Transatlantic Troubles

Transatlantic Troubles

Mini Teaser: America need not restore the bygone, comprehensive relationship with Europe to achieve its purposes.

by Author(s): Andrew A. Michta

Differences over the Middle East and the Mediterranean region will continue to strain Euro-Atlantic relations until a compromise on the Middle East has been reached, especially on the Arab-Israeli issue. The Iraq War remains another key obstacle to better transatlantic relations, as well as to greater European unity on security and foreign policy. Differing views on the Iraq War and the overall U.S. War on Terror strategy continue to polarize Europe. Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision to throw his country's support fully behind the U.S. policy in Iraq has put new distance between the United Kingdom and France. Likewise, the cooling of German-American relations in the wake of Iraq has seen a concomitant deterioration of German-Polish relations, an important regional variable in Central Europe. Because Germany opted to stay out of the invasion of Iraq, while Poland stepped into the breach in an attempt to position itself as the favored American ally in the region, the decade of carefully calibrated work to foster German-Polish reconciliation has been dealt a serious blow. The differences have not been limited to the "new Europeans." Denmark assisted the United States in Iraq, and Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has continued to support the U.S. policy. A similar position was taken by Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and Spain's José María Aznar; although both have been defeated since, at the time the policies of Italy and Spain belied any claim of European solidarity.

Indeed, the cohesive idea of "Western Europe" that had provided the paradigm for security and political integration during the Cold War has been superseded by a much more amorphous notion of Europe where regional and developmental discrepancies became ever-more pronounced. In security terms, there is no "one Europe"; there are multiple regions, each with different threats. The farther one travels east and south, the less secure these regions appear. In the Balkans, American power was critical to concluding the series of wars in the 1990s; in the Baltic littoral it remains the essential variable for the security of the newly-independent Baltic states and for Poland.

The propensity for bilateralism and regionalism on security issues need not threaten European stability or U.S.-EU relations. A range of regional security optics in Europe can be accommodated within the existing institutional structures, assuming greater American involvement where needed, for instance when dealing with Mediterranean security. Likewise, the new transatlantic relationship does not preclude EU-wide efforts to develop military crisis management forces and to foster a larger common security policy. For example, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania have worked to strengthen their bilateral ties with the United States, and they have also pledged forces for a battalion-sized EU rapid deployment "battle group", together with Germany and Slovakia; the Netherlands, while committed to transatlanticism, has volunteered to contribute to a battle group with Germany and with Finland.

The current trend toward bilateralism in U.S.-European relations opens the possibility of working on various agenda issues in informal contact groups that include the United States and a number of European partners. A recent example of such issue-oriented cooperation was the work of the United States with several European governments within the larger context of the so-called "Lebanon Core Group" international conference, held in Rome in late July, 2006, to end the Lebanese war. The meeting did not call for an immediate cease-fire, but it reached agreement on an international peacekeeping force in Lebanon and on convening a donors conference. Subsequently, France took the lead heading the deployment of multinational peacekeepers under a un mandate, with Italy, France and Spain providing the bulk of the force. Unlike the "coalition of the willing" formula in Iraq, where the U.S. agenda was opposed by key European allies, in the case of Lebanon the shared goal of ending the fighting pushed the process forward, irrespective of differences between France and the United States on the ceasefire's timing and conditions. The durability of the agreement aside, Lebanon has shown that, despite recent acrimony, the United States and Europe can compromise and work effectively when their interests converge. Seeking such common ground on concrete security policy problems will be key to future transatlantic cooperation.

Though Europe still needs good relations with the United States and the United States needs to be engaged in Europe, neither needs the other for survival.  In other words, as transatlantic relations are no longer driven by the overarching imperative of a shared existential threat posed by the Soviet Union, issue-oriented cooperation that takes into account regional interests and variables offers a path to a new Euro-Atlantic bargain.  Such issue-oriented cooperation will be more effective than expanding the existing bureaucratic structures of NATO or suggesting a new strategic concept for the alliance.

America needs continued influence and leverage with individual European nations in order to pursue its worldwide security agenda, especially in the Middle East, but it doesn't need the same close and comprehensive relationship with Europe to do so. This ongoing change need not be feared or resisted; rather, it should be accepted as the foundation of an emerging new transatlantic relationship. Grounded in realism, the issue-oriented approach will help tone down debates over ideology and set aside recriminations over Iraq, focusing instead on areas where cooperation between the United States and Europe is important.

Andrew A. Michta is professor of National Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

1 "Favorable Opinions of the U.S.", Pew Global Attitudes Project, June 26, 2006.

2 "Polacy o roli Stanow Zjednoczonych w swiecie", Centrum Badania Opinii Spolecznej (CBOS), BS/178/2004, Warsaw, November 2004.

3 "NATO Gives Itself a Deadline to Get on Top of the Taliban", The Financial Times of London, September 2, 2006.

Essay Types: Essay