Why America and Europe Need a Transatlantic Strategic Council
Stronger U.S.-EU strategic coordination is urgently needed to prevent the possibility that regional conflicts could draw the United States and the Europeans into new forms of “hybrid warfare” against a Eurasian axis of predominantly “authoritarian” states.
In protecting SLOC from Japan to the Gulf, the EU and United States should urge Beijing to sign the 2002 Code of Conduct agreement with the ASEAN countries, even if Taiwan is presently excluded from these talks. The United States, EU, and Taiwan could also revive proposals such as the East China Sea Peace Initiative. Much like Turkey, China will not accept international legal adjudication over its island claims, but Beijing could possibly agree to an international conference that would negotiate compromises over maritime delimitation, the joint development of energy and sustainable fishing projects, and financial arrangements for sharing gas revenue.
An international conference could consequently create an Indo-Pacific Community for Peace and Sustainable Development that would seek to balance Chinese and Russian interests with those of Taiwan, the ASEAN states, India, Australia, and Japan, while concurrently seeking a “confederal” solution to the Korean conflict in accord with the hopes of South Korean president Moon Jae-in to achieve an “irreversible peace” with Pyongyang. Such a community would accordingly work with China and Russia by engaging in peacekeeping operations and joint naval patrols where appropriate under a general UN Security Council mandate.
In dealing with both “authoritarian” rivals and allies, the United States and EU should emphasize “good governance.” This is not to avoid questions of “democracy,” but to argue that democracy (which threatens the power of authoritarian leaders) and human rights are not exactly the same thing, and yet are often conflated in political discourse. Instead of proselytizing in favor of the very different forms of American and European democratic governance—which are both in dire need of major reforms—the United States and EU should point to examples of humanistic governance and philosophy from the history and culture of their authoritarian “rivals.”
The dilemma is that accusations of human rights abuses and the instrumentalization of the term “genocide” have begun to fuel a nationalist backlash, counter-accusations of interference in internal affairs, and of “double standards” that then question America’s own “moral authority” (in Biden’s words). Both China and Turkey have counter-accused Washington and its democratic and non-democratic allies of severe human rights abuses, war crimes, if not acts of “genocide,” in differing degrees and historical circumstances.
Moreover, the fact that the United States, China, Turkey, and Russia, among other states, are not members of the International Criminal Court makes such genocide accusations even more problematic to deal with in practical terms. While non-violent civil society movements and non-governmental organizations can, and should, put media and legal pressure on any government accused of such crimes, these grave issues can only be handled by rational dialogue between and within states and societies—in an effort to achieve a modicum of social reconciliation and justice where possible.
While it is rare to so strongly criticize a major ally, American accusations of NATO-ally Turkey’s repression of its own citizens—in addition to accusations of Turkey committing of “genocide” in 1915–17 (even if Biden’s statement was accompanied by his hopes for “healing and reconciliation” of Turks, Armenians, and all peoples)—are coming at a time when the wounds caused by World War I and World War II in the “bloodlands” of eastern Europe and the Black Sea—between Germany, Ukraine, Russia, as well as Turkey—are re-opening with distorted interpretations of history. And to go further back into the past, there is no need for a twenty-first-century remake of the mid-nineteenth-century Crimean War—that could have expanded to an all-European war.
So too in China does the accusation of “genocide” evoke the “hundred years of national humiliation” (1839–1949) since China’s Opium Wars with a democratic Great Britain, the “unequal treaties” with Tsarist Russia, and the horrific Sino-Japanese wars. The latter are even more sensitive from the Chinese perspective—given America’s post-World War II alignment with Japan in which Washington largely pardoned Japanese war criminals and acts of genocide versus the Chinese and other peoples.
In the contemporary situation, the persecution of the Uighurs, Tibetans, and other groups is often justified by Beijing on the basis that foreign powers will support the “democracy” and “independence” claims of those persecuted. At the same time, China has accused Washington of double standards given the U.S. alignment with China’s rival India—which has been accused of violently repressing Kashmiri autonomy since 2019, while presently engaging in a major “offensive/defense” military deployment near the Pakistani and Chinese borders.
The crux of the matter is to avert the real possibility that accusations of “genocide” could serve as a pretext for war in the name of “democracy,” “human rights,” and “responsibility to protect” versus the defense of state “sovereignty” and the “non-interference in the internal affairs of States.” What is needed is not political moralizing, ineffective sanctions, and domestic political restraints that limit the ability of the United States and EU to fully negotiate with authoritarian states—but concerted, flexible, and engaged diplomacy that aims at preventing even greater human rights abuses where feasible—and the real possibility of regional, if not global, war.
GIVEN THE range of common concerns confronting the United States and Europe, a Transatlantic Strategic Council, in working with a U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, is needed to find ways for the United States and EU to resolve their own differences after Brexit. And after the scandal of U.S. National Security Agency spying on German chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as the Pegasus spyware scandal, it is crucial for the United States, the EU, and other allies to restore the trust necessary to fully cooperate on issues of mutual concern.
A Trade and Technology Council could work toward a new U.S.-EU trade pact and help the United States and EU deal with trade, subsidy, and agricultural disputes; taxation of transnational corporations; tax havens; antitrust legislation; intellectual property rights; labor wages and rights; alternative energy sources; and climate change, among others. Such a council could help firms compete with Chinese advances in 5G, AI, quantum accounting, green technologies and to find constructive ways to deal with Beijing’s Belt and Road and RCEP initiatives, while also finding ways to engage with Moscow.
Closer U.S.-EU cooperation is concurrently needed to better manage the new artificial intelligence, digital, and robotics revolutions. These new innovations have begun to transform the military-technological capabilities of all states and anti-state groups by expanding espionage, surveillance, and sabotage capabilities, and by raising not-entirely-exaggerated fears of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor.”
As the June 2021 NATO summit affirmed, a series of “cyber-activities” could be interpreted as an “armed attack”—so that NATO could invoke its Article V mutual defense clause. Biden accordingly proposed at the June U.S.-Russia summit that Washington and Moscow should sign a cyber-security treaty, in addition to pursuing high-tech and nuclear arms limitations. For his part, Putin has called for a global agreement of mutual non-interference in the domestic cyberfields of all countries and “no-first-strike”—a proposal that should be extended to include all forms of weapons of mass destruction.
Stronger U.S.-EU strategic coordination is urgently needed to prevent the possibility that regional conflicts could soon draw the United States and Europe into new forms of “hybrid warfare” against a Eurasian axis of predominantly “authoritarian” states led by China and Russia. No matter how it is sparked, a major power war would result in even greater crimes against humanity, pandemics, and destruction of the natural environment than have already taken place in the post-Cold War era.
A Transatlantic Strategic Council then, in close interaction with a U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, can help better coordinate U.S.-EU strategy and decide where and when it is necessary to reach diplomatic compromises with Russia and China, among other “authoritarian” and “democratic” states—and what precise measures to take. The task is evidently enormous, but not insurmountable.
Hall Gardner is a professor and former chair (1993–2019) of the History and Politics Department of the American University of Paris. His recent books include IR Theory, Historical Analogy and Major Power War (2019); World War Trump (2018); Crimea, Global Rivalry and the Vengeance of History (2015); NATO Expansion and the U.S. Strategy in Asia (2013); and Averting Global War (2007).