European Affairs

Despite Differences, Transatlantic Cooperation Against Terror Will Continue     Print Email
Brian C. Knowlton

Washington Bureau Chief, International Herald Tribune

With the fighting in Afghanistan largely over, some of the sense of urgency in the war against terrorism has begun to ebb, allowing earlier frictions between the United States and Europe to re-emerge. As U.S. cooperation has lessened on a host of international issues, from land mines to the new International Criminal Court, the question arises how well Transatlantic cooperation in the war on terror will endure.

The answer would seem to depend partly on U.S. skill at twisting European arms, but perhaps more relevantly on the extent to which Europeans see it as in their own interests to continue offering such cooperation.

Europeans did not discover terrorism on September 11; it has bloodied many of their countries for years. But it quickly became obvious, after the attacks on Washington and New York that they could not detach themselves from any involvement or from the remedying of its sources.

Nearly all the 19 terrorists involved in the attacks had lived in, passed through, received training in, or hatched their fateful plans in Europe. And as French President Jacques Chirac noted, Europeans have no immunity in the matter: "This time it was New York; next time it could be Paris, Berlin or London."

Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace doubts, however, that Europeans truly feel in the line of fire at the moment. "When Europeans wept and waved American §ags after September 11, it was out of genuine human sympathy, sorrow, and affection for Americans," he says. The reaction was "a product more of fellow-feeling than self-interest."

It seems evident that post-9/11 feelings remain far stronger in the United States than in Europe. As Dominique Mo¥si, editor of Politique Etrang²re, has noted, the recent French presidential election campaign saw "no reference ... to the events of September 11 and their far-reaching consequences," beyond echoes in the way the issue of immigration (mainly of Muslims) resonated with a portion of the electorate.

Still, the threat clearly has not ended, nor will it in the foreseeable future. And Europe, whether out of self-interest, solidarity, or more likely a mix of the two, seems likely to remain a prominent fixture in the battle against terror. Or will it? How well is U.S.-European cooperation in the war on terror surviving, and how severe are the strains?

"Immediately after the attacks, Transatlantic cooperation was as high as it had been in a long time," Professor Martin Kleiber of Western Michigan University asserted in a March speech at Georgetown University. Yet in less than nine months, U.S.-European relations had descended to their lowest level in 30 years, in the view of Ivo H. Daalder, a former director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, now at the Brookings Institution.

If the common values of Europe and the United States are renewed when these values are deemed most at risk, then the success of current cooperative efforts becomes a clear test of the Euro-Atlantic partnership.

Ironically, this testing time seems in several ways to have done more so far for European unity, and also for the U.S.-Russian relationship, than it has for Transatlantic ties. Europe has been goaded to leap past old disputes and embrace common new approaches in matters of crime, terrorism and justice. While grumbling has been heard in Washington as to some aspects of cooperation with Europe, much clearly has been achieved.

Building on work begun in 1997, the European Union is now developing a series of measures in law-enforcement, intelligence sharing, financial-assets controls and judicial coordination, designed in large part to make it easier to detect, detain, try and appropriately sentence terror suspects.

Several of these steps had languished in EU back offices for years before being shoved into reality in mere months. "The terrorism issue is driving events, or significantly increasing their speed," says a European Commission official.

While some measures aim to improve intra-European cooperation, they nonetheless respond to the larger U.S. calls for such improvements. These are among the steps that the European Union has taken:

 

  • It has established a common definition of terrorist offenses and common minimum sentences;
  • Europe now, for the first time, has an autonomous list of terrorist organizations, meaning a United Nations decision is no longer required before terrorists' assets can be frozen throughout the European Union. (The list is nearly identical to the U.S. version, except that the Europeans include a few Kurdish organizations not on the U.S. list; and the United States lists Hamas and Hezbollah, while the European Union excludes branches of those organizations involved in social work.)
  • Negotiations have been set on expedited extradition procedures for suspected terrorists, and to draft treaties for mutual legal assistance. A single U.S.-EU treaty would plug holes in existing bilateral treaties.
  • The long-controversial idea of a common European arrest warrant was pushed through in "record-breaking" time. The warrant would mimic the system in the United States, whereby a criminal arrested, say, in Arizona, can be routinely and quickly extradited to New York for a crime committed there.
  • Eurojust, a coordinating body of European magistrates, prosecutors and police, was launched on January 1, 2002, and has promised close cooperation with the United States.
  • Europe and the United States have exchanged information on travel documents and migration issues and are working to strengthen aviation security.
  • Acting against terrorists' financial channels, the EU Council of Ministers upgraded its money-laundering directive on November 19, 2001. From September 11 to June 3, 2002, EU countries froze assets of a120 million, according to the European Commission. But hard numbers are elusive. The British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, reported in June that the total of suspected terrorist assets frozen worldwide has been shrinking, as large sums have "had to be returned for lack of evidence of terrorist links." Others have said that Al Qaeda evaded the financial dragnet by transferring assets to easily concealed and transported assets like gold and diamonds.
  • Agreements were reached to improve intelligence-sharing and law-enforcement cooperation. Under the U.S.-Europol agreement of December 6, 2001, new liaison officers were agreed on, and Europol is to dispatch its own officers shortly to Washington. Europol received a budget increase, though its overall size remains small. And an intra-European task force of police chiefs has been established to improve coordination.
  • The European Union has also cooperated on anti-terror initiatives with the 13 candidates for EU membership and other countries. Additionally, some civilian anti-terror assistance will be provided by European countries under the aegis of NATO. At its meeting in Prague in November the Alliance will endorse concrete measures, including some non-military steps, to "sharpen the Alliance's terrorist-fighting potential," according to Secretary General George Robertson. It is easier to sketch the broad outlines of cooperation than to fill in the details. Overall increases in counter-terrorism-related civilian spending are not easy to come by - although NATO authorized a four percent rise in its civilian budget to improve counter-terrorism cooperation.

There are several observations to be made about the success of these programs, however. First, much of what has been done has been on a bilateral basis. Klaus Becher, a German political scientist, notes that the aftermath of 9/11 starkly demonstrated that only the United States could assemble a coherent, successful response to such a challenge.

As a result, he says, "virtually all (European) governments have since been focusing on their bilateral links with Washington at the expense of multilateral institutions, including the European Union, NATO and the United Nations, resulting in a hub-and-spoke structure of multiple bilateralism." Jonathan Stevenson of the International Institute for Strategic Studies predicts a legacy of "durably stronger institutional links" but believes they will be "mainly bilateral."

Second, cooperation in some domains has been far more effective than in others. Most successful has been the law-enforcement collaboration, according to Mr. Daalder and others. Much information has been exchanged, yielding scores of arrests, many of them in Europe.

"This is leading to disruption of the networks and of cells, particularly inside Europe," Mr. Daalder said in an interview. "My sense is that has gone extraordinarily well." There are acute problem areas as well, which are partly due to much tougher European privacy laws. "Data privacy protection is going to be a hard nut to crack," said an EU spokesman.

There have been clashes as well on law-enforcement cooperation when it could lead to a condemned terrorist being put to death in the United States. All EU countries formally oppose the death penalty, and while some countries have wrestled over ways to cooperate without sacrificing principle, controversy continues. "The European Union is not going to budge a millimeter on this," one European spokesman said, "and the United States won't budge either."

As to seizure of assets, views differ. Europeans point to the a120 million they have seized; Americans say the Europeans could do more; the Europeans reply that various laws prevent them from seizing certain categories of assets, such as those of charities.

On intelligence-sharing, the tables are turned. Europeans say they receive less information from the United States than they share with the American authorities, and that it is of lower quality. "They do grumble that we get lots of stuff from them but we don't share our best stuff," says Philip Gordon, Director of the Center on the United States and France at the Brookings Institution.

Third, more seems to have been done within Europe to make lasting legal or institutional changes than has been done between Europe and the United States. "I haven't seen any new permanent structures that have been set up" across the Atlantic, says Mr. Gordon.

At the same time, Europe quickly adopted the new common arrest warrant, to take effect in 2004, over which it had argued for years. The warrant will require changes in some national constitutions, including Germany's.

"The dual big bang enlargement of NATO and the EU has become more likely, while collateral damages on EU and especially NATO relations with Russia have become less likely," Simon Serfaty, Director of European Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in testimony to a European Parliament committee in February.

EU integration has meshed nicely in some ways with post-9/11 impetuses: Hungary, which had been the only applicant country on a list of non-compliers for money-laundering activities, has since worked its way off the list.

Fourth, some aspects of post-9/11 cooperation, notably the diplomatic, are certainly vulnerable to rising tensions and fading memories. President George Bush's inclusion of Iran in an "axis of evil," along with Iraq and North Korea, set European nerves on edge. Going beyond simple disagreement, EU

foreign ministers decided on June 17 to launch formal trade relations with Iran.

In most areas, however, the will to continue cooperating appears strong. "Something has started," an EU official says, "which will not simply disappear." Or as Mr. Gordon puts it, "Everyone realizes we're all in this fight together."

That is not to say that the United States can be oblivious to European dissent. The fight against terror is a daunting one, with an unknowably long time line. The Al Qaeda network has proved mobile and resilient. The difference between toppling the Taliban leadership and eradicating Al Qaeda is that between shooting a moose in an apartment and killing every last cockroach.

"Success in the war on terror requires years of patient cooperation with others in intelligence sharing, police work and tracing of financial §ows," Joseph Nye, Dean of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, wrote recently. "It matters whether the United States appears to be acting on narrow self-interest or with a broad approach that incorporates the interests of others."

 

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