sweet words--to humor the fretful children. The Kyoto Protocol was defeated 95-0 in the Senate, but the Clinton Administration assured Europeans that the process was still alive. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty could not be ratified, but the Administration would continue to observe it. The ICC treaty was in a form that the U.S. Senate would not ratify in a thousand years, but President Clinton could make the empty gesture of signing an agreement that would never be ratified.

Even before September 11, the Bush Administration seems to have decided that in the long run, the maintenance of this charade only stoked what it considered Europe's exaggerated sense of self-importance and created additional expectations of compliance that the United States could never fulfill. It decided to treat the Franco-Germans in accordance with what it considered to be their real weight in the world--and to take the consequences if France and/or Germany refused to accept this approach. At the moment, Bush shows no signs of regretting this decision.

Cherchez La France

The growing estrangement between the United States and France places Germany in a difficult position. One unhappy result of the Iraq crisis is that the United States now largely considers France a determined and open opponent. Many Americans believe that France has defined excessive American power in the world as the greatest danger to French independence and great power status and that France has made a strategic choice to curb that excessive strength. If this perception proves correct and becomes entrenched over time, the entire framework of the transatlantic relationship will have to be rethought, and German foreign policy will be subjected to a whole series of painful shocks and upheavals.

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