[OUTLOOK]Trans-Atlantic ties need repairDisputes between the United States and Europe are nothing new, as past tensions over Korea, Suez, and Vietnam demonstrate. But these earlier disputes occurred within a very different geopolitical context, the Cold War, and the bygone intellectual and political framework of containment. This context and framework disciplined trans-Atlantic ties. But the Cold War’s end changed everything. Can the winning alliance survive its own success?
The fundamental features of the post-Cold War geopolitical context include American strategic primacy; massive and rapid cross-border flows of people, technology, goods, services, ideas, germs, money, arms, e-mails, carbon dioxide, and just about anything else; and relatively peaceful relations among the major powers.
But if the geopolitical context is clear, the intellectual and political framework ― the successor to containment ― is not. The challenge for Europeans and Americans today is to cooperate in a very different way.
Cooperation is possible. In 1990, Europeans and Americans joined forces to reverse Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait. Later in the decade, Europeans and Americans combined to stop ethnic conflict in Bosnia and Kosovo. Europeans and Americans also worked to enlarge NATO and collaborated against terrorism in Afghanistan.
But recent rifts are impossible to ignore. Europeans tend to believe that the United States is uncritically supportive of Israel and insufficiently sympathetic to Palestinian rights. Most pronounced have been disagreements over how to deal with what the U.S. terms “rogue states” ― Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Europeans lean toward dialogue and incentives, the United States toward isolation and penalties. Bridging these differences will not be easy.
But Europe, too, has a stake in maintaining the transatlantic bond. European integration cannot become all-consuming; a parochial Europe is vulnerable to regional conflicts and to globalization challenges. Europeans must shed their illusions about what they can accomplish in the world on their own. Loose talk about resurrecting a multi-polar world is just that ― loose talk. It is neither feasible nor desirable for Europe to establish itself as a geopolitical equal or competitor of the United States.
Europe must develop greater military capabilities, not to become a major power but so that it can act as America’s partner if it so chooses and to pursue its own goals. Europeans also must admit that effective diplomacy requires not only dialogue and incentives, but credibility ― a willingness to use sanctions and military force if need be.
Americans, for their part, must accept that a strong Europe will not be content to simply do America’s bidding. The United States should support European integration, because a strong Europe is at least a potential strategic partner, whereas a weak Europe is not. But genuine consultation will be necessary. Consultation cannot consist of simply informing others of what has already been decided, and consultation cannot wait until a crisis arrives.
Most importantly, the United States and Europe must learn how to disagree. “Compartmentalization” of disputes is as essential now as it was during the Cold War.
In order to limit the consequences of disagreement, Americans must employ incentives as well as penalties ― and not sequence its diplomacy so that a problem country must meet every requirement before it can receive meaningful benefits.
For Europe, there is a profound difference between not supporting an undertaking deemed essential by the United States and working actively to block it. The latter is inconsistent with being an ally. European leaders also must do more to stem rising anti-Americanism so that they remain able to work with the United States when they judge it to be desirable.
Transatlantic relations ― no less than relations among the 25 members of the EU or the 26 members of NATO ― cannot be an all-or-nothing proposition, lest they run the risk of becoming nothing.
* The writer, a former director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
by Richard Haass